Mister Boomer Gets a New Look

After eight years, it’s time that Mister Boomer got a fresh look. This new look brings the site out of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, as it is more mobile-friendly. We hope you enjoy reading Mister Boomer on your phone as well as your tablet or computer.

After customizing the new look, Mister B is taking a much-deserved week off. In the meantime, enjoy this encore presentation of a great Mister Boomer summer post:

Boomers and Summer Songs: Will I See You In September?

Boomers Liked “Young Girl” Songs

Boomers grew up in a time when underage marriage was allowed in all 48 (and later, all 50) states, at the very least with parental consent. Marriage laws were (and are) a state matter, not a federal one. Yet more than that, the dating of young girls below the age of 18 by men 10 or 20 years older — if not more — was both vilified and treated with indifference, depending on the state and the persons involved. There are many stories of bluesmen, in the decades before boomers arrived, taking advantage of younger women, and now rock ‘n roll, coming out of that tradition, which seemed to bring the subject out in the open. The developing rock ‘n roll culture of the late ’40s and early ’50s did nothing but shine a light on the arguments on both sides.

In 1958, when a 23-year old Jerry Lee Lewis married Myra Gale Brown, the 13-year old daughter of his cousin, he was riding the wave of world popularity. He had a world tour scheduled that year, beginning with England. His plan was to have his bride by his side, but the British tabloids would have none of it. Forced with the choice of either leaving Myra at home, or lying about their marriage, his European tour was cancelled. In the U.S., many venues in various states refused to book him. His career took a nosedive from which he never fully recovered.

In 1959, Elvis Presley was serving the remainder of his Army stint in Germany when he met 14-year old Priscila Beaulieu, the daughter of an Air Force captain. They spent the next six months dating. After Elvis left the Army in 1960, he kept in touch with Priscilla, inviting her to visit him at Graceland. She convinced her parents to let her go for a visit in 1963, under their provision that the entire visit was chaperoned. Within three months, she begged her parents to let her live with Elvis at Graceland. They relented when Elvis promised to marry her, send her to an all-girls Catholic High School and that she would live away from Graceland with Elvis’ stepfather and mother. The couple married in 1967 when Priscilla was 20, despite persistant rumors linking Elvis to many of the leading ladies of his movies through the years, including Ann-Margaret and Nancy Sinatra.

Chuck Berry had a checkered past when it came to young girls. In 1958, he wrote and recorded Sweet Little Sixteen, which on the surface seems a harmless enough tune. On closer inspection, the song can be interpreted as Berry watching 16-year old groupies from various locales heading to the rock shows and gathering autographs, from

… rockin’ in Boston
In Pittsburgh, PA
Deep in the heart of Texas
And round the Frisco Bay
All over St. Louis
And down in New Orleans
All the cats wanna dance with
Sweet Little Sixteen

Berry sings this “girl” has collected About a half a million … autographs. The song reached Number 2 on the charts. The Beatles recorded a cover version in 1963.

Two years later, in 1960, Berry was charged with violating the Mann Act, which made illegal the “transporting of minors across state lines for immoral purposes.” In Berry’s case, the girl was 14 years old. Berry claimed he met her in Juarez, Mexico, and offered her a job in his St. Louis nightclub. She accepted the job as a hatcheck girl, and after she was fired from the club, she went to the police.

After his first conviction, Berry appealed the decision, and a retrial was ordered. He was convicted on the retrial in 1961 and served 20 months in prison on a five-year sentence.

Johnny Burnette was 26 when he sang You’re Sixteen (1960) to the Top Ten on the charts. For coming-of-age boomers, You come on like a dream, peaches and cream/ Lips like strawberry wine/ You’re sixteen, you’re beautiful and you’re mine was teenage love. To guys the age of Johhny Burnette, it was, in the parlance of the age, “robbing the cradle.” It wasn’t any less creepy when a thirty-something Ringo Starr recorded a cover version in 1973.

By the mid-60s, though, songs about young girls took a somewhat hesitant stance in their lyrics. In Younger Girl (1965), John Sebastian and the Lovin’ Spoonful sung that:

A younger girl keeps a-rolling ‘cross my mind
No matter how much I try, I can’t seem to leave her memory behind

… but ultimately he concludes …

And should I hang around, acting like her brother
In a few more years, they’d call us right for each other

Bobby Vee and the Strangers sang Come Back When You Grow Up Girl in 1967. Here Bobby admits his attraction to this young girl:

I want you girl but your wide-eyed innocence
Has really messed up my mind, yeah, yeah
I’d rather you get your very first heartbreak
Somewhere else along the line

Ultimately but reluctantly, his reason takes over as the song concludes:

Come back when you grow up, girl
You’re still livin’ in a paper-doll world
Some day you’ll be a woman ready to love
Come back, baby, when you grow up

Gary Puckett & the Union Gap entered the genre with Young Girl in 1969. Gary wants the young girl to go away so he’s not tempted:

Young girl get out of my mind
My love for you is way outta line
Better run girl
You’re much too young girl

He doesn’t blame his own actions, but says that she misled him:

You led me to believe you’re old enough
To give me love
And now it hurts to know the truth

Boomers liked it enough that it spent three weeks as Number 2 on the Billboard Top 100 chart; the first week it was just behind behind Otis Redding’s Dock of the Bay, and the next two weeks it was bested by Bobby Goldsboro’s Honey.

Just when we think that these situations celebrated in song during the Boomer Era couldn’t be recorded or happen now, we not only get the rise of the Me Too Movement, but the reappraisal of child marriage laws in many states. Delaware became the first state to completely ban marriage under the age of eighteen in May of 2018. That’s correct. THIS YEAR. New Jersey followed suit in June. Several other states have revised their laws, though all the rest allow it at least under some circumstances.

Meanwhile, it is estimated that more than 100,000 children age 12 to 16 were forced to marry in the last decade in the U.S., usually due to pre-arranged marriages through religious beliefs, or due to pregnancy. Worldwide, the United Nations has set a goal of eliminating child marriage by the year 2030. Is that something rock ‘n roll will sing about, and will they be catchy enough tunes that people will propel these songs to the Top Ten?

Did you listen to and buy “young girl” songs, boomers?

Boomers Embraced Change

Recently, Mister Boomer observed a group of teenage boys horsing around (as our parents used to say) while walking down the street. They were punching each others’ arms and running away, like some sort of tag game, until one boy pulled pennies out of his pocket and started hurling them at his friends. They, in turn, picked the coins up and hurled them back, until all efforts focused on hitting one kid. When the dust settled and the group walked on, Mister B saw a couple of dozen pennies littering the sidewalk. He had seen abandoned pennies on this walk before, and wondered about their presence. After testing the hypothesis that by picking them up, all the day he would have good luck, to no avail … at least now he knew how and why they got there.

What was surprising to Mister B was the casual way in which these teens threw away money — yet after a little thought, it wasn’t surprising at all. They live in a time when a penny buys virtually nothing. In our boomer years, a penny could buy ten caramel swirl candies or two root beer candies. Five pennies bought a premium candy bar. Just ten pennies bought a McDonald’s hamburger. Boomers were used to carrying change, because it was spendable income.

Mister Boomer recalls in his early days, on occasion his father would race his kids back to the car in a shopping center parking lot. (Please don’t even THINK of such a thing as kids running through a parking lot these days.) As he ran, he’d have to grab his pants pocket to quell the jingling of all the change, which, if he hadn’t, would find its way out onto the pavement, thereby letting his kids win the race. His father carried a lot of change, and counted it out, coin by coin, to cashiers in supermarkets and ice cream parlors, department stores and drive-in theaters. Change was good.

Mister Boomer still has the first wallet he was ever given, though it has long been out of service due to its condition. The zippered leather wallet opened to an area containing picture-holding sleeves on one side, and a snap-closure change pocket on the other. Women regularly carried change purses, and many boomer women do so to this day.

Somewhere in the late sixties, there was a sea change in Mister B’s dad, and he no longer wanted to carry it. Instead, he’d stockpile any coins he got until they got unmanageable. Then he’d give Mister B coin sleeves that he picked up from the bank, and asked him and his sister to pack the correct amount into the sleeves. Often he’d give the kids a roll of pennies or nickels as payment for services rendered. When he passed away, Mister Boomer and his siblings discovered boxes full of jars in his room that contained what was probably years of loose change. There was so much change that it brought the supermarket coin machine to its knees, as a voice from within it said, “Please wait. My, you have a lot of coins.”

It turns out, he wasn’t alone. Many boomers picked up the habit of not carrying change lest it ruin the line of their trousers (we talked like that back then). By the 1970s, large water jugs were commonplace in boomer apartments, slowly filling with pennies or mixed change. Nonetheless, change was still money. There were many times Mister B recalled friends raiding their change jug for gas money.

Today we are at a crossroads concerning the use of coins. It was once thought that coins would always be necessary as long as there were vending machines, but the advance of electronic payment methods has rendered that argument useless. Then there was the fiasco of the dollar coin by the U.S. Mint. There have been predictions that we were heading toward not only a coinless future, but a cashless one, which have been bantered around for a couple of decades now. At this point, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco has stated in a recent study that cash is still the preferred method of payment for roughly half of all transactions less than $50 in the U.S.

Even still, it looks like boomers lived during the Golden Age of Coins and Loose Change. Millennials (people aged 18-34) are changing the landscape on how transactions are paid. Studies show they currently use cash more than any other method, but that is only because they don’t want to incur debt through a credit card. Their preferred method, according to multiple sources, would be an electronic transfer via smartphone. Mister Boomer has observed millennials paying for a pack of gum with a debit card. As it turns out, this is not unusual as BankRate.com says one in three millennials pay daily transactions with debit cards. Capital One, the credit card company, chimes in that one in four millennials say they rarely or never carry cash because it’s “too inconvenient.” Business Insider adds that in their survey, 40 percent of millennials would give up cash today if easily workable methods could replace it. Apple, Amazon, Pay Pal and a host of others are attempting to do just that.

In 2015, a growing Chinese middle class made more purchases via smartphone than on computers. The pace of Internet purchases in the U.S. via smartphone is also increasing by leaps and bounds. By 2021, home personal digital assistants are expected to expand by 84 percent. Instead of reaching into a pocket for change in a brick-and-mortar business, you’ll speak to a disembodied voice that will arrange a purchase for you, and debit the money from your account.

What memories of loose change do you have, boomers? Are you lamenting the decline of cash and coins, or do you embrace this change?

Boomers Didn’t Need Expiration Dates

This past week Mister Boomer finished a container of milk. It had been the first he had been able to finish in a while, seeing as it usually spoiled sooner than the time it took to use it up. This container was particularly interesting, though, since it lasted 22 days past the expiration date marked on the side. Mister B dubbed it the “Chanukah Milk,” because it lasted far longer than anyone ever expected. “It’s a miracle,” he said, rinsing the quart container and dropping the plastic into the recycling bin.

Then he remembered recent articles that talked about how expiration dates on food packages are close to useless. Even though they are ubiquitous on all kinds of food items now, manufacturers can make the dates whatever they want, in addition to adopting the myriad of possibilities of “Sell By,” “Best By” or “Expires On.” All a consumer wants to know is, “Is this product safe to eat? And if I do, will it make me sick?” The USDA warns consumers that dates are there for “quality and not for safety.” Did you know there is no federal statute controlling the appearance, regulation of dates, or mandate on their use, except for infant formula? As Cecil the sea serpent used to say, “What the-e-e heck?!” Cynics say the dates persist because the manufacturers would rather we become paranoid and throw things out, so we have to buy more. There may be something to that, since Americans throw away 40 to 50 percent of the food they buy.

That got Mister B thinking that we didn’t have these expiration dates when we were young boomers. We had two simple tests: Does it look OK? Does it smell OK? The old adage went, “When in doubt, throw it out,” but that was because, as Jimmy Durante reminded us, “The nose knows.” So when did these expiration dates on packages first appear?

Believe it or not, many credit Al Capone with putting the first expiration dates on milk. The story goes that when gangster Al was trying to legitimize his businesses, he told his cohorts that his organization needed to invest in something that people used every day. He opined that beer and liquor — his main sources of income — were weekly purchases at best for most people. After a family member got sick drinking spoiled milk, it hit him that milk was the perfect legitimate business to explore. Al and Ralph Capone bought the Meadowmoor Dairies in Chicago in 1932, and quickly started to place the date the milk was packed on the containers, so consumers wouldn’t have the same problem as his family member.

Being the business man that he was, Mr. Capone attempted to corner the local milk market. He used his powers of persuasion to convince the Chicago City Council that dates on milk should be required by law, and he got his wish. Then he went to work trying to fix the price of milk with his competitors, and it didn’t hurt him any that with a new law on the books, he was the only one who had the stamping machinery that was now needed to be in compliance with the law. Voila! Dates on all milk appeared in Chicago.

Fast forward to the Boomer Generation. In the 1950s, it was standard industry practice for manufacturers — especially of canned goods — to stamp numerical or cryptic codes on their products. These codes were indecipherable by consumers, but were used by company workers to rotate warehouse stock and keep track of shipments.

As more people purchased processed foods in the 1960s, they began to worry about the quality and freshness of what was in the frozen foods they were buying. Yet it was 1970 before easily readable stamped dates began to appear across the country on store shelves for a wide variety of products. A survey in 1975 established that 85 percent of people preferred the Month, Day, Year configuration that is widely used today.

Mister Boomer recalls his mom employing the sniff test. Once he was sent back to the corner grocery when his mother declared that the container of cottage cheese she had just sent him to get was spoiled. It didn’t smell right to her, so back to the store Mister B went. After telling the old woman behind the counter the situation, she opened the lid and sniffed it herself. “Smells fine to me,” she said. Then, grossing Mister B out to no end, she dragged her finger across the untouched cottage cheese, scooping up a bit and tasting it. “Tastes fine to me,” she said. All a young Mister B could utter was that his mom didn’t think so and she said he should get another one from the store. Reluctantly, the woman gave Mister B another container and he ran home with it.

Do you have memories of utilizing the “sniff test,” boomers? Do you live by the dates that are stamped on your products today, or do you rely on the time-honored tradition that worked for our families for decades?

Television in 1968: Boomers Watched Great Stuff

Despite talk of our current environment ushering in a new Golden Age of Television, you still hear people saying, “all those channels and nothing good is on.” Well, boomers recall when there were only three networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — and they were in fierce competition with each other for the eyeballs of America. By the time TV hit the late sixties, audiences demanded more if they were expected to tune in on any given night, then wait a week for the next episode.

Fifty years ago, in 1968, TV was showing signs of hitting its stride. Its early days behind it, TV needed to become more entertaining and more socially relevant. A look at the top shows of that year illustrate the point. The top-rated shows were a mixed bag encompassing all that had become staples of TV, and on — to modern experiments in comedy, satire and story-telling. There were Westerns and folksy shows, family viewing options, cop and crime shows, musical variety shows that carried on the tradition from the 1940s and ’50s, to be sure — but there were also groundbreaking shows that have gone on to become classics. Take a look at the Top 10 shows of 1968 according to Nielsen Media Research:

Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In (1968-73)
Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (1964-69)
Bonanza (1959-73)
Mayberry R.F.D. (1968-71)
Family Affair (1966-71)
Gunsmoke (1955-75)
Julia (1968-71)
The Dean Martin Show (1965-74)
Here’s Lucy (1968-74)
The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-71)

While reflecting the divided nature of its audience, the Top 10 was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to a medium that was coming to grips with a changing society and drifting generations. To bridge the gap, look what TV producers added into the group of the next ten top-rated shows:

Mission: Impossible (1966-73)
The Ed Sullivan Show (1948-71)
The Mod Squad (1968-73)
The Carol Burnett Show (1967-78)
Bewitched (1964-72)
The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1967-69)
My Three Sons (1960- 72)
I Dream of Jeannie (1965-70)
Green Acres (1965-71)
Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color (1961-69)

Four years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, TV portrayed black actors in starring roles, a barrier that had been broken with the introduction of I Spy in 1965 and Star Trek in 1966. Julia, a Top 10-rated drama, starred Diahann Carroll as a working single mother; she was a widow since her husband was killed in Vietnam, raising her son alone while maintaining a career as a nurse.

The Mod Squad attempted to bring hip to the small screen while addressing themes relevant to a new generation in the form of a reluctant police unit that the show described as, “one white (Michael Cole), one black (Clarence Williams III), one blonde (Peggy Lipton).” The show was the first to display an onscreen interracial kiss.

Shows Like Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies and Mayberry R.F.D. were described as “rural TV.” They portrayed a friendly, folksy wholesomeness that many would have preferred rather than the backdrop of the evening news. A case in point is that despite it main character being a marine, in Gomer Pyle, Vietnam is never mentioned. Granted, it was a comedy, but one that takes place in an army camp.

1968 brought us groundbreaking satire and politically-charged comedy from Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Some contend it was Richard Nixon’s cameo appearance on Laugh-In that helped him win the presidential election of 1968. The Smothers Brothers delved into such controversial territory that they were ultimately cancelled mid-season because they would not submit finished shows to the CBS network for editing and censoring in the allotted time. The irreverent attitude and eye-poking of The Man and Authority by both shows made them popular with boomers.

On the surface, I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched seemed like innocuous comedies. Yet both dealt with learning to live with people who were different than the “norm.” I Dream of Jeannie featured an astronaut in his time on Earth after being in space. His daily routine was not unlike any other American heading off to work each day — except that he had a female genie in a bottle to see him out the door. The supernatural superceded a sci-fi space world that was coming true; space travel was brought home to the everyday.

Bewitched can be seen as a mixed marriage where the human husband’s mother-in-law never fully accepts him while he struggles with his role as family provider with a wife who has far more capabilities than the average housewife. Thus she is forced to “help” her husband by doing little magical, witchy things behind the scenes — a very old-fashioned thought in 1968 disguised as a feminist choice.

Mister Boomer’s parents leaned toward the conservative side, but he watched most of the top shows on the family TV. In fact, Laugh-In and The Smothers Brothers became favorites in the household. About the only shows that weren’t watched regularly by the family were Gunsmoke, Here’s Lucy and Mayberry R.F.D.

Mister B’s mom enjoyed down-home comedies and Carol Burnett, Ed Sullivan, Gomer Pyle, The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres brought that to her. Yet she also really enjoyed Bewitched and Mission: Impossible.

Mister B’s father liked all kinds of TV, but never could resist one that featured a pretty woman, including Diahann Carroll (Julia), Elizabeth Montgomery (Bewitched), Barbara Eden (I Dream of Jeannie) and Peggy Lipton (The Mod Squad). His favorite shows, though, leaned to Dean Martin and Mission: Impossible. He also really enjoyed My Three Sons. Mister B also has nice memories of being able to laugh at the same things as his father when they watched Laugh-In.

What TV shows did your family watch in 1968, boomers?

Boomers Went to Concerts for the Experience of Live Music

Recently, Mister Boomer was paging through a newspaper (remember those?) and stopped to look at some pictures of an outdoor rock concert that was held the previous weekend. The main photo featured a shot of the crowd. Much to Mister Boomer’s chagrin, every single person in the crowd had one arm fully extended, cell phone in hand, presumably video-ing the proceedings. Talk about surreal, man.

Naturally, this got Mister B thinking about his concert days. He didn’t attend too many concerts, but when he did, he went, like most boomers, for the live experience. In fact, the entire idea of filming or taping one second of any concert was strictly verboten. In the late sixties and early seventies, you could bring in cigarettes, bottles of liquor and an assortment of drugs at outdoor venues, but no video cameras or tape recorders were allowed. Ever. Obviously, some people got away with it from time to time, hence the underground market for bootleg cassettes. Though Mister B did not purchase or possess any of those, he had friends who did. There were bootlegs of Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, the Who and Led Zeppelin that he recalls, in particular.

The fact that the concert venue is continuing to evolve should not have come as any surprise to Mister Boomer. After all, when the Boomer Generation was coming of age in the 1950s, concerts then were pretty much the same as when their parents went to see Frank Sinatra in the ’40s. Most photos of concerts in the late forties and into the fifties show a seated audience that for the most part, responded with polite applause. Girls and boys were dressed in what was considered proper for an event: girls in dresses or skirts, boys in suits, or at least more like what was expected for church. However, certain stars such as Frank Sinatra (and later, Elvis) attracted screaming fans wherever they performed, but no one was trying to film them. Nonetheless, it showed an evolution was underway from the staid days of earlier concert attendance.

In the Boomer Era, bands toured to promote their record sales, which accounted for the vast majority of their income. Somewhere around the late 1980s, that began to change drastically, as the biggest names could gross more from their concert tours than they did selling records. The decline of vinyl records sales, then cassettes and finally CDs was predicated by the evolution of online, on-demand music. Purchases in the early days of online music facilitated single-song buying, which put less emphasis on owning an album. The concert was then a big-show experience that was beyond the single records.

In 1956, Elvis jokingly told the girls in the audience at a Florida concert that he would “see them backstage.” That caused a near riot. The Beatles have said that, in their 1965 Shea Stadium concert, they had to play completely without being able to hear their stage monitors because the screaming was so loud. The thing is, we went to concerts for the experience of being there live. Would we have wanted to revisit it via film, videotape or cassette? Mister Boomer feels that would not have been the case. Sure, many bands released live albums of legendary concerts, but the vast majority of boomers who bought those records did not attend the concerts. There are a few concert films from the era that have gone on to be classics, most notably The Last Waltz, the final concert tour of The Band in 1976, and of course, Woodstock, the film from 1970.

There was a certain prestige associated with some concerts if a boomer could say, “I was there.” Yet would boomers have posted numerous videos of bands in concert if the technology was there at the time? That’s hard to say. Mister B feels for the most part that someone filming an entire concert, blocking the view of people behind them, would have been met with a “down in front, man” comment at the very least. The concert was the experience, and that was not going to be reproduced or vicariously lived through filming.

In 2016, Justin Bieber (of all people!), actually stopped a concert to ask the audience to stop screaming. Broadway shows have been stopped when audience members have had cell phones ring. Is this a sign that there is a backlash beginning on this personal freedom to do whatever you want, especially with that portable device known as the cell phone? One can only hope.

Did you go to concerts for the live experience, boomers? Would you have wanted to have physical moving-picture evidence to show your friends that you were there?