Rock Music Legends
Lennon has many labels today. Depending on your perspective, he might be a
Rock legend, hippy, workingman hero, social activist, anti-war
demonstrator, or simply a pop genius.
If you don't like him, you might say the same thing. The difference
would be your connotation of those labels.
Welcome to the conundrum of the Boomer generation. While we seemed to
be a single united (and often frightening) group to watchers in the
1960's, in the Reagan years and beyond we appear to have decided there
were "irreparable differences."
Why has the "with it" generation degenerated to "us" and "them?" Were
the 1960's really as liberal as our memories say they were? Does the
reason for today's red-blue fault line in American society hide in plain
sight in those same years where we all seemed to have "come together?"
We'll look for those answers as we examine the 1960's and the people
and events that made them as exciting and certainly more original than
anything we've seen since.
Rock Legends: John Lennon
I chose John Lennon to start this series because for most of us, what
we consider the Sixties started sometime after JFK took office in 1961.
The exact start date is not critical, but we all agree that the ride
didn't pick up speed until we got a soundtrack of our own.
As we saw in the Dylan course this spring, music was a growing force in
America. Much of that force derived from technology changes that
multiplied the impact. As television moved from nearly no watchers in 1950
to 90% of the households having and using at least one TV once a day in
1960, it might seem that music would have less, not more, influence.
But those same changes meant radio turned to broadcasting popular music
as television lured away first the listeners, and then the shows that
radio had popularized. At the same time, the cheaply produced 45 rpm
record came on the market, making it easier for a record company to ply
the station something to play. Since the TV took the adults, when the
national programming left with them, it was easier for the local radio
station to turn to music. The people playing these records became known as
disc jockeys, and then, finally, DJs.
The music agreed with the younger listeners, and as the next technology
transistor radio, came along the radio stations started a connection that
would make them more profitable than their previous incarnation had ever
been. A portable battery powered radio, the transistor radio kept
teenagers connected to their music constantly.
But music didn't become a the boomer's soundtrack that 'everyone' heard
until a cold day in February, 1964. After a harsh winter and the
emotional time following the death of President Kennedy, we were all
starting to recognize there was a new sound in the land. (And it wasn't
that gnarled southern corn-pone president that spoke like Foghorn
No, this new sound was coming from our transistor radios non-stop in
January of 1964. The DJ's had been bringing us Beatle songs for weeks, and
we liked it. The music was frenetic and fun, with a fast beat, janglely
guitars, and a blend of voices that set them apart from everyone else on
American radio. Only the Beach Boys were close, but these guys
didn't sing about surfing, and in fact, their lyrics were outta sight,
weren't they? Oh Yeah! In fact, "yeah yeah Yeah!"
On the calendar, the Beatles landed in America on February 7, 1964. If
during the first British Invasion the signal was "one if by land and two
if by sea," this time was "four if by air." Everyone seemed to get the
message. When they arrived at a New York airport, they were surrounded by
what could later be seen as the first mass-gathering of "the youth tribes"
- the airport was mobbed by kids from the New York / New Jersey
area, while those of us in the outlands were left to experience it through
the relatively new media of television. (No, it wasn't shown live. Back
then, only a Presidential death had prompted a live, unscripted break in
the daily broadcasts of soaps and shows. But the media was becoming adept
at using "portable" movie cameras. Called portable because they could be
moved outside a studio, not because they were handy or easy to use.
They weighed only 80 pounds or so!)
No, the news was not delivered from the location. It was given to us as
though it was, via an anchorman (no one was self-conscious about that
title. They were always men, just like the postman, councilman, newsman or
the congressman.) In this case, the news came to us from CBS
studios, and it came at a scheduled time - 5:30 p.m. Central Time.
Everything was scheduled back then, and for most people, those
schedules seemed sensible. People worked from morning to early evening,
and gathered at 6 p.m. for the nightly meal. At least, it seemed that way.
Beav and Wally, Fred and Barney, Ricky, Rusty, and Timmy - and all our
friends outside the TV - certainly gathered together at the dinner table
somewhere near 'dinner time' every night, and it didn't seem unusual to
us. (It was easy to tell dinner time - they rang the siren every day
at noon and 6 p.m. That way if they had to ring it for an emergency - like
a nuclear attack - they knew it would work. Of course, some of us wondered
what if the 'Reds' attacked around 6 p.m. - then we'd all be caught
sitting down to dinner, wouldn't we?)
Anyway, sitting down to dinner at 6 p.m. only made sense - there was
nothing on the TV then except local news, and besides, there was no where
to go anyway. With the exception of a school event, most stores were
closed by 6 p.m. More likely, they were closed by 5, actually.
Those new 'shopping malls' were an exception, but they were few in
But the story of the Beatles landing in New York took not just the east
coast but the country by storm. TV devoted a large portion of the half
hour newscast to the event, since the anchorman was trying to give his audience, our
Depression/WWII era parents, an understanding of the reason for the mass
hysteria. But the answers were not clear to anyone older than 16, which
became apparent at that first press conference.
Serious journalists, who had questioned presidents and statesmen,
important business leaders and people from all walks of life, could not
understand the reason for the excitement. They asked questions so straight
that the boys couldn't help but deliver the punch lines. If the answers
didn't explain anything in words, it spoke volumes to the watchers under
20. These boys were cute, and they were funny. That told American teens
everything they needed to know.
And did I mention the haircuts? In America, if you were a boy under 20,
you had a buzzcut, or a flat top. If you one of the rare ones with
anything longer, you had a DA, and it was Brelcremed or Vitalised into
subservience. As the commercials would soon announce, "the wet head is
dead." And boy were they right!
Over the course of this series of Rock Legends, we'll explore the
people, the events, and most importantly, the results of these years of
excitement and wonder as the first of the 'baby boomers' came of age.
PowerPoint from Lennon discussion