Boomers Were Told Not to “Fold, Spindle or Mutilate”

One of the things about being an aging boomer is, we get flashes of memories from our built-in Wayback Machines. This past week, one such thought that popped into Mister Boomer’s cranium was the phrase, do not fold, spindle or mutilate. Mister B’s memory focused on a page of stickers from a Mad (or was it Sick?) magazine he saw in the early 1960s. The page held clever, funny and topical phrases in sticker form, like what was later painted on Goldie Hawn’s bikini-clad body on Laugh-In; two that Mister B recalls were, “Keep Off Grass,” and “Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate.” Mister B could relate to the latter, because at an early age, he knew what that meant.

In the boomer years, the phrase was printed on punch cards (also known as punched cards) that were used for data processing and computer tabulating. In the 1700s, a loom was invented that used punch cards strung together, much like a roll for a player piano. The cards were “programmed” to create a repeatable pattern, though the loom was still operated by hand. However, Herman Hollerith is generally credited with being the first to use the punch card in data processing in the late 1800s. Each card, made of stiff paper, held a series of rows of variable data fields. As holes were punched, they represented the value associated with those fields. For example, one such field might represent an answer of male or female. The success of his testing culminated in the U.S. government adopting punch cards for widespread use in the 1890 U.S. Census. Hollerith’s major contribution was not the punch card, however, but machines to tabulate the data on the cards. Hollerith formed a company in 1896 to market his machines, and called it the Tabulating Machine Corporation. By the early 1900s, Hollerith’s machines had competition from other companies, and punch cards were used in all types of industries and business applications. When a financier merged the Tabulating Machine Corporation with two others in 1914, International Business Machines (IBM) was born. In the beginning, machines only counted holes, but by the 1920s, they were doing basic arithmetic. During WWII, punch cards were used in efforts to decode German encrypted messages. As computers entered the business and academic worlds in the 1950s, punch cards were adapted for computer tabulation.

The phrase appears on punch cards as far back as the 1940s, but became part of the boomer vernacular as a point of satire and ridicule around 1964, when the University of California-Berkeley used punch cards to register students. These punch cards had the phrase emblazoned across the top of the card. Now, everybody knows the way to get a boomer to do something — especially in the 1960s — was to tell him or her not to do it. Students who were part of the Free Speech Movement protested the use of the cards, saying it was a dehumanizing act that represented a Big Brother system. They held rallies in which students went out of their way to fold, spindle and mutilate the university cards.

Shows like The Prisoner (1967-68) echoed the cultural sentiment of the time concerning the dehumanizing influx of computer technology into daily lives. Here is a famous scene from the TV series, starring Patrick McGoohan, where he expresses his distaste for having his name replaced with a number.

Mister Boomer knew about punch cards and “do not fold, spindle or mutilate” because his mother was a keypunch operator. When she decided, in the early 1960s, that she wanted to go back to work, Mister B’s mom enrolled in a school that taught a course on the operation of keypunch machines. Using a keyboard, each operator would punch holes into cards as the keys were struck. Speed and accuracy as a typist were paramount for getting a job in that position. The equivalent in our current era woud be data entry processors. When Mister B’s mother finished the course, first she worked for a major health insurance company, then changed jobs to a regional bank. It was closer to home, and she enjoyed the work for three or so years.

By then it was the late 1960s, and magnetic tape had begun to replace punch cards to store computer data. One day Mister B’s mom came home from her afternoon work shift and said that her entire department had been shut down. Her employer did to the department what the phrase on the cards said not to do. Mister B’s mom went from benefiting from modern technology to becoming a victim of newer technology.

Many boomers will recall using punch cards to vote in the 1970s. The removing of pre-scored tabs in cards was still in wide use in many states in the 1980s. Of course, everyone remembers the problem of the “hanging chads” in the 2000 Presidential Election in the state of Florida. That became the final straw for the punch card. Perhaps voters should have heeded the phrase command.

When did you first hear the phrase, “do not fold, spindle or mutilate,” boomers?

Boomer Songs That Stood the Test of “Time”

Now that we are in another new year, Mister Boomer can’t help but think about the passage of time. As boomers, we may not be in our last chapter, but we’ve got more pages behind us than ahead of us. Pondering such things, songs that had “time” in their lyrics started coming to Mister B’s mind. On closer examination, what Mister B discovered about these boomer era songs that mention time is, more often than not, they had to do with wanting, winning and keeping love. Many also show that, given time, songs that did not catch boomers’ attention at first did so later on. Here, in the order reflecting the year in which they were released, are a few “time” songs that, in Mister B’s estimation, have not only stood the test of time, but have become … timeless.

Times They Are A-Changin’ — Bob Dylan (1963)
Some might call this one the quintessential “time” song. It became an anthem of the Civil Rights and Anti-War Movements, with lyrics that sounded like both a warning and prophesy to many boomers.

The song begins like many traditional folk songs, with an invitation to gather and hear a story. The subsequent stanzas then speak directly to writers and critics, congressmen and senators, mothers and fathers.

Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

Nonetheless, Bob Dylan was quoted in an interview with Melody Maker magazine that he never set out to write a protest song. Rather, Bob said it was “… about a bitterness towards authority; the type of person who sticks his nose down and doesn’t take you seriously, but expects you to take him seriously.”

So many people felt the song was particularly apropros to the 1960s, yet there are a plethora of similarities happening now that make the song just as relevant to boomers today. On the technology side alone, the way work and the workplace continue to change has deep ramifications for boomers who are not ready to retire. The songs’ lyrics say you better get with the program, because time is marching on:

If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Time Is On My Side — The Rolling Stones (1964)
This one tells the story right off the bat: Go ahead, you can leave, baby, but I know you will come back … and I can wait until that happens:

Time is on my side, yes it is
Now you always say
That you want to be free
But you’ll come running back (said you would baby)
You’ll come running back (I said so many times before)
You’ll come running back to me

A hit for The Rolling Stones, it was a cover song that was written by Jerry Ragovoy. It was first recorded as an R&B song and released on Verve Records in 1963 by Kai Winding and his Orchestra. That version was engineered by Phil Ramone and included background vocals by Cissy Houston, Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick. The song failed to chart.

When The Rolling Stones released their version a year later, it became the first Top Ten hit the band would have in the U.S., peaking at number six on Billboard’s Pop Singles Chart.

Time Won’t Let Me — The Outsiders (1966)
Another song that gets right to the point: I haven’t got forever, so let me know the story:

I can’t wait forever
Even though you want me to
I can’t wait forever
To know if you’ll be true
Time won’t let me (No)
Time won’t let me (No)
Time won’t let me wait that long

The Outsiders were originally called The Starfires, but changed their name when they signed with Capitol Records, which is when they recorded Time Won’t Let Me. The song peaked at number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Time of the Season — The Zombies (1968)
The haunting melody, catchy bass line and call-response lyrics of this tune gave it a lot of gravitas out of the gate with boomers, but deep down, the lyrics make no bones about it:

It’s the time of the season for loving

The song was written by keyboardist Rod Argent for the album, Odessey and Oracle. First released in England, it failed to chart there. Ironically, in the U.S. it reached number 3 on Billboard Hot 100 the same year the band disbanded.

Time Has Come Today — The Chambers Brothers (1968)
The only major hit by the band, it peaked at number 11 on the Billboard Top 100. It is considered by some to be a call to action for Civil Rights, though the movement is never mentioned in the song. However, some of the lyrics do profess a social consciousness that speak to the title.

Now that time has come (Time)
There’s no place to run (Time)
I might get burned up by the sun (Time)
But I had my fun (Time)
I’ve been loved and put aside (Time)
I’ve been crushed by the tumbling tide (Time)
And my soul has been psychedelicized (Time)

For a lot of boomers, the song gained notice for its sheer length; the album version was 11 minutes long. As AOR (album oriented rock) began to dominate FM radio in the late sixties, boomers heard the long version as much as the three minute version released for AM radio. Regardless of the song’s length, though, boomers responded to the repetitive yet memorable melody that combined blues, rock, funk and gospel all in one.

Time In A Bottle — Jim Croce (1972)

If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I’d like to do
Is to save every day
‘Til eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you

Recorded for the album, You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, the song was never intended to be released as single. ABC, Croce’s record company, decided to release it as a single after he died in a plane crash in September of 1973. With the lyrics of, But there never seems to be enough time / To do the things you want to do / Once you find them, the irony was not lost on boomers. The song reached number 1 in January of 1974.

Of course, there were many other songs dealing with the passage of time during the boomer years. As we boomers age, we recall how time seemed to stand still when we waited for class to end in school, but how quickly it passes now. Heading into 2019, Mister Boomer wishes you all, as Paul Anka sang, the Times of Your Life.

What “Time” songs of our shared youth pinged your radar, boomers?