The generation before the baby boom has often been called the Silent Generation, the World War II Generation or the Greatest Generation. I consider them awesome. They survived the Great Depression and saved the world from tyranny. Their musical progression, however, plummeted from super cool jazz, swing and blues to such disappointing levels of Lawrence Welk and Perry Como. How did they ever blow the triumphs of Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” and Louis Armstrong’s “Jeepers Creepers”, only to come up with “What a Wonderful World?” Are you kidding me?
Baby Boomers took on an entirely different approach to music. They did it in small combos. From “Rocket 88”, “Rock Around the Clock”, “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Peggy Sue”, the early rock n’ rollers had teenagers bopping. The world could have frozen right there for many boomers. When the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and the Doors came along, many boomers could not climb onto the generational bandwagon. They were trapped in the malt shop in their poodle skirts and DA’s. The future scared them. Probably what scared them was the fact that you didn’t need a singing voice any more to get a recording contract. If you could provoke the ‘Man’ with political and social messages like Bob Dylan and Lou Reed, you were a poet.
Protests over the war in Viet Nam made boomers think beyond the norm and they bucked tradition. It was certainly reflected in music. Songs that used to play for 2 to 3 minutes now were transcending experiences lasting anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes depending on the level of narcotic buzz from the Grateful Dead, Yes and Pink Floyd. The size of concerts grew to fill sports arenas, football stadiums and large open fields. The artists that filled these venues could be counted upon to tour with regularity and to jam their audiences into spirited enlightenment.
On the fringes of the disenfranchised, grew the music of the disco; pounding the same beat as rock, but with a fatter bass and lyrics exulting forbidden love while dancing. One could easily turn up the volume of the 8-track player in the car to listen to Fleetwood Mac, on the way to get to the club to dance to Donna Summer. The world could have frozen right there for many boomers. When the Ramones, the Clash, Patti Smith and the Sex Pistols came along, many boomers could not climb onto the generational bandwagon. They were happy with pot, yet these new musical interpreters had a thing for heroin. Their beat not only woke the dead, it played with their bones and spit at the onlookers.
Even further from the world of hope grew rap. It held a level of anger that had been festering for centuries; once it was unleashed, iambic pentameter was never the same.
Boomers who accepted punk and rap are open to new music and new interpretations of the human condition. They will download both Kanye West and Arcade Fire. Those boomers who were scared shitless by punk and rap can be seen at oldies concerts on the Fourth of July, singing along to “Don’t Stop Believin’” and they think to themselves, “What a wonderful world”.