Monday, February 15, 2010

The coolest generation

"'Scuse me while I kiss the sky!"

One day not too long ago I wandered into a 7-11 store and hid my smile from the clerk. He appeared to be on the fringe of his "golden years," rotund, gray and balding. He was the only guy in the place and had Jimi Hendrix blaring from his boombox behind the counter. I thought it was pretty funny that an old guy like him was digging Jimi. Then, what you have already figured out hit me.

That "old guy" was my age.

Something happened in the mid-1960s that suddenly narrowed all future generation gaps. It was a social sea change rooted in technology and nourished with an elixir concocted by a new breed of post be-bop musicians. Everything about them was radical, from their long, unkempt hair to their wildly-colorful disdain of fashion sense to their electronically amplified screams of youthful exuberance.

Our parents were apoplectic.

And we dug that, too.

"Yi-pi-yi-ay! Yi-pi-yi-o! Ghost riders in the sky..."

When my mother graduated from high school in June of 1949 the top-selling record of the day was Riders In The Sky by Vaughn Monroe. Twenty years later, June of 1969, I graduated high school and the number one song was Get Back by the Beatles.

So, what? So, this:

I'm not sure I have ever heard a Vaughn Monroe song but I'm absolutely positive I never owned one. On the other hand my son owns a nearly full Beatles collection and knows as much about the songs and the group as I do. He also loves the music of Creedence, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beach Boys and other artists who made their impact years before he was born.

And it works the other way around, too. I believe my contemporaries and I keep up with cultural changes much more readily than my grandparents did. When I was a lad you wouldn't find me sitting with Grandma in front of her Philco TV watching the Lawrence Welk Show but here I am, my grandparents' age, parked in front of the big flat screen Sony for each new episode of American Idol.

And it's not just music, either.

I'm pretty sure neither of my grandfathers would have been caught dead at Disneyland. I'd bet on it, in fact. My dad went there with the family on our vacation when I was a young teen but I don't remember him riding the Matterhorn or Dumbo. He would never stand near Mickey Mouse or Goofy for a photo op. By the time I became a dad, though, Disneyland was a whole new ballgame. That's not surprising since the park was born after I was and having grown up with the Magic Kingdom experience under my belt, enjoying it with my kids and grand-kids just comes naturally. In fact, Carolann and I have annual passes.

Here's the thing: While we always hear people bemoaning the loss of American family relationships I'm not buying it. When I was a kid, yes, we all ate dinner together at a single table, at the same time, without the TV. But frankly, I don't recall it as being a particularly nurturing and bonding experience. I don't remember it being anything at all except dinner.

So, while my son didn't often have meatloaf at the family dinner table he did have me at his Chuck E. Cheese's birthday parties and I like to believe he enjoyed that.

I'm no social scientist so I really can't figure out what it all means, if anything, but that has never stopped me from reaching a happy conclusion and here it is:

If our parents are the Greatest Generation, as is the title applied to them in recent years, we are surely the Coolest. So far, anyway.

Copyright © 2010 by Dave Williams, all rights reserved.

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