Wednesday, July 22, 2015

I'm not a Baby Boomer, I'm not a Generation X'er, I'm not a Millennial, I am a Proud 'Tweener



I've always identified with the music of the Baby Boomer generation. But I'm not a Boomer. Not really. The infant explosion that took place after the end of World War II in 1945 lasted roughly until the mid-1950s. Anyone born before or after that ten-year span isn't really, technically, officially a Boomer. I know, all these generational definitions (Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, etc) are just the concoctions of pretentious sociology professors, annoyingly cerebral journalists, and perhaps Hallmark. But play along. I've got something important to tell you.

While I'm too young to be a card-carrying member of the Me Generation, I'm too old to be a member of Gen' X, the proceeding group that produced some rather pathetic clothing styles ("Pull up your damn baggy pants, kid, and get off my lawn!"). But Gen X did generate some great music artists, too, namely Kurt Cobain, who despite his sad and untimely death by suicide was a gifted songwriter. 

But no, I'm definitely not a Gen X'er. I am a 'Tweener. That's someone who was born between the Boom and the X -- more-or-less between 1955 and 1965. Most folks believe I am a Baby Boomer. I was born in 1960, which according to many puts me in that boom box.  

Many say Boomers are people born from 1945 to 1964. But that isn't accurate in terms of social experience. As a Tweener, my cultural references, influences and experiences differ from both the Boomers (except for the music), and from the proceeding Generation Xers.

I personally think true Boomers with the full Boomer experience were born from 1945 to 1955. We 'Tweeners didn't go to Woodstock. We didn't ban the bra or march on Selma or burn our draft cards. We didn't really change the world much. Why? Because, well, we
 came of age in the mid-70's, which was essentially an extended hangover from the 60's and, then, from Watergate. 

The Vietnam War had just ended. It was a vaguely fun but kitschy, ill-defined transitional era identified by disco, sensitive singer-songwriters, KISS, widening lapels and CB radios. I kinda loved it. But that's another story. As it turned out, the 70's were just a brief moment in time that followed the far more "consequential" 60's and preceded a curious new embrace of conformity called the 1980's the likes of which our nation hadn't seen since the 1950's.

We 'Tweeners have always been content to pitch our tent in a less controversial piece of land between the Boomer camp and the Gen X camp, for pretty obvious reasons. After all, unlike Boomers, we 'Tweeners didn't go from being long-haired hippies chanting "Kill the cops" to button-down yuppies vowing to "Make a killing." And unlike Gen X'ers, we certainly didn't wear our baseball caps backward in the 90s, embrace a largely dismal music genre called "grunge," and bitch and moan and growl and whine that reality bites.

All kidding aside, the Boomers did change the world. They fought injustice and won many of those battles. And they do sometimes get a bum rap. Boomers are undeniably spoiled and narcissistic. And they did turn divorce into the new national pastime. But they really aren't that different then preceding generations. 


Baby Boomers are the subject of a lot of jealousy. They were responsible in their youth for more positive change than most any other generation in this country's history. But wow did they change. Eventually everyone settles down, chills out and sells out to consumerism. And almost everyone gets a little more conservative and money-conscious when they have kids and a mortgage. It happens. But this group did a real 180.

So Why Do I like Baby Boomer Music?

So now that we got that all straight, I can tell you why I passionately identify with the Boomers' music and always will. It's simple: I started listening to "Boomer" music when I could barely walk and talk. I had older, music-loving siblings, who are Boomers. I had hip, music-loving parents. And I was a musician who started playing very young. I began pounding on the drums when I was barely out of diapers, then turned to guitar when I was 12. And I loved virtually all the music of the 60's, especially the stuff I heard my dad play. He was a top 40 radio deejay.

The songs I heard on my dad's radio station were happy, melodic, and free from pain or angst, for the most part. But the curious thing is, the 60's were one of the darkest decades of our nation's history, with palpable hatred spewing between frustrated fathers and rebellious sons, violent race riots on the streets, and, of course, the Vietnam War and all its accompanying madness. And I did kinda get that even as a very little kid. 

That seemingly irreconcilable juxtaposition of light and darkness is what has always fascinated me about the 60's. This played out in two iconic concerts in 1969. Woodstock, the legendary three-day music festival in upstate New York in August 1969, was what many thought and hoped would be the groovy and definitive grand finale' of the decade of peace and love and drugs and mud. But four months later, in the very last month of the decade, the free Rolling Stones concert at the Altamont Speedway in California degenerated into violent mayhem and murder. It was the ultimate bummer, man.


Those two events demonstrated the yin and yang of the decade, which of course was dominated by the Boomers. 
On the "FM" side there was the edgy psychedelia of the Jefferson Airplane, the angry protest songs of Bob Dylan, the cosmic feedback of Jimi Hendrix, the hard rock/blues brilliance of Cream, and the hauntingly introspective and terrifyingly intense college/garage rock of the Doors.

On the "AM" side, there was the innocently trippy, joyously melodic pop-rock of the Cowsills (The Rain, The Park, and Other Things), the impossibly beautiful and singable songs of the Association (Windy), the humorous and catchy madness of the Turtles (Happy Together), the powerful, Motownish melodies of the Grass Roots (Temptation Eyes), and the sublime, brass-filled hooks of the Buckinghams (Don't You Care). 


As the war and protests against it intensified, the radio was curiously filling up with these and other songs that were the sweetest and catchiest tunes in pop music history. I guess for many, these tunes were a safe harbor in a stormy decade. But these were the songs I remember best from the 60's. It wasn't until I hit puberty and picked up a guitar in the early 70's that I delved into the darker FM netherworlds.

It comforts me to know that several of those amazing 60's radio hit-makers are still touring and performing these songs. In fact, every band I mentioned above is part of the so-called Happy Together tour, which each summer collects some of the best surviving bands from the 60's Top 40 record charts and takes the show on the road in what has become a big, happy whiff of nostalgia. 

The tour, which hits Humphrey's in San Diego on Wednesday night, is a total blast produced and hosted by Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, two founding members of the Turtles who are also known as Flo & Eddie.


The Cowsills - Then
I've seen just about every Happy Together tour, and this year's group tops them all, at least for me. But the band I'm most excited to see this time is the Cowsills, the group of immensely talented siblings that were just kids and teens in the 60's but who were among the most underrated musicians, singers and songwriters of the rock era. This band, which was the real-life inspiration for The Partridge Family, had several other major hits including HairLove American Style, and Indian Lake

Composed of siblings Billy, Bob, Paul, Barry, John, and Susan, plus their mom Barbara, the Cowsills were managed by father William "Bud" Cowsill, a domineering ex-Navy officer who beat, bullied, and alienated his children and tragically tore the band apart. 

But with the Cowsills, the good always shines through. As I've said before, no song better captured the sunny, innocent side of the 1960's than the Cowsills' "The Rain, the Park and Other Things." Released in 1967, the song combined ethereal, organ-infused pop with stunning harmonies and an unapologetic sweetness. It's the definitive 60s radio song. I love it to this day.

And the ability of the band, which now features Bob, Paul and Susan Cowsill, to keep performing and living their lives with with such joy and purpose after the horrors their father put them through as children is a profile in courage and a testament to the healing powers of music. I promise you that at the Happy Together show tonight at Humphrey's in San Diego, the Cowsills, even among all these great bands, will stand out. These guys just have a way of connecting with audiences on a deep level. 

I spoke to a Genuine Baby Boomer....

Paul, Susan and Bob Cowsill - Now
In an interview this week, Bob Cowsill, who is now in his mid-60's and still going strong, told me that after all the things his family has been through, "It means more than ever to be playing together. None of us back in the day would have predicted we would still be performing these songs for anyone this late in our lives. With many of our family gone now it's even more special to perform together. Also it's great to be singing these songs still and sharing them with new audiences. They still hold up strong after all these decades."


Bob suggested that in the 60's, young people "all felt connected as a generation by the songs that were on the radio. We were all listening to the same stations, all watching the same TV stations and TV shows and we were brought together by these songs you will hear during the Happy Together show."

Bob added that the decade in general was a decade of "growth and awareness, "But the growth in music and in the groups who recorded and performed it was astronomical. We all became politically aware in the '60's also, many of us for the first time, and it was a time to reconcile and fix sins of the past -- prejudice, mostly."  

As for the tour, Bob said, "It has special people in it who shared something incredibly unique during one of the best decades in the history of the country. The songs performed were all incredibly important hit records from the day and every one of them was and is still a winner. The songs are so strong they carry us now and we're all real proud to be take ownership when our part of the show comes up. We're all a smaller part of a bigger whole now and the bigger whole is very powerful."

Bob noted that the tour is "going great with sell out crowds everywhere. It's all about the songs and how great this group of songs is. We're all hanging by a thread most of us and the songs are carrying us now. The audience today is there because they want to hear 'Windy,' 'Hair' and 'Happy Together,' not necessarily the Association, the Cowsills or the Turtles. The songs have become more important than the groups and that's why the show works."

Bob said that when he listens to the concert every night from backstage, he and his brother and sister and the other bandmates are all "just hypnotized" by the songs.  

"The audiences are like us: boomers with great memories triggered by songs that bonded all of us to each other," he said. "But then there are younger kids there because they know the history, they love these songs also which really gives testament to their greatness, and at a Happy Together concert they get to see and hear first hand how important and absolutely essential music and the bands who made it were to all of us.  We were all connected to each other by these songs when we were all younger and apparently we're going to stay connected forever."

6 comments:

  1. Exactly...help me with my one person crusade to say people born in the 60s are NOT boomers. Our friends didn't go to Viet Nam...our parents did. We didn't go to Woodstock, we were little kids, the list goes on. We went to college in the EIGHTIES.

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  2. I like Boomer music, but it's not "my" music. It's my older brothers' music. My husband, who's also a Tweener, didn't listen to the radio in the 60's, so he doesn't like it at all. I also don't think all Boomers are spoiled :) But I agree with most of the rest of this.

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  3. Check out Generation Jones on Wiki or other sites. It accurately describes us tweeters.

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    1. I think I've done a pretty good job of that above.

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  4. Let's face it. We are somewhere between Gloria Gaynor and Nirvana ... The last days of the Disco...

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    1. To own and claim disco generationally, you had to have been old enough to get into a disco during its heyday. And I wasn't.No, disco was mostly a Boomer creation and phenomenon A strange hangover from the 60s that was really rooted in Boomers' desperate attempts to get laid and to find love.Yes, in all the wrong places.

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