Boomers Remember Special Passings of 2011

As another year begins in the chronicles of boomer history, it is fitting for us to pause for a moment to remember many of the people who passed on in 2011. In their own way, each played an important role in the lives of boomers, or were boomers themselves.

Jan. 18: Sergeant Shriver
Though he was the former Ambassador to France, Shriver went down in history as the Democratic Vice Presidential running mate of George McGovern in his ill-fated bid for the presidency in 1972. He was 95 years old.

Jan. 24: David Frye
The comic Frye will forever be remembered by boomers for his spot-on satirical impersonation of Richard Nixon. He was 77.

Feb. 12: Joanne Siegel
The wife of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel, Ms. Siegel was the original model for Lois Lane. Boomers loved the comic, and of course, Lois Lane, but perhaps what kept Superman at the top of boomers’ lists was the television series that ran from 1952-1958. She was 93.

Feb. 24: Suze Rotolo
Ms. Rotolo, an artist, was best remembered as the muse of Bob Dylan in his early years. She is pictured with him on the cover of the album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963). She was 67 years old.

March 23: Elizabeth Taylor
Boomers may best remember Liz Taylor as the come-hither queen in Cleopatra (1963), a socialite in Giant (1956) and as a young woman with her horse in National Velvet (1944). She won one of her three Academy Awards for her performance in BUtterfield 8 (1960).

March 26: Geraldine Ferraro
Ms. Ferraro was the first woman to be on the ticket of a major political party as the Vice Presidential nominee. She ran alongside Walter Mondale in 1984. The duo lost the election to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. She was 75.

April 5: Gil Robbins
The father of actor Tim Robbins, Mr. Robbins was a folk singer in the band, The Highwaymen. The band had two Top 20 hits in the early 1960s. He was 80 years old.

May 4: Mary Murphy
It certainly helps to be remembered as an actress when you co-star opposite Marlon Brando. That being said, Mary Murphy starred opposite Brando in one of the best-loved boomer movies of its time, The Wild One (1953). She was 80.

May 5: Dana Wynter
An actress boomers will best recall for her portrayal as Betty Driscoll in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Dana Wynter was 80 years old.

May 17: Harmon Killebrew
Many boomers closely followed the career of Baseball Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew. He played 22 years in the major leagues for the Washington Senators, Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals. A consistent hitter through the 1960s, by the time he retired from baseball in 1975 he was second only to Babe Ruth in American League career home runs. Killebrew was 74.

June 3: James Arness
James Arness is the actor boomers recall as Marshall Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke (1955-1975). He was 88.

June 12: Carl Gardner
Carl Gardener will best be remembered as a member of The Coasters (Yakety Yak, Charlie Brown), which was the first vocal group inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He was 83.

July 8: Betty Ford
The First Lady when husband Gerald Ford became president after Richard Nixon’s resignation, she went on to found the Betty Ford Clinic for the treatment of chemical dependency. She was 93 years old.

July 28: Bill O’Leary
A scientist, Mr. O’Leary was selected as a NASA astronaut in 1967. He resigned in 1968 for many reasons, including the cancellation of NASA’s Mars program. He was also known for his strong political views. He protested the incursion into Cambodia during the Vietnam War in 1970, and was an outspoken opponent of the weaponization of space. He was 71.

Oct. 5: Steve Jobs
Read Mister Boomer’s take on the death of Steve Jobs at: Another Boomer Legend Passes On: Steve Jobs

Nov. 7: Joe Frazier
A heavyweight boxing champion in the 1960s, “Smokin’ Joe” Frazier went on to defeat Muhammad Ali in 1971. He later lost to him in a rematch in 1973. He was 67.

Dec. 7: Harry Morgan
Which Harry Morgan will boomers remember best: Officer Bill Gannon in Dragnet (1967-1970) or as Colonel Sherman T. Potter in M*A*S*H (1974-1983)? Both long-running TV shows were a favorite for many boomers. He was 96.

Dec. 18: Ralph MacDonald
A songwriter and percussionist, Mr. MacDonald is perhaps best known for his song Just the Two of Us, a hit for Bill Withers in 1981. He also co-wrote Where Is the Love, which was recorded by Roberta Flack in 1971. He recorded with a host of boomer favorites over the past four decades, including David Bowie, Carole King, James Taylor, Ashford & Simpson, The Average White Band, Art Garfunkel, Aretha Franklin, Steely Dan and a long list of others. His age was 67.

There were many other famous and not-so-famous musicians, artists, authors, singers, actors, politicians, sports stars and more who passed on in 2011. Boomers appreciated and emulated them, and they will be missed.

Which celebrity passing of 2011 caused you to flash back to your youth, boomers?

 

We Protest: Boomers Knew Great Protest Songs

Recent protests around the world, coupled with the Occupy Wall Street actions cropping up around the country in the past few weeks, has triggered Mister Boomer’s memories of protest marches in the Boomer Age. One thing that appears to be missing from the current spate of demonstrations is music; in our boomer years, music and protests were inextricably linked. Music was written specifically to address issues of concern for protesters, or adopted for relevant content. All the major protestations of our time were included: the Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Liberation Movement, Environmental Movement, and of course, the Vietnam War.

So, pick up your sign, pack your gas mask and acoustic guitar, hop on the bus and see how many of these protest songs — and songs picked up by protest groups — you can recall.

Civil Rights
We Shall Overcome: This song had its origins in gospel music, possibly dating as far back as 1901. Through the years, lyrics were adapted and altered, and mixed with the melody of another spiritual. As a result, We Will Overcome was first published in 1947 in a publication that was directed by Pete Seeger. He was taught the song, and, beginning in 1959, along with folk singer Joan Baez, helped make the version we know today the most well-known anthem of the Civil Rights Movement by singing it at rallies and demonstrations.

Blowin’ In the Wind: Written by Bob Dylan and first published in 1963, Mr. Zimmerman has said he adapted the melody from a Negro Spiritual called No More Auction Block, and the lyrics were inspired by a passage from Woody Guthrie’s Bound for Glory. Though considered a general peace and freedom song, it was most identified with the Civil Rights Movement.

A plethora of 60s musical stars recorded the song, starting with Peter, Paul and Mary. The Kingston Trio, The Hollies, Jackie DeShannon, The Seekers, Sam Cooke, Etta James, Elvis Presley, Bobby Darin and a host of others recorded the song. Stevie Wonder had a Top 10 hit with it in 1966.

Women’s Liberation Movement
I Am Woman: Co-written by Helen Reddy and Ray Burton, the song was first published in 1970. It became a number-one hit when Reddy recorded it in 1972, the same year Gloria Steinem published the first stand-alone issue of Ms. magazine. The song became a hit after Reddy had performed it on over a dozen TV variety shows. The National Organization for Women (NOW) picked up the song to play as the ending to their 1973 gala event in Washington, D.C. Betty Friedan reported that women got up and sang along, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Environmental Movement
Big Yellow Taxi: Written by Joni Mitchell, she recorded the song in 1970, which was the year of the first Earth Day. Lyrics from the song — like They paved paradise/And put up a parking lot and Hey farmer farmer/Put away the DDT now — hit home with environmentalists. The song was sung at rallies and made it to number 26 on the Billboard charts. Proof of the song’s staying power is that it is still being performed and recorded by musical artists today. Incidentally, DDT was banned in the U.S. in 1972.

In the Year 2525: Written by Rick Evans and recorded by the duo, Zager and Evans, the song debuted on an independent label in 1968. It was picked up for national distribution by RCA Records in 1969 and hit Billboard’s number one spot for six weeks.

While some hate the song for its overly dramatic lyrics picturing a world doomed by mankind’s own hands, others saw it as prophetic verse in a time of change.

Don’t Go Near the Water: The Beach Boys got all topical and socially aware with this one in 1971. It was an especially poignant environmental message coming from The Beach Boys, since they had made a career out of fun, in-and-around-the-water music.

Whether these songs had assisted in raising awareness or not, the National Environmental Protection Agency was established in 1970 and President Richard Nixon signed the Clean Water Act in 1972.

Vietnam War
Fortunate Son: John Fogerty wrote this song in 1969 and it was recorded by Creedence Clearwater Revival that year. The lyrics tell the story of a man who is drafted, being that he is not the “fortunate son” of a politician or millionaire.

I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag: Anyone who has seen the film Woodstock knows Country Joe McDonald’s singing of this quintessential protest song of the Vietnam War in 1969. The song was first recorded in 1967 by Country Joe and the Fish. The band was booked alongside the biggest acts of the day, and also regularly performed at Vietnam War protests. Getting several hundred thousand people to chant, And it’s one, two, three, what are we fighting for? made the song the voice of a protest movement.

War: Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong in 1969, it was first recorded in 1970 by The Temptations for Motown and placed as an album track on Psychedelic Shack. After college students wrote to Motown requesting the song be released as a single, the company was worried that its lyrics — War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’! — might offer more controversy for The Temptations than it would prefer. As a result, the song was re-released as a single with Edwin Starr singing vocals in 1970. As the War raged on and protests got more vocal, the song hit number one on the Billboard charts.

Give Peace a Chance: John Lennon composed and sang the song first at his honeymoon “Bed-In” in June of 1969. It was recorded and released by The Plastic Ono Band that same year. Sources state the song was sung by a half million demonstrators at the Vietnam Moratorium Day in Washington, D.C. on October 15, 1969. It became the most widely known song of the Vietnam War protests. It was simple to remember, simple to sing, and impossible to forget.

Protest songs all have timely, concise lyrics that relate directly to a cause in such a way that it resonates with listeners. They all have a catchy melody and a refrain that, in many cases, can be easily sung by a crowd. So, what is Mister Boomer’s choice for best protest song of all time? That belongs to Bob Dylan for The Times They Are A’Changin’. Mr. Zimmerman put our parents’ generation on notice as he threw down the gauntlet in no uncertain terms. Your old world is rapidly aging, is a phrase us oldsters should keep in mind these days, for it does appear the times are changing, once again.

Eve of Destruction? Back to the Garden? Ohio? Where Have All the Flowers Gone? There were a multitude of great protest songs from our generation. Which ones conjure memories of your boomer years?