Leaders of the Pack

I last wrote about Eve Babitz who seems at first blush like a voice of the baby boom generation. And she is. But she isn’t a baby boomer, having been born in 1943.

This reminds us what artificial constructs all such demographic lines of demarcation are. We call states Red or Blue, for example. But even in really blue states forty percent of the people are red or purplish, and vice versa.

As regards the baby boomers, the spike in births may have begun in 1946 and ended in 1964 but the attitudes that informed the era and for which it gets praised or blamed began a lot earlier. Nothing comes from nothing.

If the boomers are regularly derided for being debauched revolutionaries – drunk on sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, their predecessors – The Silent Generation – are either extolled as solid, dutiful citizens or mocked as conformist, organization men. Both are simplistic caricatures.

I am an early boomer, old enough so that members of the silent generation were the big brothers and sisters of my cohort. When we were in junior high or high school, they were in college or the workforce. The ones I remember dressed like Archie and Reggie, Veronica and Betty. They hung around the malt shop, drove souped up older cars, fooled around with hi-fi and ham radios. They listened to the Four Freshmen and Stan Kenton, Odetta and Pete Seeger.

Some became the real life version of the guys on Mad Men, but others were Freedom Riders. They read the Beats, worshipped Miles, marched for Civil Rights, began the feminist movement and opposed the Vietnam War. In fact, the list of Eve’s paramours – Harrison Ford, Jim Morrison, Stephen Stills, Ed Rauscha, Steve Martin – were, like her, all members or the silent generation. Not a boomer among them.

We often lose sight of the fact, since they seemed to represent the boomers, that so many of the era’s iconic figures were of the previous generation. A very partial list includes The Beatles, the Stones, The Who, The Beach Boys, Dylan, Baez, Paul Simon, Otis and Smokey, Joni, Clapton, Bob Marley, Van the Man, Jerry Garcia, the Band, Aretha, Wilson Pickett, Diana Ross, Jane Fonda, Raquel, James Caan, Pacino, De Niro, George Lucas, Jim Henson, Scorsese, Steinem, Baba Ram Dass, Mario Savio, Jesse Jackson, Muhammed Ali, Harvey Milk. I could go on indefinitely.

Pat Buchanan may have to stop blaming the boomers for the decline of the West. And boomers who take credit for changing the world for the better may want to consider practicing a little uncharacteristic humility.

Billy Joel, an actual boomer, said “We didn’t start the fire. We didn’t light it, but we tried to fight it.” Perhaps, but when the times were a-changin’ those who heralded the change and tried “to seek a newer world” weren’t the boomers but their older brothers and sisters.

In retrospect they seem like they were more serious and sober about making a difference as opposed to making a show. They also came along too early to be responsible for Disco, which surely gives them the moral high ground.

Comments are closed.