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Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Boomers Wondered, “Where’s My Jet Pack?”

As the world of science touched our lives during the Space Race, a vision of personal flight long imagined in science fiction entered the scene as a real possibility: the jet pack, or more accurately, the rocket pack, since it did not have a jet-propelled engine. A rocket pack was a device worn by an individual that contained fuel tanks and control mechanisms to propel the figure, in science fiction, across the skies.

The first rocket pack was invented by a Russian inventor, Aleksandr Andreyev, in 1919. He imagined a liquid fuel mix of methane and oxygen as his propellent, and affixed wings that were three feet long to the back of the device for stability in flight. A patent was issued to him years later, but his device was never built.

The idea was constantly cropping up through the years. The Nazis tested versions of flying platforms during WWII, but their plans fortunately did not result in operational devices. Various companies tested versions of rocket packs in the 1950s, and the U.S. Army was interested in possible military uses for reconnaissance, passing over mine fields, crossing rivers, ascending steep inclines, etc. The government contracted Aerojet General to develop and test a rocket pack, which the Army dubbed a Small Rocket Lift Device (SRLD). In 1960, the Army discovered that Bell Aerosystems was testing a rocket pack (which they called a rocket belt), and shifted their funding over to them. Bell’s version used a propellent made of a hydrogen peroxide mixed with a bit of nitrogen.

Testing was well underway between 1960 and 1965, first with trained test pilots, then, at the Army’s suggestion, by an untrained pilot. Bill Suitor, age 19 at the time, was hired to join the team of pilots. Between 1965 and 1969, the team executed 3,000 flights with a perfect safety record. While successfully getting its pilots airborne, the duration of each flight maxed out at 21 seconds by the mid-60s. Short flight duration coupled with expensive engineering and high fuel costs caused the Army to scrap its program. Bell continued to demonstrate the device at air shows and state fairs, so it piqued the imagination of many boomers along the way.

Boomers had watched episodes of Rocketman on TV and already wanted to fly with their own rocket pack. As if rocket pack fever wasn’t enough, James Bond entered the mix in the opening sequence of Thunderball (1965). Our man 007 made his getaway courtesy of a Bell Aerospace rocket belt. His stunt double was none other than Bill Suitor.

Mister Boomer recalls seeing a Glad garbage bag commercial on TV in the 1960s where the Man from Glad flies in with a rocket pack to rescue the woman struggling with an inferior trash bag. Despite his memory, he was unable to verify this memory online.

Today the rocket pack is alive and well, with several companies producing versions with various forms of propellant, and individual inventors have created their own devices with mixed results. Two practical applications did arise from the rocket pack idea, though: today astronauts use a similar device for space walks. The NASA device is a direct descendant of the Bell rocket belt. Enterprising inventors realized that if they could figure our a way to keep a fuel supply coming to the belt, fly time could be greatly enhanced. They found a way to pump water to the propulsion unit, and the water jet pack was invented. These devices propel a person, tethered to to the pump unit, above and around a body of water. Variations on the device include one that resembles a skateboard, and others that act like individual “jet shoes.” A recreational rental market has cropped up in several tourist-centric locations around the globe.

Did you want a jet pack, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Fun,Pop Culture History,Technology and have No Comments

Boomers Liked Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass

Mister Boomer’s mother really liked Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass. She asked her kids to buy the albums for her, playing them on the stereo that she called “the Victrola” her entire life. That is an indicator of the popularity of Herb Alpert’s band and music that spanned the generations, as well as a good indication of the mix of genres that was played on AM radio in the early 1960s. His instrumental, “feel good” horns became a staple of mid-60s TV and movies.

Alpert, with a writing partner, had a couple of minor hits as a songwriter in 1960, but a chance trip to Tijuana, Mexico inspired him to change the arrangement of an instrumental song he had been working on, called Twinkle Star, by Sol Lake. Alpert added the sounds of a bullfight and mariachi band, and renamed the tune, The Lonely Bull. He recorded the album and single with studio musicians — most notable, members of the Wrecking Crew. Herb Alpert partnered with Jerry Moss to form A & M Records to release the song in 1962. It reached No. 6 on Billboard’s Top 10, and Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass was on its way.

Alpert released additional songs with the same Mexican flair and by 1964, calls for live appearances caused him to create a touring band. The group released two albums in 1965, Whipped Cream & Other Delights and Going Places. Mister B’s mom had both albums. The Whipped Cream album was known for two reasons: first, Alpert’s version of A Taste of Honey won him the first of his six Grammy awards; and second, the album cover pictured a woman presumably covered in nothing but whipped cream. It made for fascinating imagery for a young Mister Boomer, who instantly became a fan of album art. Going Places spawned four hit singles, including Tijuana Taxi, a favorite of Mister B’s mom that she listened to more than her Andy Williams albums.

The group was everywhere — on tour, on TV specials and on the radio. In 1966, the band had five albums in the Top 20 — four in the Top 10, a feat that remains unmatched. That year, the band sold 15 million records, outselling the Beatles.

In 1968, Alpert appeared on a CBS TV special and sang a song written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Not possessing the strongest voice, his forte had always been instrumentals, but he wanted to sing a song to his wife. It caught on with audiences and This Guy’s In Love became Alpert’s only No. 1 single, and the first No. 1 hit on his A & M label.

A & M became a musical force in its own right, releasing music by Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66, Stan Getz, Carole King, The Carpenters, Cat Stevens, Quincy Jones, The Police, Supertramp, Peter Frampton, Sheryl Crow and a host of others. The duo sold A & M to Polygram in 1987 for a reported $500 million, and managed the company until 1993. Alpert and Moss were recognized for their accomplishments and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1966. They have also been inducted into the Grammy Museum’s “Icons of the Music Industry” series.

Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass did it all in less than a decade — including movie music like the theme for the original Casino Royale to their music being used in several TV game shows, most notably, The Dating Game.

Did your mom like Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass? Did you buy the band’s singles and albums, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Music,Pop Culture History and have Comments (2)

Boomers Had More Patience Back Then

You’ll have to bear with Mister Boomer this week. He’s feeling a little grumpy and here is the reason why: People have such little patience these days! In our hurry-up, git-‘er-done, gotta-run, don’t-be-late, don’t-hesitate, give-me-more, don’t-want-a-chore, wasting-time-oughta-be-a-crime world, is it too much to ask for people to take a second to realize that not everything needs to be instantaneous? Are these the ramblings of an aging boomer or a societal observation that rings true? Well, here is the case for the latter:

Remember when we stood in lines — all sorts of lines — without complaining? (If you did complain, your mom was sure to have something to say about that). We had to stand in line to cash our checks at the bank every week (no such thing as ATMs); we stood in line to buy concert or sporting event tickets (sometimes all night!); we stood in line when we went to the post office (before those stamp vending machines came in); and we stood in line to take our turn in gym class; play a game of pool in a bar; gain admittance into the city swimming pool; and a host of other situations. Standing in line was part of the way we grew up, and cutting the line was a very real violation that brought the immediate wrath of all those assembled, beginning with our parents. Standing in line taught patience.

Remember when we popped popcorn in a pot and anticipated the hot and tasty treat that was on the way? Then Jiffy Pop came along and although the process wasn’t much faster, it was fun to watch. Having a little patience was made into fun. Later still, the microwave came along and we couldn’t believe how fast we could get our popcorn. Now popping popcorn in a microwave is too much for a lot of people in generations after boomers. Mister B has heard some of a younger generation complain it “takes too long” and is “too much work!” Really? A microwave! No patience!

Remember when patience was its own reward? We put together jigsaw puzzles for hours on end. It wasn’t the finishing that was as important as the journey getting there. And we played family games, waiting our turn and enjoying the moment, though some competitive boomers strived to win.

Remember collecting box tops and sending in for some type of toy? So many things could be acquired courtesy of the back of cereal boxes, but they required kids to do something — collect box tops, tape a quarter to the entry form, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope — whatever it was, once accomplished, you had to wait. In two to six weeks, your sea monkeys, temporary tattoos, string-pull flying thingies, etc., would arrive in the mail. Patience was rewarded.

Remember seeing mothers feed grapes to their children or open a bag of chips or cookies in the supermarket before paying for them? It did not happen! If you begged your mother to give you a grape or open the bag of cookies, what would she have told you? That’s right, she would’ve said you had to wait. Patience. And the wait wasn’t until the groceries were placed in the car in the parking lot, either; it was when the groceries were put away at home. Patience meant never eating anything inside a supermarket if it wasn’t a free sample.

The old saying goes, “Good things come to those who wait.” If the adage is true, what does that say about things that come — nay, HAVE to come — instantaneously? Mister Boomer’s reaction to all this mayhem reminds him of the call-response chanting prevalent in our protest days (and indeed similar chants are still employed in today’s protests). To paraphrase: What does Mister Boomer want? PATIENCE! When does he want it? NOW!

Is the patience you practiced in your youth still hanging on in your current life, boomers, or have you embraced the “instant gratification” attitude of today’s techno-addicted scene, man?

posted by Mister B in Getting Older,Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)

Boomers Dug Songs from “Hair”

Fifty years ago this month, the musical Hair (book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado and music by Galt MacDermot) opened on Broadway after a short run at the off-Broadway Public Theater in New York City. Shortly after its debut in New York, simultaneous productions appeared in various cities in the U.S. as well as in London, England. To boomers, Broadway musicals tended to represent the old guard — either staid, sappy or both. Any boomer can recall the Simon and Garfunkel lyric, Is the theater really dead? (The Dangling Conversation, 1966). Then Hair came along as the first rock musical to make it to the Great White Way.

Rock music notwithstanding, it had its own level of controversy surrounding a scene in which members of the cast appeared nude if they wanted to on any given night. This one scene caused protests outside theaters around the country, and even got the play shut down more than once. For boomers growing accustomed to various forms of protest — including nudity — this wasn’t as much of an issue as it was to most boomer parents; rather, it was the music that boomers latched on to. Like popular musicals decades before, selected songs from the original cast album of Hair made their way to the radio and into boomer households. The original cast album, recorded with the off-Broadway cast in 1967 and released in 1969, hit No. 1 in the U.S. for 13 weeks, sold nearly three million copies and earned a Grammy Award for Best Score from an Original Cast Show Album. Bands and vocalists couldn’t resist covering the music, and several songs made the Top 10 in the U.S. and Great Britain.

In particular, four songs became part of boomer music history between 1968 and 1969, including the title song, Hair, Good Morning Starshine, Easy to Be Hard and Aquarius (Let the Sunshine In).

Hair
Aside from the original cast album, it was the version that The Cowsills released in 1969 that made it to a lot of boomers’ 45 RPM collections. The Cowsills were the (at various times) six brothers-a sister-and-their-mother group that was the real-life inspiration for the TV family band, The Partridge Family. That trivia aside, their version of Hair hit No. 1 for two weeks, settling in at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the year, 1969.

Good Morning Starshine
Oliver (William Oliver Swofford) was an American pop singer and boomer himself. In 1969 he released Good Morning Starshine, and it propelled him to No. 3 on the U.S charts (No. 6 in Britain).

Easy to Be Hard
Though several people recorded the song besides the original cast album, including Shirley Bassey, Jennifer Warnes and Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66, it was Three Dog Night’s 1969 version that topped the charts at No. 4. The song became their highest-charting single to that date, and is the one that boomers recall when they remember the Hair song.

Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)
The 5th Dimension released a 45 RPM of the song (and an album with it) in 1969. Their version was a medley of two songs from Hair: The Age of Aquarius and Let the Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures), often referred to as Aquarius or Let the Sunshine In. The band’s smooth harmonies seemed incongruous to a song medley about hippie rebellion, but it achieved No. 1 status on the Billboard Hot 100 and won the group Grammy Awards for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Group and Record of the Year.

Mister Boomer acquired three of these singles when he received the 45 RPM collections of his brother and sister. Brother Boomer had purchased Easy to Be Hard and Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In, and his sister added the Cowsills’ Hair. Mister Boomer’s opinion after fifty years? It’s worth checking them all out for vintage nostalgia, and actually, a pretty good listen from the cast album to the most popular versions as well. Tell a hairy, bearded millennial to have a listen with you, too!

Did you buy the original cast album or any 45 RPM covers of songs from Hair, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Music,Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)

Boomers Ate Economical Dinners Like “City Chicken”

Much has been written about how quickly the parents of the Baby Boom Generation embraced frozen TV dinners and other prepared frozen foods like pot pies and fried chicken. However, it was Mister Boomer’s experience that the day-to-day dinners of working class families were simple and economical, especially in the 1950s and early ’60s. Officially, the national data famously stated the average household family had “2.5 children,” but every family Mister B knew had a minimum of three — often four, and up to seven — kids. That was a lot of mouths to feed. Casseroles, stews and soups made good use of leftovers while feeding growing families.

For Mister Boomer’s family, one oft-made economical dish was “City Chicken,” known by some as “Mock Chicken.” Origin stories and recipes for this dish vary widely, but it is generally written that the first mention of a “mock chicken” dish occurred in the early 1900s. Recipes for the dish began circulating in newspapers and cookbooks immediately before and during the Great Depression. It was a working class dish since, at least in its early incarnations, leftover scraps of meat — especially veal and pork — were cut into cubes and skewered on wooden sticks, breaded, fried then baked. The name came from the resemblance of the skewered meat to chicken drumsticks. During the Great Depression and WWII, fresh chicken was harder to obtain than veal or pork, which were cheaper and more readily available.

Many ethnic groups claim variations of the dish as their own, but it is generally agreed that the invention of the recipe came about in the U.S., and did not come over with other treasured family recipes when boomers’ ancestors made their way here. A regional dish, it was especially popular during the boomer years in Appalachia, Pennsylvania, the Rust Belt and Midwest states. Generally speaking, wherever there are people of German, Slavic or Polish origin, you’ll find a “City Chicken” variation.

Midwest boomers will recall seeing packages in supermarkets labelled as “City Chicken” that contained pork cubes and wooden skewers. In some areas, boomer moms battered the meat before frying then baking, giving it a real fried chicken look. Other areas, particularly in Canada and the Upper Midwest, ground meat was used instead of cubes.

In Mister Boomer’s house, his mom had her own version, which was tantamount to meat loaf on a stick. His mom reused the wooden skewers, which were kept in the housewares drawer along with serving utensils and specialty tools. When Mister Boomer’s mom wanted to make her “City Chicken,” she’d ask Mister B or his sister to take out the sticks and soak them in a bowl of water for a few minutes. This would keep the sticks from burning in the cooking process and allow them to be reused another day. Her meat of choice was the same mixture used for her meatballs when she made spaghetti; that is, an inexpensive ground mixture of veal, pork and beef that was a weekly staple in the fridge.

It may have been sacrilege to some “City Chicken” aficionados, but Mister Boomer’s mom favored expediency over tradition. She’d crack an egg and toss in some cracker crumbs, which would help bind the ground meat, but also help extend the pound package to feed the family. Next his mom would shape the meat around a skewer in a teardrop shape to mimic a chicken drumstick, dredge it in flour and brown the meat in a cast iron skillet before transferring the “legs” to the oven for finishing. When the meat was put into the oven, she’d open a small can of mushrooms and toss them over the “legs.” Drippings and fat from the meat would collect in the pan, so when removed from the oven, a little flour was added to the drippings and mushrooms to make a brown sauce. Once she got an electric frying pan (with trading stamps, of course), that was it for the oven. She completed the all the cooking in the one electric pan.

Each member of the family got one “leg” along with mashed potatoes and canned string beans. His father got two. The “gravy” was spooned over the meat and potatoes. Mister B places the word in quotes because sauces were not his mother’s strong point. Generally, lumps of flour and patches of grease shared space with what other people might recognize as “gravy.” Mister Boomer’s father, a true child of the Depression, loved grease of any kind, often sopping it up with slices of Wonder bread. It wasn’t Mister B’s favorite meal, but it was dinner. His sister especially liked it, before she became a super-picky eater in her pre-teens.

Did your family eat “City Chicken,” boomers? If so, which version was popular in your household?

posted by Mister B in Food & Beverage,Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)

Boomers Got Sugar-Coated Facts

We have all been admonished for years not to believe everything we read on the Internet (excluding Mister Boomer’s posts, of course). The prevalence of inflated studies and the outright fabrication of “facts” has cast a veil of uncertainty over all aspects of medicine, nutrition, parenting, climate change and of course, politics. Recently Mister Boomer read some articles that made it clear these practices are far from new and original; in fact, the disinformation factories were alive and well during our Boomer Years.

How the cigarette industry withheld evidence and obfuscated facts and statics for decades are now known to be of the highest degree of impropriety. Mister Boomer has chronicled the case of how the dairy industry got milk into schools and every boomer household after the War (see Boomers Were Milked for All They Were Worth). In 2016, it was revealed that the sugar industry had its hands in sweetening the pot on the effects of sugar, particularly on heart disease and obesity.

The Sugar Research Foundation (SRF, now known as the Sugar Association) was established by the sugar industry in the 1950s to further the spread of their product by extolling its benefits, based on studies performed by preeminent scientists. Unfortunately, this was a time when the funding sources of research findings did not have to be disclosed, and in fact, many industries (i.e., tobacco, automotive, etc.) funded the studies themselves. In 2016 when a post-doctoral researcher at the University of California San Francisco discovered thousands of pages that documented how John Hickson, president of the SRF, paid three scientists $6,500 each in 1964 to shape their data on sugar in order to “minimize the link between sugar and heart health and cast aspersions on the role of saturated fat.” As a result, based on the findings of the SRF report released in 1967 in the New England Journal of Medicine, national policies for nutrition have for decades placed more blame on fat than on sugar’s role in heart disease. At the same time, the SRF was courting scientists with research that would blur the lines between sugar and tooth decay, something that had been known since the 1950s among dental researchers. Negative reports were successfully suppressed for more than a decade.

Likewise, other findings have shown the candy and soft drink industries have attempted to put out their own studies. Like Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, waving his hand and suggesting “These aren’t the droids you are looking for,” their findings stated directly that there was no link found between sugar and weight gain.

A look back to our Boomer Days shows the effects of these campaigns. Some historians have written that the public was poised and predisposed to accept such a disinformation campaign. Sugar was such a rare commodity in Colonial times that furniture pieces were created with locked drawers to hold the precious stuff. By the time of the Great Depression, boomer grandparents could not afford sugar, then during World War II, sugar was rationed. It seemed only natural that the Greatest Generation, enjoying post-war freedom and new-found prosperity, would cause the sugar pendulum to swing in the other direction. Their swings were given that extra push. Baby Boomers became the recipients of this sugar bonanza. The spread of television assisted the sugar campaigns with commercials airing during Saturday morning cartoons that relied heavily on sugar-laden cereals and sweet drinks. Boomers will recall how Kool-Aid commercials showed kids making the sweet drink by pouring in cups — not tablespoons — of sugar per pitcher.

While the industry was not afraid to place the word “sugar” front and center in their advertising with products like Sugar Pops, Sugar Crisps (remember Sugar Bear?), Sugar Frosted Flakes and Sugar Smacks, at the same time throughout the 1950s and ’60s, parent-based magazine and TV ads concentrated on the benefits of sugar as an energy source. At various times, the sugar, candy and soft drink industries produced ads that stated:

  • Kids need the kind of energy that sugar provides (Despite knowing sugar-based energy could be obtained through many types of fruits and vegetables)
  • Sugar can help control appetite and weight in diets (They accomplished this with a campaign comparing the amount of calories in common foods like apples to one teaspoon of sugar; of course, we know now calories aren’t the whole story in weight gain and nutrition)
  • We like sugar because it is instinctual for us to like sweet tastes (But they failed to mention that they would exploit that sweet craving throughout the Boomer Generation and increase the use of sugars in processed foods)

Mister Boomer has written that generally speaking, the boomers he knew did not have candy on a regular basis at home, other than at holidays (or visits to grandma). However, the sprinkling of some sugar on cereal, dessert fruit, in coffee (for kids who drank coffee) and in drinks like Kool-Aid were “authorized” uses of sugar in most boomer households. There were a few years where Mister Boomer and his neighbor friends got their summer candy money by redeeming soda pop bottles. If the bottle harvest was good on a hot day, 10 cents would buy a sweet treat in the form of an 8 oz. bottle of Coke from the Sinclair gas station vending machine.

So, what are parents and grandparents supposed to do, knowing what we know about sugar now? Mister B posits that perhaps advice from the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle is most apropos: “The virtue of Justice consists in moderation, as regulated by wisdom.”

What was your family’s attitude toward sugar, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Food & Beverage,Pop Culture History and have Comments (2)