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A Boomer's Story

journey through the past

December 3, 2010
Twist and Shout
A couple of quick questions for you Baby Boomers. Does the music of your youth become trivialized as you get older, or do you still acknowledge the impact it once had in your lives? Is good music then still good music now, or does the passage of time and course of events reduce what was important 40 years ago to novelty status now?

The Summer of Love, Monterey Pop Festival, Woodstock Music and Arts Fair, and the infamous free concert at Altamont Raceway in California amount to little more than footnotes in the rock and roll history book to today’s younger generation.

Maybe you were even there at Wadena, 40 years ago this summer, along the Volga River, for Iowa's biggest (and only) real rock festival. Or maybe you just consider Easy Rider to be the hippest movie ever made.

But if the late 1960s are safely within your recall powers, you were part of the short-lived, but greatest era in popular music. This, of course, like anything involving music, is open to debate. Apologies in advance to fans of the big bands era and those who think Elvis changed the world. (In some respects he did, but he didn’t do it in response to the events of his time.) Also excluded here are the real practitioners of blues and bluegrass music, who have always been great and still are today.

For the purposes of this column, let’s say the golden era of pop music that mattered can be defined roughly as taking place between the Kennedy assassination in 1963 through the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. There’s nothing official about that, it’s just that historic events often coincide with the mood of the music industry. During those years, there were cultural and societal upheavals of all kinds that galvanized a fully invested youth movement from Greenwich Village to Golden Gate Park and on all college campuses in between. It was an extremely fluid time, and whether or not you really had any interest in the many youth movements of the time, you were forced to appreciate the most creative and volatile pop music ever made. 

Great music was born of great conflict within the music community. Battles raged on all fronts between folkies and rockers, acoustic guitars and electric guitars, hippies and hillbillies, AM radio and FM radio. When all of these factors were at work during a period in U.S. history of discord unlike any since the Civil War, the music was bound to be as edgy as the mood. No such music climate exists today. Heck, albums barely exist today. Artists need only to produce an occasional song available for download to your cell phone to keep the attention of their fans.

But it's you I'm talking to, Boomers. Some of you retirees by now. You lived through, and probably in some way, took part in the golden age of music. What have you done with your vinyl record albums anyway? Have you got the Beatles White album stashed someplace collecting dust?

Now, for the news. The music of your youth hasn’t changed. Your perspective may have changed, but the music hasn’t. More on that another time, but what about those albums you used to have? Or that pile of 45 RPM hit singles, that before albums mattered much, drove the music industry. 

Maybe your records disappeared at some garage sale 20 years ago, or maybe they wound up at the bottom of a trash dumpster because A) you're a professional now, and your taste in music either disappeared or became more `sophisticated’; B) you didn't want your kids or grandkids to catch you listening to Captain Beefhart and His Magic Band; or C) you didn't have a record player to play them on even if you wanted to.  

Mine, and they number close to a couple thousand, reside in the same wooden boxes my dad made for me, so I could haul them around between college residences 40 years ago. To me they still have value, to others maybe not. I'll admit there are some in there that give me reason to wonder why they are in my possession. Did I buy that record and what was I thinking at that point? 

But most of them remain to this day, important documents not to be discarded, though if you plan on listening to the music you better seek out the digital remasters, if they exist that is. Point is, just because you're pushing 60 or past it already doesn't mean you still can't think Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited is the best album you ever heard, even if it was made 45 years ago.  

What happens when rock and rollers hit 60? Does the music become irrelevant? Do the musicians become irrelevant? Do the Rolling Stones for instance, still matter? Theories differ, but does it seem increasingly likely we might see Mick Jagger show up as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars any season now? 

Does Paul McCartney wonder if we still love him now that he's four years past 64? Has it really been 30 years this month since John Lennon died?   

Each month we will discuss this Boomer music crisis further. I will convince you that the music that was relevant then, is still far more than an afterthought even in today’s digital world. I will also reveal to you the best music available from the time period in question to further shake the cobwebs from your high school and college memory closet. Watch for recommendations and rankings starting next month.

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