Race and Culture

The Day the Music Died; the Loss of Innocence on America’s College Campuses

The lines of a ditty from the early 1960s suddenly popped into my head, recently.

It was late lest September, as well as I can remember

While strolling though the park in tipsy pride

Not a word did I utter, as I lay down in the gutter

And this pig came up and lay down by my side

Not a soul was I disturbing as I lay there by the curbing

When this high-tone lady came, and I heard her say…

“You may tell someone who boozes…by the company he chooses”

And the pig got up and slowly walked away 

I was 17 at the time, 56 years ago and I still remembered those words. See the video below, only because of the song.

It was sung by the New Christy Minstrels, a very popular folk group from the early 60s. and I saw them sing this live in concert in 1963. It was part of a medley of humorous ditties called Bits and Pieces and this grainy piece of film shows the group and the audience, mostly college kids.

Pay attention to the way the students responded to what would today be considered childish humor.


(Sorry, no video link, so you gotta cut and paste)

This is a conversation I can only begin as I won’t live to see it finished, but we need to go back and rethink some things.

In scrolling through YouTube videos of live performances filmed and recorded on college campuses by the top vocal groups of that period, the Kingston Trio, Peter Paul and Mary, and these New Christy Minstrels, I saw live in concert my senior year in high school in a sold out university basketball arena.

It never dawned on me then that this concert format would die before the end of the decade, as would the folk music craze in general. Pop bands and vocalists (both black and white) were popular since the mid-50s, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly and Elvis (I saw Elvis’ first appearance on Ed Sullivan in 1956, when the cameras only showed Elvis from the waist up.) the best examples, and I was a regular at a local youth center since 1957.

Folk music had been around for decades, and performed in clubs, but had no national following until the the Kingston Trio changed all that in 1958 with their Billboard #1 hit, “Tom Dooley” and the release of their namesake album, which consisted of an array of songs not found on other albums, including humor, parody, and borderline bawdy, all put together in a 12-track LP that would become the standard LP format through the 60s. (I think Iron Butterfly with “Inna Gadda da Vida” (1969) changed all that with a single song taking up the entire side 2. That and “Born to be Wild” (1969) by Steppenwolf were perhaps the only heavy metal songs I ever liked. But then again, I was not of that music generation. I was born in 1945 and married, in law school and on my way to the Army. Hard rock was the music of my brothers, born 1948 and 1951, who would have been college and high school age respectively in1969.)

I’m about to walk you through the Law of Music Generations, which is not the typical way we measure generations.

But I want to reveal it through the eyes of that 1962 audience who laughed and clapped as the New Christy Minstrels sang those silly ditties to an auditorium filled with obscenely conservative hair cuts and button-down attire.

It was the Kingston Trio who pioneered the 90-minute stage show before a packed auditorium, and they began their banter-style shows around 1960-61 on college campuses.

We didn’t know it then but that sort of interaction between musical groups and the audience would never be seen again.

Folk music died out before the first man stepped on the moon in that same decade, (and when I sold my banjo) but by the year I graduated from law school, 1971, Don McLean wrote this elegy for the music of my youth.

…and as I watched him on the stage
My hands were clenched in fists of rage
No angel born in Hell
Could break that Satan’s spell

And as the flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite
I saw Satan laughing with delight
The day the music died 

You may or may not like folk music, or for that brand of rock n’ roll that Don McLean (also my age) lamented Buddy Holly’s death in a plane crash in 1959, as that day the music died. ( Some suggest that McLean was talking about Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones when he referred to Satan.)

No matter.

I was 16-18 when the Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul and Mary and the New Christy Minstrels were in their heyday. Even I knew in real time, by 1972, at the age of 26, that American music, and the youth culture had drastically changed in that short period.

I now believe it wasn’t just the Vietnam War, but the way products and music (media) were marketed, from teeny-boppers to college youth that caused this to happen.

Part nihilism, part leftwing indoctrination, and part corporate Madison Avenue.

Understand, every since the rise of rock and roll, music generations turned over, on average every four years, not 25. So in what they refer to as Baby Boomers, the post WWII generation, 1946-1964, there were at least 8, yes, eight generations of music there. I am still unsure when music indelibly marked a kid, 12-14, 15-18, in order for his/her “generation” to be stamped.

I enjoyed music more in later years, but when I was in the Army, still in my mid-20s, we were already having ’50’s parties for dancing and nostalgia.

I picked up folk music when I got my first guitar at 15 and learned to play it. I never liked electric music then, but then again, it was relatively new when I first became a teenager in 1957. Elvis was just OK for me, but he caused my sister, born in ’42 and not a Baby Boomer, to swoon. Friends from my generation (4 years her junior) ragged her and her girl friends as they sobbed through “Love Me Tender” when it came to our theater. My sister was a genuine “bobby-soxer” and is now almost 77. A junior in college when he was shot, she would be in her 50s before she finally fell out of love with JFK.

And it was her generation that formed the faces of those kids you saw in the Christy Minstrels concert. They were largely folk music’s target market.

But I had a younger brother, also by four years, and a baby brother, born 4 more years later in 1951, who I barely knew as I was away in college when he was just entering high school. We were all Baby Boomers yet we grew up in vastly different music cultures. My brother had no interest in American Bandstand, or the Philadelphia sound, or even Doo Wop. We shared nothing. He was a DJ for local AM radio and knew all the music genres, but I had no idea that “black music” had to have its own category. Brook Benton was universally loved. My brother had never slow-danced to “16 Candles”.

But I can point to folk music, and the relationship folk groups had with their audiences, as the only time musical performers communicated directly with those audiences, sometimes through the song itself, as folk music was full of silly songs, unlike the rock bands that would succeed them, or sometimes maybe as a joke line introducing a song. The Kingston Trio were more prolific at this device than other performing group.

I offer these videos to give you a sense of the kinds of stage humor that made college kids laugh in 1961. And the kinds of songs that made them laugh.

The Kingston Trio, The Merry Minuet

Them Poems, The Kingston Trio

Coplas, Kingston Trio


Talking Candy Blues, Peter Paul and Mary

Although the Mamas and Papas liked to claim they had the finest blending of voices I still vote for PP&M. …and the greater range of songs, from ballads, folk songs, religious songs (a Christian, a Jew and an atheist!) and children’s songs. Paul wrote “Puff the Magic Dragon” in 1962 as a child’s song, despite the acid-rock era fable that this was a paean to dropping acid.

Go to Google and listen to any Peter, Paul and Mary song.  This is for children.

Were these songs innocent? Or just sane?

Then, in 1969 Woodstock occurred.


Finally, I invite everyone to listen to Don McLean’s original version of “American Pie” then his anguished cry about what we’d all like to do today to all the prideful men and women.

Hats off to Don, for he lamented the beginning of a cultural Dark Age, which nearly 50 years later, we still haven’t figured out what we had, let alone what we lost.

Then he recorded this, which sort of fits my mood today, especially for all the lawyers and Madison Ave brand marketers, and cynical indifferent corporate bosses who have systematically sliced and diced three generations of innocent children who laughed at silly songs about drunks and pigs, and turned them into the most hate-filled cynics in world history.

How did we lose it? Or was it stolen? If so, by whom? And why?

We really need to discuss this.

You know I’d like to put my finger on that trigger once again,
And point that gun at all the prideful men.
All the voyeurs and the lawyers who can pull a fountain pen,
And put you where they choose,
With the language that they use,
And enslave you till you work your youth away,
Oh god how I worked my youth away.



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