In 1960 Floyd Cramer recorded “Last Date”. If you’re over 60 you’ll recognize it, but you may not remember why, or where.
It sold over a million copies. A certified all-time hit.
I was 14 at the time, and as you may recall from my “16 Candles” post a few weeks back, I liked the slower tempo songs better.
I was an early Baby Boomer, but there were Baby Boomers (1946-1964) not even born when the Beatles came on the scene in 1963, while my teenager-hood began with Elvis. Most Boomers in fact would have never heard Elvis sing “Love me Tender” or “Jailhouse Rock”, or Danny and the Juniors, “At the Hop”, 1957, unless they had a big sister who kept a stack of ’45’s. That would be my brother Bueford, or Bue, born 1947, still, and an early Baby-Boomer.
(If you’re a Millennial, you may not even know what a 45 looks like.)
The 45 itself was a marketing tool to capture this youth market, first put out there in 1949. The discs were $.97 when I was a kid in the early 50s only I never bought any because I never had anything to play them on.
Where we grew up there wasn’t a soda shop at the street corner where kids could hang out, to drop a nickle or dime in a jukebox. All we had was a local AM radio station in the daytime, and after 9, powerhouse stations like WLAC in Nashville (mostly country) and WLS in Chicago (mostly rock and roll), with a DJ named Dick Biondi whose name I can remember only because of the arrival of $7.99 transistor radios from Japan. Most of the kids got one under the Christmas tree by the time we were 11, making a night under the stars on the mountain behind our house, with a tent, and a fire, and a pack of $.35 machine-bought Winstons, a weekly summertime treat.
The theme here is music and the generations, and I wrote about our Youth Center in that earlier post, which I began going to in ’57, when Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Danny and the Juniors were all on the box. Elvis joined the Army when I was 13, but before he went in, he made a movie in ’56, “Love me Tender” only it didn’t go by that title at the time, but “The Reno Brothers”. My pal GaryWayne, son of Earl Hodge, had seen it on a Saturday, so on the next showing we slipped in behind my big sister and two of her class mates, all in high school, who were swapping hankies and boo-hooing over Elvis’ big dying scene.
Nobody ever told us pop music was supposed to be important in our lives. It just was. We had no idea of the power of advertising, and certainly no idea that the Pop Culture was a creation, or where it came from. A lot of preachers in our area didn’t like Elvis and our parents heard them say so on the radio. On reflection, they may have been right, but at the time it didn’t seem to matter, or deter us, as our access to national pop music improved even more when our town finally got an ABC TV-station out of Asheville, NC, and we could start watching Dick Clark’s American Bandstand every weekday, after school.
By 10th grade we had wall-to-wall pop music…except on Sunday.
So My Generation was the first to experience this Quickening in our culture, only we didn’t know it at the time. The generations before us had Swing; the Dorseys, Glenn Miller, big bands, going back to the advent of radio in the 1920s, and while that music changed tempo and beat, and bands, the technology never really did, just radio and films, until television brought mass audiences. The first Rock n’ Roll film was “Rock Around the Clock”, 1956. Bill Haley and the Comets. But millions of teenagers watched Dick Clark daily. Millions also watched Elvis on television in 1956. I saw him on “Ed Sullivan Show”. And the Beatles got that same sort of national reception, also on Ed Sullivan, in February, 1964, my senior year in high school, less than 90 days after JFK was shot. I saw that show too…that time with my younger brother Bue (above) who was 15 at the time.
I would go away to college in a few months, so I hardly saw Bue for four years. We never pal’d around.
The quick-change in musical trends from the 50s to 60s were just part of his world. No big deal. Not only did the technologies change more rapidly, but the “wonderment of it all” changed as well. So, by the time I went to college, something “new” in music was routine every couple of years, even expected by brother Bue.
In college, without a car (dating) and a job (bookstore) music became secondary to me, limited to that little transistor or piped-in music at the bookstore. I sort of kept up, enough to notice teenage kids had their own kind of music, BubbleGum they called it. I remember the singers more than the songs, which caused me recently to look up Bobby Vee, one of the earliest BubbleGum singers, to learn his stage premier in 1958 was to fill the bill after Buddy Holly’s plane went down in Iowa, taking a lot of great rock stars with him.
According to Don McLean (in 1971) that crash was the “day the music died”, By then with me an Army captain in Japan, and brother Bue somewhere in a ship at sea in the Pacific.
People “got it” when they heard McLean’s lyrics to “American Pie”.
All the pieces then fit. And it turns out McLean is my age, two months older, with one toe in the previous generation, and one foot in the Baby Boom generation.
In that same period brother Bue had become an expert in music appreciation. While I was in college he’d become a DJ on our local AM radio station. I saw him no more than ten times in those four years. He would have been 16 when that Gulf of Tonkin thing in Vietnam thing had increased awareness of the draft. I was already hooked up with the Army through ROTC. But when Bue turned 18 he chose not to go to college so married a preacher’s daughter thinking that might keep the draft board away. Then he moved to my college town around ’67, having found a good job at a technical plant, and gotten wifey pregnant, hoping that would call off the draft-dogs. Then they came out with the lottery, and his number came up 5, so, what-the-hell, he decided to enlist, choosing the Navy and a four year hitch, versus two mucking about in Vietnam. He stayed 32 years…and then they had to drag him out by his ankles. Told me he stayed 5 extra years just to keep Clinton from destroying “his” Navy. Then he stayed on as a civilian consultant at the Navy’s weapons facility for another 20.
We’ve been best mates since he went into the Navy in ’68, but still, when we reminisce, I stand in stark amazement at how differently our cultures were defined, and in just that three short years between our entering this world.
It deserves broader analysis, and I was a better analyst than I ever was a lawyer. I never lost a case I took to the jury simply because I analyzed aspects of the case that by-the-numbers careerist prosecutors routinely ignored, as in the Case of the Heisted Bicycle, which I wrote for a now-closed VeteransTales blog. It was just a misdemeanor, but conviction would have destroyed a senior sergeant and his family’s retirement plans. It was a no-brainer to me but the prosecutor’s office didn’t (couldn’t) see it.
I would be over 50, and spending a few years in the old USSR and the Soviet bloc before I would take a backward glance at things such as “unified theories”, “how things work”, “natural law”, and “laws of generations”, in the context of America as we moved through the 20th Century, and here, in the context of “popular culture” and its origins.
How did we go from Rock music to Groupies, then to destructive “highly-schooled, middle-class American women” (source: Ted Joy, a Twitter friend)? Those highly-schooled American women began in the the early 60s, (Nancy Pelosi’s generation) only as “upper class”, not “middle.” Then only measuring in the thousands.
It took 200 years to go from rich Parisian women peeling off their underwear for Franz Liszt to small armies of Deadheads doing the same for Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead (who had exactly ONE Top 40 hit.)
It only took another 10 years to turn those thousands into the millions, although these days I don’t hear anything about the music anymore, just their appetites and demands, much of it redirected in their schools. This week they’re throwing public teat fits because they may not be able to kill their babies up to the day of delivery, or other inconveniences.
Was it technology? Or money? Or both? Madison Avenue I’m often told. Money, avarice/greed, I understand. But drugs? And a total corruption of the popular culture, generation-by-generation? Where’s the profit in creating a culture that eats itself alive?
Time and again Natural Law has demonstrated what it does with such cultures, from Sodom and Gomorrah in the self-gratification version of self-destruction, to the USSR in the repetitive political and bureaucratic version of self-destruction.
Today both of these models are being used, simultaneously, only I think in the cynical belief that the former, once it achieves its purposes can be easily disposed after it reaches its objective. But the second is where Man’s ultimate vanity always seems to lead him; the belief that they can design the perfect system…again…maybe time substituting technology, managed by AI, for the proven more human fallible bureaucratic systems of old.
It’s not that they can succeed, they can’t. But they can create a system, like the Feudal System, that could require a thousand years to undo.
In 1956 a man named William Whyte published a book Organization Man, detailing post-WWII ideas about a new vision of corporate America, not only in front office-thinking and structure, but in community-building and thinking. A culture. In my career I’ve known at least three different iterations, including the current New World Order idea, coming from more than one sector.
I read this book in college in the 1960s and read one thing, and again in the last 4 years, reading something entirely different. The author was an analyst, not a happy camp follower, so issued a polite warning.
Many of his fears have been realized.
We’ll take this subject up with more detail, but I can say with some certainty that a malleable, easy to twist-and-turn middle class is a key to reaching their goals.
“Last Date” anyone?