|View from our patio|
Katie and I moved back to Arizona, but this time as snowbirds, splitting our time between Washington and Green Valley. We were in our sixties when we lived here before and the folks of the WWII Generation were the elders in this community of people 55 years and up. The youngest of that generation would now be 97 years old, so there are not many left, and those who are, don’t get out a lot. The Silent Generation, those people born between 1928 and 1945, was the dominant group, while Baby Boomers, born from 1946 to 1964, were the youngsters.
Now Boomers are the dominant group, the youngest is 59 and the oldest 77. The evidence of this Boomer take-over is everywhere. Walking the desert trails, I’m occasionally flashed the two-finger peace sign by another walker. It always takes me by surprise and I usually just give a normal wave. Many men still display their “freak flags”, with tiny thin pony tails or facial hair. The other day, I was standing in line at the grocery store and the elderly woman in front of me had long straight white hair and was wearing a colorful skirt down to her ankles. She reeked of patchouli oil, which transported me mentally back to the Oregon Country Fair in the 70s, where the dominant smells were patchouli and cannabis. We’ve attended three different music venues since we’ve been here and all the music was 50s and early 60s rock & roll.
The youngest Boomers have more in common with Gen-Xers. They were too young to remember Watergate and when the boys came of military age, the draft had already ended, so, unless they lost a loved one, the Vietnam War had little impact on their lives. The oldest Gen-Xer would be 58 and they are beginning to show up here as well. I see them holding hands, walking with a spring in their step, newly retired, hopeful, bright-eyed and bushytailed.
The Silent Generation(SG), also referred to as Traditionalists, are the elders now. They were children during the Great Depression and the end of WWII. Couples during this time were not having a lot of babies, so they are a comparatively small generation. As children they were strictly managed by their parents (seen but not heard) as opposed to the later more promiscuous Boomers and Gen-X children. Radio was their dominant form of entertainment. Women entered the workforce in record numbers and unions became strong and dominant in the work place. SGs inherited the values of their parents-- conformity, hard work, religiosity and early marriage. But times were changing and for the first time in American history, divorce became legal and more culturally accepted, so this generation has the highest divorce rate in US history. Communism was on the rise in the world and Joseph McCarthy attempted to root out communist leaning individuals in all walks of life. SGs made up the majority of soldiers in the Korean War. Because of these national events, this generation is described as being conservative and cautious.
And yet, this cautious and conservative generation had a rebellious undercurrent that erupted in the 1950s. In the 1953 movie “The Wild One”, Marlon Brando’s character, the biker gang leader, was asked by another character, “Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?”, and he replied “What have you got?”. The 1955 movie “Rebel Without a Cause”, starring James Dean, captured the alienation, angst and confusion felt by teenage SGs. From this generation sprung the civil rights movement, which later morphed into the 60s peace movement and protests against the Vietnam War. Martin Luther King and John Lewis were SGs. The Beatniks were a 50s phenomenon, a counter-culture movement whose expression was seen in literature, art and music. They laid the foundation for the Hippies of the 60s.
The “Beat Generation” or “Beatniks” were anti-establishment and anti-materialism. Their music was jazz by musicians like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis and their writers were Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Gary Snyder among others. They embraced eastern philosophy and adopted the lifestyle of the “Lost Generation” writers and French existentialists of the 20s. Some dressed in black tight outfits, horned rimmed glasses and berets and they gathered in coffee houses and listened to poetry readings or acoustic music with accompanying bongos. My introduction to Beatniks as a child was the Maynard G. Krebs character on the TV show “The Many Lives of Dobie Gillis”, played by Bob Denver. Later I read Kerouac’s book “On the Road”. In Greenwich Village, the coffee house scene transformed in the early 60s into the folk revival movement of Silent Generation musicians like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Eric Andersen, Tom Rush, Tim Harden, and Leonard Cohen as well as John Sebastian(The Lovin Spoonful), Roger Mcguinn(The Byrds) and Cass Elliot(Mamas and the Papas).
Ken Kesey, an SG, was a direct bridge between the Beatniks and the Hippies. In 1964, he and the Merry Pranksters drove a psychedelically painted 1939 International Harvester school bus they named “Further”, across the country, smoking marijuana and dropping LSD. They stopped in small towns and visited with (or more like intimidated) the locals along the way. Neal Cassady, who Kerouac’s side kick character was based on in “On the Road”, was one of the Merry Pranksters. The “trip” was immortalized in Tom Wolf’s book “The Electric Cool-aid Acid Test”.
All the early rock & rollers were from the Silent Generation, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Bo Diddley, Ricky Nelson. All are dead now. Don Everly just died in 2021.
I was surprised to learn that even the second wave of rock & roll in the 60s was launched by a bunch of Silent Generation artists--the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Jerry Garcia, Surf Music inventor Dick Dale, as well as the Beach Boys(except the youngest of the Wilson brothers Carl was a Boomer) and Jan and Dean.
Even though rock & roll was invented and carried on by individuals of the Silent Generation, it was the Boomers who made up the majority of the audience and claimed the music as their own. By the time of the British invasion in 1964, most of the SGs were married and working at their jobs, too busy to pay much attention to the music. But the hordes of Boomers just coming of age, latched on to the music and it became the sound track of our lives.