Boomers Welcomed Spring Their Way

As winter’s thawing tentacles recoil and thrash, intent on crushing the young ambitions of budding crocuses, a wellspring of thoughts gurgle with the notion that spring will — no, must — arrive soon.

Mister Boomer hated this time of the season, that interval of neither here nor there. The time when you needed a winter coat for the walk to school in the morning, but by the time school let out, the temperature had risen 20 degrees. Still cold enough to require a jacket, Mister B and his siblings would have to strip off their hats and gloves and unzip coats to maintain a comfortable equilibrium with the day. He hated that.

Mister Boomer’s mom, like many boomer moms, was motivated by the coming of spring. Her actions on spring motivations began with the seasonal change of outerwear. Since a family of five had to share one small coat closet, a move to storage was always in order when the next season arrived. Winter coats, scarves and gloves were transferred to a basement chifforobe. It was a tall, wooden, rounded-cornered affair, probably dating from the 1930s or ’40s. Mister Boomer thought it must’ve been part of his parents’ bedroom set when they were married, a hand-me-down gift from one of their parents or siblings. However, Midwest springs being what they are, seasons can come and go in a matter of hours. Inevitably there were days when Mister B would have to make the trek to the basement to retrieve winter wear that was prematurely sent to the off-season storage. He hated that.

What’s more, the season ushered in annual spring cleaning chores, especially for the Boomer Brothers. Once Mister B’s mom had the hall closet switched to spring jackets, she’d enlist the help of the boys in various chores around the house. His sister was often exempt from participating. Mister B hated that. (See: Spring Cleaning for Boomer Youth)

T.S. Eliot may have christened April the cruelest month, but then, he may never have had to go to baseball tryouts in the Midwest in March. Mister Boomer didn’t make a Little League team his first year, but did the next three. Tryouts, though, in Mister B’s estimation, were problematic due to seasonal conditions. The air was far too crisp for Mister Boomer, the ground far too soft, the sky far too grey. Then there was the sting of catching a ball in a cold glove, and the zap running up each arm, like brain-freeze for extremities, when the ball made contact with the bat. Even as he took his place at the plate, Mister B knew that somewhere in this favored land, the sun was shining bright, but right there on that day, the weather had struck out. Mister B hated that. (See: Going Batty for Spring)

Mister Boomer has mentioned many times that he, like most boomers, spent a good portion of his time outdoors. As far as Mister B was concerned, he could layer up for winter, but this early spring business confounded his selection of outerwear and made it the most uncomfortable season to play in, in the Great Outdoors. One of the first spring activities in Mister Boomer’s neighborhood was kite flying, to take advantage of the seasonal wind. Like baseball tryouts — air, crisp; ground, soft; sky, grey — wasn’t Mister Boomer’s idea of a good time. He hated that. (See: Boomers Go Fly A Kite)

Meanwhile, back at school the march continued toward summer vacation at a snail’s pace. After all, what was spring to a school kid but the gateway to a summer of fun? It would be Memorial Day before Mister B could hope for a full day off for basking in the warm rays of late spring sunshine. Sure, he had a break over Easter, that strange holiday that hopped around the calendar like a crazed bunny hyped up on sugar. It could be a pleasant week off from school one year, depending where it was in the month, or it could snow. Mister Boomer hated that. (See: Our Sunday Best for Easter)

As the passage of time becomes more prescient to an aging Mister B, he hasn’t mellowed much in his thoughts on early spring days. However, hope springs eternal as March has a way of becoming April, which paves the way to May and on to June. Before you know it, we’re in a Frank Sinatra song singing about the autumn of our years. Mister B hates that.

How did you feel about early spring, boomers? How do you feel now?

Boomer Icons Who Passed On in 2016

2016 was a tough year for boomers. We lost a massive number of historical and cultural giants that helped shaped our boomer years. Here are just some of this illustrious group:

Leonard White – January 2
As a television producer, Mr. White brought boomers the now-classic TV spy series, The Avengers.

Robert Balser – January 5
His name was hardly a boomer household word, yet boomers know his work. Balser was an animator who co-directed Yellow Submarine (along with Jack Stokes, who died in 2013). He also worked on the cartoon series Jackson5 and the animated movie Heavy Metal.

David Bowie – January 10
A colossus among boomer-era rock musicians, Bowie was ever inventing and showing us another side of his collection of talents, from singing to song writing, acting to producing, ever the supreme showman. Here is what Mister Boomer had to say about one of his recordings: “Wild Is the Wind”: A Boomer Story.

Glenn Frey – January 18
Frey, a boomer himself, was the founding member of the Eagles. The band’s southwestern-rock style was present in multiple hits in the 1970s, making them a favorite of many later-era boomers.

Paul Kantner – January 28
In 1965 Marty Balin approached Paul Kantner to join his new band, the Jefferson Airplane. The band, fronted by lead singer Grace Slick, went on to become a symbol of the psychedelic scene in San Francisco during the Summer of Love with the blockbuster boomer hits of Somebody to Love and White Rabbit. Kantner wrote music himself, but the closest he had to a hit was the song Wooden Ships, which he co-wrote with David Crosby and Stephen Stills. After the dissolution of the band, Kantner formed Jefferson Starship. Mister Boomer was not a big fan of Starship, but thoroughly enjoys Airplane to this day including Today, a Kantner-penned song featured on the Surrealistic Pillow album from 1967.

Maurice White – February 3
The co-founder of Earth, Wind & Fire, White was the band’s lead singer. He also co-wrote many of their hits, including September, Sing A Song and Shining Star. In the dark days of disco (in Mister B’s estimation), Mister B would request Earth, Wind & Fire songs from the DJs to avoid having to hear disco music.

Harper Lee – February 19
Boomers will recall Lee as the author of To Kill A Mockingbird, a novel about race and class in the Depression-era South. In 1962 it was made into a motion picture starring Gregory Peck. Many early boomers read the book in school, but most boomers saw the film at some point in their developing years.

Nancy Reagan – March 6
Born Anne Frances Robbins, Nancy Reagan was a film actress before boomers knew her as Ronald Reagan’s wife and America’s First Lady. She was an influential figure in Reagan’s White House, and boomers will recall her role in creating the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign.

Keith Emerson – March 11; Greg Lake – December 7
Two-thirds of the iconic group, Emerson, Lake and Palmer died this past year. Emerson was the founding member and keyboardist of ELP and before that, the Nice, which also featured a blending of rock, jazz and classical music. Bassist Greg Lake met Emerson while the Nice was touring with King Crimson. Together they formed ELP, and recruited Carl Palmer on drums. Their first record was released in 1970. Mister Boomer was a big fan of music that fused other genres, especially jazz and classical.

Patty Duke – March 29
Boomers will always remember Patty Duke for her Academy-Award winning performance in The Miracle Worker, and, of course, for the television series that bore her name. Read Mister Boomer’s take on the show: Boomers, Now Isn’t That Special (Effects)?

Prince – April 21
Prince Rogers Nelson was himself a Baby Boomer, having been born in 1958. A musician, songwriter and musical innovator, he burst onto the music scene in 1976, influencing countless legions of musicians who followed.

Muhammad Ali – June 3
Boomers first knew him as Cassius Clay, a boxer of immense talent who became the Heavyweight World Champion, but was willing to give it all up by declaring his conscientious objector status for the Draft in 1967. He took the name Muhammad Ali in 1964. Boomers will always remember and respect him for his support of the Civil Rights movement and anti-war stance, aside from his being “the Greatest” in the boxing ring.

Margaret Vinci Heldt – June 10
The world will remember Margaret Vinci Heldt for giving us the Beehive hairdo. Read Mister Boomer’s exploration: Boomers Say a Fond Goodbye to More Icons of the Era

Glenn Yarbrough – August 11
Yarbrough began his musical career as lead singer for the Limeliters (1959-63), but most boomers will always remember his classic hit, Baby the Rain Must Fall, from 1965.

Gene Wilder – August 29
Like most boomers, Mister B first heard of Gene Wilder from his starring roles in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Blazing Saddles and two of Mister B’s favorites, Young Frankenstein and The Producers. In the late 1970s and early ’80s, Wilder did a series of films with Richard Pryor that are beloved by later boomers, including Silver Streak and Stir Crazy. He married Gilda Radner, one of the original cast members from Saturday Night Live, in 1984.

Edward Albee – September 16
This American playwright brought us Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which ultimately became a boomer cultural phenomenon as a film starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

Arnold Palmer – September 25
Considered one of the greatest professional golfers who ever lived, most boomers will recall their fathers sitting in front of the TV on weekends in the 1950s and ’60s, a beer in the hand while watching Arnold Palmer on the PGA circuit. Arnold Palmer also gave us the drink that bears his name, a mix of lemonade and iced tea.

Tom Hayden – October 23
Boomers will recall Hayden as the radical founding member of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in the 1960s. Known for his activism in Civil Rights and against the war in Vietnam, he went on to marry Jane Fonda and from 1993 to 200 served in the California state legislature, first as an assemblyman, then as state senator.

Robert Vaughn – November 11
Best known to boomers for his starring role in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., this actor became part of the pop culture landscape.

Florence Henderson – November 24
Ms. Henderson had appeared in numerous movies and TV shows as both an actress and singer during our younger years, but most boomers will always remember her as the mom on The Brady Bunch.

John Glenn – December 8
One of the original seven U.S. astronauts, boomers watched as he became the first American to orbit the Earth (1962). In 1974 he became a U.S. Senator, representing his home state of Ohio, where he served for 24 years. In 1998, at age 77, he became the oldest man to travel to space, going up a second time with the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery. After John Glenn, Mister B and his teammates on a city league baseball team called themselves The Astronauts.

Henry Heimlich – December 17
If his name sounds familiar, it’s because we boomers were around before Dr. Heimlich came up with the life-saving maneuver that bears his name. Boomers saw the adoption of the method for helping choking victims and the signs posted at every restaurant and government building.

Carrie Fisher – December 27
What else can be said about Carrie Fisher? Boomers knew her for Star Wars, of course, but also as the once-wife of Paul Simon.

There were many others who passed on this past year, of course, who made their mark in the annals of boomer history. We have, as the old saying goes, lived in interesting times.

Which boomer icons will you remember, boomers?

Some of Mister Boomer’s Favorites of 2016

It’s the New Year, traditionally a time to look back in reflection and ahead with hope. In that spirit, please enjoy some of Mister B’s hand-picked favorites from 2016.

Boomers and Torn Jeans: The Evolution from Time-to-Replace to High Fashion
Our mothers fretted over our torn “dungarees” only to find a decade later that torn jeans were part of the fashion scene.

Boomers Twisted the Night Away
Mister Boomer explored the origin of the Twist.

Boomers Loved Gene Pitney Songs
Early to mid-boomers probably count Gene Pitney among their favorite singers of the ’60s.

Boomers Heard the Quotes of Their History
We were there, man!

Boomers Benefited from Space Products
Are you aware of space technology in your everyday lives?

Boomers Will Recall 1966
Fifty years ago from the year that just passed, the times they were a’-changin’.

Boomer Comparison: Drug Stores Then and Now
The local pharmacy sure has changed since we were boomer kids. Here is a comparison.

Boomers and Bikinis Just Went Together
The role of the bikini in boomer-era movies is iconic and undeniably modern for the time.

Boomers Have Lived Through Many Eves of Destruction
The song reverberates even today.

Boomers Gladly Went Where No One Had Gone Before
2016 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the original Star Trek on TV.

Boomers’ Diets Have Changed Over 50 Years
Boomers watched the era of convenience foods enter the picture, and the American diet.

Boomers Saw Their Lives in “The Flintstones”
The technology employed in The Flintstones mimicked the space-age devices that were common in boomer households. The major difference was instead of electrically-powered devices, the action of the devices was powered by animals.

Here’s to another great year, and hoping your 2017 is boomer-ific!

Boomers Loved Troll Dolls

If you are a mid- to late-boomer, you probably remember troll dolls, the weird-faced creatures with crazy hair that stood up. They were around in the mid-60s and reappeared each decade after until the 1990s. The story is, though, the original maker was copied and most of the imitators commandeered the eighties and nineties. It was boomers who had the best access to the originals.

Now Disney has decided to take up the troll doll banner and will be releasing a Trolls movie this coming week. You can already see the blitz of toys and collateral merchandise growing on TV commercials in anticipation of what they must believe will be a blockbuster franchise.

As early as the 1930s, Thomas Dam, a Danish fisherman and former bricklayer and baker, created the doll for his daughter one Christmas because he couldn’t afford a present. He fashioned the doll from his imagination, carving the face and body out of wood, with inset glass eyes and sheep skin pieces for hair. Clothes were sewn for the doll, increasing its already unique qualities. Other people saw the doll and asked Dam to make one for their children. By 1959, the doll was being manufactured by the Dam Things Company and sold in Europe. It was made from rubber filled with wood shavings, but retained the original sheep skin hair.

Trolls originated in Norse mythology hundreds of years ago. They became part of the legends of Scandinavia and Northern Europe. Trolls were a non-human race that have been depicted as everything from human-like dwarves to., more often, giants. They resided in caves and dark places near stones, and were known for their skillful work with stone and metal. They sometimes have magical powers attributed to them, and could be oafish and evil or cunning and devious, but rarely were they ever helpful to humans. In most stories, trolls would turn to stone if exposed to sunlight.

The troll doll, called a Dam Doll, made its way to the U.S. in the fall of 1963 and was an instant success. Called Good Luck Trolls, they were produced by the millions in a wide range of sizes, from three inches high to more than a foot tall. The body was made of plastic and the hair, now a synthetic product, was dyed a variety of colors, most often bright orange or blue. The dolls appeared clothed in a variety of outfits or could be sans apparel. Boomer girls would brush the troll’s hair like they did with their Barbie dolls. To the best of Mister Boomer’s recollection, his sister did not have a troll doll. Nor did Mister B have any incarnation of troll paraphernalia.

Mister Boomer recalls seeing them everywhere, from the small ones inside gum machines to the popular six inch models (which did not include another four or five inches of hair) at the discount stores. Whole mythologies grew around the dolls, from assigning them sinister properties to calling them good luck charms. Older boomers had them hanging from keychains and car rearview mirrors.

Many companies copied the troll and sold them in a vast array of products, from coloring books to comics; dolls to TV shows. There was an attempt to bring back trolls in the 1990s, but it failed to catch the interest of the public. In 2005 Dam Things reclaimed control of the copyright and shut down the operation of its many imitators. In 2013 Dam sold the rights to use the troll image and name to Dreamworks, which was later purchased by Disney, paving the way for the upcoming movie.

Did you or someone on your family jump on the troll doll fad, boomers? Did you find them cute or ugly?

Music Flashbacks: A Sign of an Aging Boomer?

Mister Boomer has flashbacks. No, not those kind of flashbacks, but rather, music flashbacks. They can happen any any point. Some are triggered by events and circumstances that remind Mister B of a song, or a situation of what he remembers doing when a particular song was played. For example, Mister B cannot hear Neil Sedaka’s Breaking Up Is Hard to Do (1962) without flashing back to his grandmother’s kitchen table. While spending a week at his grandmother’s house one summer, he had his transistor radio on and was putting together a model car on the kitchen table when the song came on. A mundane scene, but one that has been burned into Mister B’s memory banks, forever linking the song and the circumstance.

However, there is one aspect of Mister B’s music flashbacks he finds most intriguing, and that is that many mornings he will wake up with a boomer-era song in his head. It’s almost as if someone left the jukebox on all night, and in random rotation; what he hears on waking is what is playing at the time. What is most fascinating is, often the songs are those he has not heard in decades, and in many cases, he does not own a copy in his personal collection. There is that old chestnut many of us are reminded of, particularly as we age, that we can’t remember where we put our keys, yet we can recall song lyrics from fifty years ago. Guilty as charged.

Here is a sampling of some of the tunes that have danced across the neurons of Mister B’s gray matter recently when he awoke to a new morning:

Silhouettes — The Rays (1957)
This doo wop/rock classic was covered by many bands, most notably The Diamonds and Herman’s Hermits. While each of the groups had Top 10 airplay hits with the tune, the version by The Rays went to number 3; The Diamonds’ version, released just months after The Rays’, made it to number 5, but failed to make Billboard’s top sales chart; The Four Seasons’ included a version on their 1963 album, Ain’t That A Shame And Twelve Others, but it was not released as a single; Herman’s Hermits did their version in 1965 and it climbed to number 10. What’s odd for Mister B is he hasn’t heard nor thought about this song in eons, yet, one morning, there it was.

Stop! Stop! Stop! — The Hollies (1966)
The exotic-sounding chords of this Hollies hit made it a standout with boomers. Mister B enjoyed the song at the time, but again, he does not have a copy and hasn’t heard it in a very long time. Why are the lyrics so memorable to songs you don’t hear very often?

You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice — Lovin’ Spoonful (1965)
Stepping out of bed one morning, Mister B could only smile at this one. It made him remember his school days, when kids had a constant struggle to get people to like them, especially when they were discovering the opposite sex. Besides, for us old people, it’s still a cool tune.

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother — Kelly Gordon (1969)
Written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell, the song was originally recorded by Kelly Gordon. It was the Hollies who had the big hit with the song when they released their version that same year. Interesting enough, Elton John was playing piano on the Hollies recording.

Not exactly a favorite of Mister B, it was certainly one of the most covered songs of 1969. It has been recorded by dozens of artists, including Al Green, Cher, Olivia Newton John, Neil Diamond, The Osmonds, Jimmy Ruffin, Glen Campbell and Danny Hathaway, to name a few. Mister B isn’t at all sure which version made its way into his early morning brain, but seeing as the Hollies version got more radio play, that was probably it.

Let’s Live for Today — The Grass Roots (1967)
Tra la la la la la live for today, and don’t worry ’bout tomorrow … hey
Could there be a more descriptive sentiment to voice what was forming just before the Summer of Love than these lyrics? The song was an adaptation of an Italian song, but the lyrics were rewritten for an English audience and recorded in the UK by the Rokes and also The Living Daylights in 1966. The Grass Roots version made it a worldwide sensation. It is said to have become a real hit with servicemen in Vietnam, too. Seems an appropriate song for a boomer to wake up to, no?

Mister Boomer does not know why songs are making their way into his internal playlist, especially those that he hasn’t heard in quite a while. Perhaps it is a sign of an aging boomer tripping on nostalgia. Nonetheless, he’s glad (all over) to have such a vast, varied and fantastic array of music from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s that his brain can choose from when he drops the record player arm on another day.

How about you, boomers? Do you have music flashbacks? What waking songs are blowing through the jasmine of your minds lately?

Boomers Worked (and Worked) for The Man

Mister Boomer has explored many things that have changed since the heyday of the Boomer Era, and now here’s one more: workplace loyalty. As boomers entered the full-time workforce in the sixties and seventies, their attitudes toward employers and the workplace was relatively unchanged from what was put forth by their parents’ generation. That is, if you worked hard for an employer, you could stay a lifetime — throughout your working career. In return, your employer would take care of your interests with a living wage, healthcare, and a benefits package that included a pension on retirement. It was a reciprocal loyalty arrangement that went on after the War until the 1980s.

Fifty years ago nearly three-quarters of workers received some sort of pension from their employers. The idea had always been that a pension, plus Social Security, would sustain a retiree and dependents the remainder of their lives. Today that figure has flipped to less than one quarter. Some union and government jobs are the last remaining strongholds for individual worker pensions. What happened?

Most observers point to a variety of reasons for the change, including globalization, the dismantling of unions and chiefly, healthy companies cutting their workforce in the 1980s as a means of increasing shareholder value. Automation and outsourcing completed the picture — along with cuts in benefits like contributions to 401(K) plans, healthcare payments and pensions. Employers stated loud and clear that they would no longer be loyal (in the Boomer Era sense) to their employees. As a result, for many boomers, and subsequent generations, employees do not feel they have a compelling reason to stay with any given company for the duration of their working lives. Consequently, the stage was set for an increasingly high turnover rate. Some studies indicate that the average company experiences a twenty to fifty percent loss of employees who are changing jobs each year.

Today’s generation believes they must take control of their own working life because they have no other basis from which to work. It’s not that boomers wanted to be taken care of; on the contrary, we wanted to control our own destinies as well. It’s just that working used to be a mutually beneficial arrangement. That is changing rapidly. This translates to frequent jobs changes, which average every three to five years.

Evidently, Mister Boomer happens to be one of those last remaining long-term employees. He’s put in more than three decades with his current employer. Fortunately, he has not stayed in the same job description for the duration. Mister B actually did try to leave twice, but ended up not moving to another job. Despite his and his co-workers’ loyalty, his employer, as a small firm, provides some benefits, but certainly not a pension.

Like many boomers, Mister B still feels he can make vital contributions to the workforce. However, agism runs rampant in Mister B’s experience. Companies would rather hire fresh young faces than wrinkled remnants of a generation who once itself said, “Never trust anyone over thirty.” As time goes by, perhaps boomers will be given that second-chapter chance. If everyone keeps changing jobs so quickly, a boomer who feels he or she has a good five, ten or fifteen years of concentrated energy to devote to an employer should be an asset in hiring.

Are — or were — you part of the multi-decade loyalists in the workforce, boomers?