Monday, November 23, 2015

Music of Boomer Generation not simply pop-rock

I find it odd that baby boomers neither wrote nor performed the early music so linked to their generation. If the music of a generation is the music created by that generation then boomers should not take any bows for early rock and roll.

Take Johnny B. Goode: this is the number one top '50s hit on a list compiled by Boomers LifeJohnny B. Goode was written and performed by Chuck Berry. Berry was not a boomer. He was born in 1926. He was in his thirties when Johnny B. Goode was topped the charts.

Number two on the list is the Elvis Presley hit Jailhouse Rock. Written for the movie of the same name by the famous song writing team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, both writers were born in 1933. The two were responsible for many of the early rock and roll hits. And Elvis, of course, was not a baby boomer either.

The third song, Rock Around the Clock, was written by Max Freedman and James Myers who were born in 1893 and 1919 respectively. That's right, Max Freedman was 61 when Rock Around the Clock was released. As for Bill Haley himself, the band leader was born in 1925.

My point is that life flows and as it flows it changes. What's happening today is a result of what happened yesterday. But yesterday does not determine today. If it did we could tell the future and we can't. The past influences the present but it doesn't determine it.

And so I say humbug to much of the baby boomer talk. I don't doubt there was a post Second World War baby boom. There was and it was big but there is no perfectly homogeneous, generational wave of Baby Boomers rippling through our society. We are as diverse a group as should be expected being that we span a period of some 19 years -- 1946 to 1965 in Canada.

Early rock and roll is music written and sometimes even performed by the parents of the boomers generation. I do not want to be defined by music gifted to my generation by my parents', and even my grandparents' generation.

One expert on this topic claims classic rock radio supplies an uninterrupted audio lifeline for aging boomers -- a soundtrack-of-one's-life, so to speak. The expert wrote he has fond memories linked to lot's of old rock songs. But his links are suspect.

A check of the release dates of some of the songs uncovered mismatches between the writer's memories and the dates of the songs' popularity. The writer's personal soundtrack is damaged, stretched and distorted like tape in an aging eight track. I am not surprised. At 68 years, I'm finding that linking songs to events has gotten rather iffy and is becoming more and more iffy with each passing year.

Still, I do have some early, very early, memories linked to songs. You may be surprised to learn that these songs are not early rock and roll. Think of How Much Is That Doggy in the Window: I was six when that was a hit for Patti Page. I used to listen to that song with a little girl I thought was kinda cute. We would sit and listen to her Patti Page record together.

I have more memories attached to Perry Como's crooning than I have to early rock and roll and no wonder. There was no rock and roll to speak of when I was a very young boy in the early '50s. I grew up with Perry Como. First on radio and then on television. I recall sitting in front of our large, white Coronet television watching The Perry Como Show with my family.

And my memories of our Coronet television set are as important as my memories of Perry Como. Coronet sets were made right in my hometown, Windsor, Ontario. At one point, one out of every three sets in the Windsor area carried the Coronet name. When a tube failed my mother would pick up a new one at the nearby drugstore. If a new tube didn't fix the problem, our neighbour, who owned a television sales and repair business, would stop by on his way home and put life back into the small, black and white screen.

But, I digress. I told my friends that I didn't believe top-40 radio was the whole story when it came to the baby boomer music story. I have lots of memories linked to songs by artists who got little or no pop-music airtime. My friends didn't and so they disagreed. They seemed to think that record sales numbers told the whole music-of-the-baby-boom story.

I don't think so. Think: Pat Boone. Why Pat Boone? Well, only Elvis Presley and Fats Domino surpassed Pat Boone in record sales in the early days of rock and roll. I pray no one believes the early covers released by Pat Boone represent the music of the boomer generation. That music doesn't represent me.

That said, even I admit to memories attached to some of Pat Boone's soft-pop period songs. Love Letters in the Sand recalls slow dances at weekly sock hops in evening-dark school gyms. But I have more memories attached to other songs, often by lesser known artists.

So, is early rock and roll really the music of the Boomer Generation? The simple answer: No. The music of the Boomer Generation is a rich, all-encompassing mix, composed of all the music from our still unfolding lives. Pop music is only a small part of the mix. It may be the most obvious musical thread but the other threads, though smaller, may be brighter, more colourful and more demanding of attention. In many cases, the music released by lesser known artists still reverberates strongly if only one listens.

I'd place a song with the unlikely title Fresh Garbage among the music of my generation, the boomer generation. And I am sure I am not alone in having wonderful memories linked to that early song by Spirit, a California progressive rock group.

The late '60s song received a fare amount of air time on FM underground radio or alternative rock radio. Fresh Garbage may not have sold in the numbers needed to propel it into the top 40, I don't believe it was ever released as a single, but Spirit album numbers made Fresh Garbage a hit.

When I think of Spirit , I think of 1970 and I think of Berkeley, California. I think of roaring my Morgan roadster down narrow, twisting, mountain roads above that famous college town and I think of Rebekah Wilcher and her incredible family. Her mother, Ida, an artist and her father, Denny, an early environmentalist. Both were strong, left-wing activists. Ida had a picture of herself protesting the war in Vietnam with Joan Baez. Google Denny Wilcher and be amazed. He is one of my heroes.

There is no easy, one-size-fits-all, music road taken by an entire generation. There may be a path most often taken but there are a lot of other well-trodden alternatives. If you insist on having one, all-encompassing answer to the question asking what is the music of the boomer generation, go for it. But please make some room in your answer for Spirit, Captain Beefheart, Karen Dalton, Teegarden and Van Winkle, Savoy Brown, Paul Butterfield, Vanilla Fudge, Cat Mother . . .

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