OK, Boomer: What We Left To Posterity
“OK, Boomer” has become a dismissive meme of the millennial and GenZ cohorts that connotes the “out-of-touchness” of those of us in our early 70s as well as the unwillingness of the Baby Boomers to cede power and authority to the younger people in their 20s. We Boomers also cannot compete with the younger folks on the Internet and the GenZer’s mock us for using Facebook.
I understand the resentment by the young of the old who the young feel are in their way and holding back their progress. They want the Boomers out of the way. I once felt that way about my elders, too. Every generation does. There’s nothing new here, but a recent long airplane flight gave me the occasion to identify what the Boomers really left to posterity for which the young generation ought to be grateful. Music.
Our Boomer presidents—Clinton, Bush 43, Obama (sort of), and Trump—leave a lot to be desired and are unlikely to make it up the face of Mt. Rushmore. If FDR isn’t there, neither will be Donald Trump. The Boomers also won’t leave the political scene. Bernie, Biden, Warren and now Bloomberg all qualify as Boomers or near-Boomers. Some, like Bernie, are actually too old.
But we Boomers did gift the young something durable. All of this was on display in three films I watched on the way to Japan—The Summer of Love, Janis, and The Legends of the Canyon.
The first was a PBS documentary made for The American Experience that shows that the so-called Summer of Love lasted only a few months from January 1967 to October of that year. Thousands of young people—many hippies—streamed into San Francisco and the Haight-Ashbury District and tried to set up a true counterculture. It didn’t quite work out. Eventually the hippies either went onto communes outside the city or returned to their homes in the east and Midwest. But for a brief few months there was peace and love and a lot of LSD in the streets of San Francisco and some great music was born then. It was the summer of Monterey Pop when Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix made a huge impression on the crowds south of San Francisco and became household names. This was also the summer of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the rockers in LA and SF were trying to keep up with the Beatles. There was free food and free clothes and free clinics and for a bright, shining moment life was sweet in San Francisco. It ended fast. By the time we got to Woodstock, peace and love was over on the west coast. I was actually in the Haight-Ashbury district in August of 1968 and it all was gone by then, reduced to clone-like head shops selling posters of once unknown groups who were now worth millions like Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and the Holding Company.
This was also the summer that Janis Joplin, the lead singer of Big Brother, emerged as the queen of rock and the blues. No one had ever heard anything like the powerhouse from Port Arthur, Texas and the film about her all-to-brief life does a good job of displaying her unique talent and the pain that went into producing that voice. Much of her emotion is revealed in letters from Janis to her family and through interviews with her family members and friends. The music of Janis Joplin, dead of an overdose at 27, will last forever.
As Woodstock was about to launch, another center of new music was rising on the west coast in Laurel Canyon up the hill from Sunset Boulevard and the clubs where many of the stars of Woodstock got their start. The third documentary, Legends of the Canyon, focuses heavily on Crosby, Stills and Nash and how they came together as a super group, how Neil Young was added and subtracted with some regularity, and how their unique sound was enshrined in two remarkable albums in 1969 and 1970. The prominent role of the Mamas and the Poppas and Joni Mitchell is also a big part of the film.
All three films are worth a watch, but what the three make clear is that while the politics of the Vietnam Era Sixties is thankfully over, the music will live forever. It was a great and serendipitous intersection of politics and creativity and a lot of drugs with a nexus of interacting ideas in both San Francisco and Los Angeles. When combined with the biographical films about Linda Ronstadt and David Crosby released this year, the total picture emerges of the true gift of the Boomers to American culture. It is the music.
Very little of the music my parents listened to in their youth (big band) was heard fifty years later in the 80’s and 90’s, yet the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Nobel laureate Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell as well as Janis Joplin and Crosby, Stills and Nash are still in frequent rotation on satellite radio, some with their own special stations. The music that emanated from Great Britain, LA, San Francisco and New York will also live longer than the hip-hop that dominates Top Forty radio now. Can you see your kids’ kids listening to Kanye or Beyonce? Me, neither.
I get that the young people want us to step aside and after all, we all will be gone soon enough. In the mean time, castigate us for our presidents, our wars, your student debt, and our inability to keep up with you on the Internet, but please thank us for the music. It is the greatest gift the Boomers gave the world.