While on the topic of macro-trends that rule our lives (my previous post about the economy), does one of these labels resonate with you: Baby boomer, Millennial, mod or rocker1? I wasn’t born a Baby boomer but later became one2, somewhat against my will. I’m thinking a new subcategory of Baby boomer would make more sense of the macro-trends of the 1970’s.
Originally, Baby boomers3 were the result of the lovefest of veterans of World War 2 (Canadian and American) coming home to their sweethearts and, well, procreating. Making sweet little babies to raise in the consumerism of the 1950’s, the era of mass production and Leave it to Beaver families.
The ’60s was the beginning of free love. Real Baby boomers, who by this time were in their late teens and early 20s, went to Woodstock to listen to radical music that was either political, psychedelic or both. They did trippy drugs like acid and peyote.
For the most part, these folks, born in the late 1940’s and 50’s, settled down through the 70’s and 80’s, and did their version of wholesomeness, perhaps more like the Brady Bunch, often with both parents working, hard and competitively, and in a broader definition of a family unit. They grew up.
Alternatively, and I don’t use this term lightly, if you were born around 1960, your parents came from a different experience than the WW2 veterans. My parents didn’t get the best deal, they were having babies during the height of hippy culture, watching the party while they settled into responsibility, planning birthday parties for 2 year olds.
Those 2 years olds grew wild and free into the ’70’s when the free love fire was fanned by birth control pills and being a mall rat was a full time occupation. We embraced punk rock, and its more polite derivative, New Wave. This wasn’t hippy music. It had the social commentary but a frenetic energy that I didn’t hear in the music of the ’60s.
To me, the music of the ’60s was very folky4. Musically, it’s about soft tones, harmonies, acoustic guitars and polite arrangements (meaning, no thrashing drums, wailing guitars, vocals mixed out front of the instruments, or vice versa). Contemporary folk music was something that could happen around a campfire with one guitar. I sang such music in my grade 8 choir, with about 70 other voices. There were metaphors about spices, meeting and gently caring about people.
Punk rock was different. Although songs in both genres may have political or social themes, the emotional overtone is different. With punk, there’s anger, distrust and frustration. Punk energy is pure-fire, adrenaline-induced frenzy, lyrically and instrumentally.
New wave toned down the anger, replacing it often with sarcasm or red leather jackets. There was an elegance to new wave. While it maintained the feverish time of punk tunes, the production was as purposely polished as punk was thrashed.
What happened to turn the social influences from the peace and love-loving early Baby boomers, who came of age around a campfire singing harmonies, to the later boomers, more at home in gritty bars and head bopping to frantic beats?
Punk rock is said to have been a reaction to poor economic conditions in Britain and a counter to idealism of the hippie culture in the US.5 These two very different trends but both related to WW2. The post-war bounty, in both babies and consumer lifestyle, are American and Canadian things. In the bombed out UK, economic recovery was slower and hippies harder to find.
As a child of the suburban dream6, steeped in middle class okness, I wonder why I found punk rock appealing. I was not raised in economic distress but found folky music cloying. A little too good to be true or realistic. And just too relaxed. I had nothing against hippie culture but knew it wasn’t mine. It belonged to the older kids. The truism echoing in my head is that every generation has its thing, so must the next one have its own.
I found punk rock culture ultra cool. The look was shocking, back in a day when it was still possible to jaw-drop against the collective norm. Safety pins, ripped t shirts, homemade peg-legged pants, ultra short, asymmetric hair, with random colours.
The look was secondary to the outlet of dancing. Dancing is a polite way to describe pogoing, or jumping up and down on a crowded dance floor to a staccato beat at twice a normal heat rate without a care for who you bump into. The lyrics were also reckless abandon, with phrases like ‘I wanna be sedated’, ‘ain’t no human being’ and ‘Gimme that opener, give me that beer’.7
Fast forward to now and all we Baby boomers are seniors. Ages 58 to 77, eligible for various discounts at a store near you. Ok, I have more in common with the folks in this age group than deals on cat food, such as retirement finances, arthritis, RSPs or pension plans, grandchildren, age spots, and an ongoing lust for life.
Skimming over 75 years of history is bound to lead to generalizations that don’t include everyone. Clearly we are all people first, seeking love, family comfort and fitting in, or not fitting in, which is a way of fitting within. Generations are a convenient way to encapsulate big, broad social and economic trends and their impact on humans. Generational trends are real but not the ultimate definition of who we are.
But damn, I’m nothing like those older boomers, who now listen to classic [soft] rock of the early ’70’s, vote liberal and wear colourful clothes. Imma head bop, wear black and worship modern versions of punk rock. So completely different than the Baby boomers that came before me. 🤘
2 The original definition of a Baby boomer was someone born between 1945 and 1955, then 1960 and now it’s 1964 or 65.
4 I’m referring to contemporary folk music.
6 The suburbs being an outcome of the intersection of consumerism and babies as owning a home required new houses which resulted in land development around urban centres and these homes need to be big enough to support the family of 4.5 and all the stuff they required. This stuff could be obtained at the mall, a concept closely related to consumerism, suburbs and babies.
7 Respectively, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols and Teenage Head. US, UK and Canada, late ’70s.