Boomer Icons: Still Kicking, After All These Years

As we progressed through our Wonder Years (building strong bodies 12 ways, at the very least), into our teens and on to adulthood, we, like the generation before us, developed our own set of idols, heroes, celebrities and cultural icons. These people became the household words of our generation. Can you imagine, for example, talking about the Boomer Generation without a mention of the Beatles?

What we don’t often think about, however, is that the vast majority of the people we listened and looked up to, watched and were inspired by, were, in fact, not from our generation at all. It makes perfect sense, of course: how many celebrities or personalities could be our age when we ourselves were in our formative years? Most of these folks were part of the Silent Generation: that group of people who were born during the Great Depression on up through the Second World War. It is said that the experiences they lived through — of parental and familial sacrifice — set the stage for the next generation to enjoy the freedoms their parents fought so hard to attain. We certainly embraced these freedoms in our generation, wholeheartedly — and many of these icons were right there encouraging us along with their words, art or political largesse.

As we age, ourselves, countless icons from our youth have passed on … but many are continuing to grow old gracefully, still out there doing the things we loved them for way back when. Here is just a partial list of some well-known boomer icons who are still with us, still doin’ their thing:

Julie Andrews  born October 1, 1935
actor: The Sound of Music, et al

Rod Argent  born June 14, 1945
singer, songwriter, musician: The Zombies, et al

Carol Burnett  born April 26, 1933
comedian, actor and TV personality

Bill Cosby  born July 12, 1937
comedian, actor: I Spy, et al

David Crosby  born August 14, 1941
musician, singer, songwriter: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Dick Clark  born November 30, 1929
TV personality and producer: American Bandstand, et al

Jimmy Carter  born October 1, 1924
39th President of the United States

Roger Daltry  born March 1, 1944
singer, songwriter: The Who

Keir Dullea  born May 30, 1936
actor, 2001: A Space Odyssey

Bob Dylan  born May 24, 1941
singer, songwriter, musician, poet, artist, political activist

Jane Fonda  born December 21, 1937
actor and political activist

John Glenn  born July 18, 1921
one of the Original Seven astronauts, former U.S. Senator

Dustin Hoffman  born August 8, 1937
actor: The Graduate, et al

Mick Jagger  born July 26, 1943
singer: The Rolling Stones

Etta James  born January 25, 1938
singer: At Last!

Tom Jones  born June 7, 1940
singer: It’s Not Unusual, et al

Carol King  born February 9, 1942
singer, songwriter

Mike Love  born March 15, 1941
singer, songwriter, musician: The Beach Boys

Ann-Margret  born April 28, 1941
actor: Viva Las Vegas!, et al

Paul McCartney  born June 18, 1942
singer, songwriter, musician: The Beatles, et al

Bob Newhart  born September 5, 1929
comedian, actor

Smokey Robinson  born February 19, 1940
Motown singer, songwriter, producer

Diana Ross  born March 26, 1944
Motown singer: The Supremes, et al

Ringo Starr  born July 7, 1940
musician, songwriter, singer: The Beatles, et al

Neil Young  born November 12, 1945
musician, singer, songwriter: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, et al

Raquel Welch  born September 5, 1940
actor: One Million Years, B.C., et al

Of course, there are many, many others. Who would you add to this stellar list of living boomer icons?

Oh Man, Now That’s Cool!

Every generation has its slang. Some words seem to sprout up spontaneously to spread across a population, while others tend to carry over from decade to decade. The use of slang during our boomer years is no exception, though the sheer quantity of phrases and slang words that help define the time may be unparalleled in history.

The dichotomy of the tumultuous sixties was echoed in the language of the time. In terms of slang, the beginning of the decade was more like a continuation of the 1950s, being greatly influenced by the Beat Generation and the speech of jazz musicians. The latter half is when things began to radically change, as countercultural movements in music, fashion, drugs and anti-war sentiment all placed a colorful stamp on American English. Words, especially in the latter half the 1960s, appeared faster than you can say, “Can you dig it?” (itself a phrase that may have its origins decades if not centuries before).

Through the expanding slang lexicon of the 1960s, however, Mister Boomer peppered his daily speech mainly with two words, at least one of which has remained current in today’s culture: man and cool.

From song lyrics to TV shows, movies to street corners, man has been chronicled as an inherent part of the speech pattern of the boomer decade. Its origins may go back decades, as most associate its popular use with musicians in the 1930s and ’40s (i.e., “Man, that cat can swing!”). It was then picked up by servicemen from World War II, then by the Beat Generation, and brought to the culture at large.

The definition of man was rather generic — and like a lot of slang, depended on the usage to ascertain its full meaning. Often spoken at the beginning or ending of a sentence, it could be used to punctuate the phrase with an emotion like surprise, delight or disbelief. “Man, that was groovy!” would therefore have a different inflection than, “The Man is incapable of listenin’, man.” In general, man was either a question sent out to all within earshot (i.e., “did you hear what I said?”) or an exclamation that could have been a shortened form of mankind (as Robin might have said, “Holy mankind, Batman!”) However, as just noted, man was not to be confused with The Man, which was used as a term of disapproval for a person in authority, especially a “fat-cat” employer or government official. (That is, “working for The Man every night and day,” or “The Man is out to take away your freedom, man.”)

On The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Maynard G. Krebbs (Bob Denver) espoused the slang of his adopted persona as a member of the Beat Generation. Words such as daddy-O and nowheresville tended to fade through the sixties, but man and cool persisted.

Cool, on the other hand, appears to have an extremely long history. As such, it is one slang word that could very well be the longest-lived one that we speak today. Surely there are instances noted in movies, interviews and music where cool is used, especially by jazz musicians in the 1920s and ’30s. Some word historians point to cool being used in Shakespeare, and phrases such as, “cool as a cucumber,” or “one cool customer,” were common at the turn of the century. Still others say cool was used in some slang form as far back as Beowulf. The usage of the word where the meaning is most associated with that used during the boomer years and on to today — i.e., from a detached sense of style and sophistication to something of the highest order — appears to have spread quicker in post-war America as the Beat Generation dispensed it in poetry, performance and speech.

For a young Mister Boomer, the words he had heard in neighborhood conversations eventually seeped into his brain and became part of his daily vocabulary. “Man, it was cool” would therefore completely describe a neighborhood teen’s tri-carb GTO to a group of schoolyard friends, who in turn could really dig where he was coming from.

Slang can differ from culture to culture, across economic strata and even neighborhood to neighborhood in Mister Boomer’s experience. But as children at the dawn of the Media Age, how could we not consume that which would make us cool, man?

Of the dozens of groovy, far out words that arrived in our youth, what slang has stuck with you all these years, boomers?