Friday, September 12, 2014

Reflections On Growing Up A White, Middle Class Baby Boomer

It's been a while since I've posted anything here. This past year has been one of distraction. Some good, some life altering. Maybe I'll go into that in another post later on, but for now, I hope you enjoy these ramblings. 

Reflections On Growing Up A White, Middle Class Baby Boomer

I couldn’t sleep last night.

I kept thinking about a conversation I had with a friend, who is my age. We talked about how we grew up in, what arguably, was the best time in history to pass from childhood to young adult.

World War II was over and the economy was strong. The atom had been harnessed, and technology was just learning to crawl. We witnessed so many developments that today we take for granted. In the 50’s we were the first to hear recorded stereo music, the first to see TV in color and most important to my early development, rock and roll was born.

As I lay in bed trying to sleep, images and sounds ran through my head, like watching people dance in strobe light. Stuttering fragments of memories would shift in and out of time. One split second I saw our first stereo, a giant thing more furniture than record player. I remembered seeing Elvis and The Beatles in black and white on the Ed Sullivan Show. Memories of Sunday dinners at my Aunt Elizabeth’s house and my Uncle Jim falling asleep in his favorite chair while watching football after dinner

It was the music, however, that was the root and driving force of that great time in history. I remembered listening to Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette, Hank Williams, Brenda Lee and Johnny Cash on the juke box in my Uncle Pete’s bar. Then there was Rock and Roll. An amalgamated bastard, born of blues, country music, jazz, and rhythm and blues, that would change the world forever.

There was Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly playing the first Stratocaster I’d ever seen, the Big Bopper, Jerry Lee Lewis pounding out mayhem on a grand piano, and James Brown dancing up a tumultuous sweat as if possessed by the devil and of course the King. Elvis was in the building.

My mind wandered again to a great paradox of human existence, that great talent was so often coupled with great despair and tragedy. I thought of how so many were so gifted with great talent and at the same time cursed with personal dysfunction and depression. Drugs, alcohol, and domestic abuse were often the price paid for being on the cutting edge of musical history. Some did not survive.

Then there were the vultures of the infant industry who exploited the essence of creative thought and process with no regard for those whose talent padded their pockets. One sided contracts paid little or nothing for the blood and spirit that changed the course of music. Bastards of profound proportion.

I was swept again to thoughts of my father and his musical tastes. Dad liked The Mills Brothers, whose melodies and harmony was genius. He liked the horns of Al Hirt, Herb Alpert, and the raspy vocals of Louis Armstrong and the soulful sound of Ella Fitzgerald. His favorites though were the crooners, Pat Boone, Perry Como, Johnny Mathis, Dean Martin and Bing Crosby. He didn’t hate the new sounds of rock and roll, it just wasn’t his thing.

The 50’s was a time of innocence and gradual progression to the future. It wasn’t all milk and cookies. There were demons. Segregation and racism were quietly endured by the black community and virtually ignored by most northern whites, even those who felt sympathetic to the plight.

In the next chapter of this story I’ll go into the 60’s. I’ll reflect on race relations, assassinations, war, the hippie movement, and the political upheaval that would tear the fabric of innocence and how music was instrumental in changing attitudes and influencing society.