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Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

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)

Hey, Hey, Boomers Loved “The Monkees”

Next week marks the fiftieth anniversary of a boomer-era TV anomaly: the final episode of The Monkees TV series was aired on March 25, 1968. Many boomers have forgotten or perhaps did not know that the group was actually made for the TV show, and not the other way around. The concept for the show was to be about a rock ‘n roll band looking for their big break. An ad was published in trade publications and hundreds of musicians and actors auditioned for the parts.

The four selected to play the band members were Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith — two actors and two musicians. Micky had previously appeared in the TV show, Circus Boy (1956-58), but he also sang and played guitar with several bands in the early ’60s. Davy gained his acting chops by playing The Artful Dodger in Oliver! (1964) on the London stage, and later, on Broadway. Peter was a musician who was recommended for the role by Stephen Stills. Stills was offered the job, but didn’t have any interest in doing a TV series. Instead, he took Peter Tork to the audition, telling the producers that Tork was often mistaken for him. Michael was a musician who rode to his audition on a motorcycle. He wore a wool hat to keep his hair out of his eyes on the ride, and kept it on for his screen test. The casting directors thought it was a nice quirky addition and nicknamed him “Wool Hat.” The first episode of the show refers to Michael with that nickname, and Michael’s hat became part of his persona.

NBC bought the concept in an effort to appeal to young viewers — boomers. The concept was developed and the pilot episode was written by Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker. It aired September 12, 1966. After the initial episode, NBC took control of the writing and Mazursky and Tucker were left out. Mazursky and Tucker went on to write the film, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) for which they were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The duo also was responsible for I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (1968) and had many other writing, acting and directing credits.

The Monkees was conceived as absurdist, surreal humor — sort of like The Marx Brothers on acid. It emulated avante garde films of the day with quick cuts, ample improvisation and breaking the fourth wall. Critics quickly compared The Monkees to The Beatles characters in A Hard Day’s Night (1964). Many saw Mickey as John, Davy as Paul, Michael as George and Peter as Ringo. The writers agreed they had been influenced by the Richard Lester film.

The boys were coached on comedy improvisation, but since it was increasingly improvised, early episodes placed sections of the four actors’ screen tests or short Q & A formats to fill remaining time. As the show progressed, time was filled with the band singing. It was those song “videos” that Mister Boomer and his sister would wait for.

Davy Jones is quoted as saying, “Ours was the kind of show you could look at or look away from — it had no deep plot. If you missed five minutes while you ate your dinner you didn’t exactly lose the whole thread, you know what I mean? It was all harmless, happy fun. No hidden meanings.”*

Mister Boomer watched the show through its entire run, like other boomers. It reminded him of The Three Stooges, but with less violence. He hadn’t seen many Marx Brothers movies at that juncture. The all-around absurdity reminded him of the Adam West Batman series that aired during the same seasons as The Monkees.

There was a lot to like about the show for boomers; girls thought Davy was cute and hung up posters of him on their bedroom walls, while boomer boys bought models of the Monkeemobile. Then there was the music. Fifty years later, boomers can still sing more of The Monkees theme song than they can of Auld Lang Syne! Mister Boomer’s sister was partial to Daydream Believer and I Want to be Free, while Mister B liked (I’m not Your) Stepping Stone, A Little Bit Me A Little Bit You and Valleri. His mother was a fan of Last Train to Clarksville.

It was only years later that Mister Boomer could fully appreciate the artistry — if one can call it that — of their performances and that of their fellow actors on that show. It wasn’t until the 1990s that Mister B saw an episode in color!

Did you watch The Monkees on TV during its original run, boomers?

*Quote appears in Mutant Monkees Meet the Masters of the Multimedia Manipulation Machine! by Davy Jones and Alan Green; Click! Publishing, 1992
posted by Mister B in Music,Pop Culture History,TV and have Comment (1)

Boomers Got Tattoos — Or Did They?

The history of tattooing spans countries, cultures and generations. The early days of tattoos in the U.S. echoed the new country’s military beginnings, as tattoos were predominantly inked on male soldiers and sailors, who sported patriotic themes or regimental insignia. This same practice was reawakened during the Civil War, when tattoo artists would travel, even from Union to Confederate camps, to practice their art.

The Victorian Era saw acceptance of tattoos grow from the strata of the military and lower income classes to higher echelons of society. A New York newspaper at the time reported that as many as three quarters of the women of high society were tattooed for decoration, mostly with butterflies and flowers.

Like most trends in the U.S., the popularity of tattoos started on the East and West Coasts and moved inward, but times were changing. By the 1920s, tattoos and tattoo artists were equated with the excesses of the Jazz Age, and it fell out of fashion in the general population as part of the sweep of the Prohibition Movement. Tattoos on women were thought to be a sign of promiscuity. This forced some heavily tattooed women into working circus and strip-tease acts. Nonetheless, the practice continued. When Social Security was introduced in the 1930s, a minor trend appeared of getting your newly-issued Social Security number tattooed on your body so that you would remember it!

In the 1940s, many men still sought out tattoo artists. However, as the possibility of the U.S. entering World War II loomed large, the military would not accept individuals with images of naked women or pin-ups, popular tats of the day. Consequently, there was a surge in tattoo business nationwide as men had their tattoos “dressed” with nurses’ uniforms, bikinis or even Native American garb. During the War, it was mainly sailors — like the early days of the U.S. military — who received tattoos. And like the time of the American Revolution and Civil War, their tats were most often patriotic images or regimental insignia.

By the time the War had ended and the first boomers were born, tattoos were once again losing their status in society. Prisoners gave each other tattoos, often to reflect group affiliation, and thus a person observed with a visible tattoo was thought of as either a felon or under-educated. This rebellious reputation made tattoos more attractive for motorcycle clubs and Beatniks, though their chosen imagery differed greatly. Motorcycle club members often had a club logo tattoo in the 1950s, while the Beatniks preferred imagery that suggested Eastern mysticism.

In 1961, a hepatitis outbreak in New York City was traced to a tattoo studio in Coney Island. Consequently, a New York City law banned all tattoo establishments, and most of the country followed suit. (New York City didn’t repeal the law until 1997.) More underground than it had been in decades, tattoo artists worked illicitly. As rock ‘n roll established itself as the voice of the younger generation, some rock stars sported tattoos as a sign of their rebellious nature. Members of the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin, in particular, sported visible tattoos.

In Mister Boomer’s circle of family and friends, tattoos were a rarity. He only knew two people — both men — with tattoos. The first was his uncle, a veteran of World War II, who had his army division insignia tattooed on his arm. The other was a manager at the first retail job Mister Boomer worked. The man’s tattoo pictured snakes slithering down an anchor — he had recently left the Navy.

In Mister Boomer’s area, it was commonly said during the 1960s and ’70s that any tattoos or markings should be covered up for job interviews. It was not going to be easy to enter Corporate America if you had a visible tattoo. Thus the alienation between financial classes, heightened by level of education, could also increase over physical appearance. Many long-haired boomers will attest to this same form of discrimination. Consequently, tattooed boomers tended to work in factories, record stores or places where they would not be seen by the general public lest someone be offended.

Now it is said that the number of tattoo studios in the U.S. has doubled since the 1990s. Many corporations still frown on their workers showing tattoos, and tattoo concealer sales have grown to serve this market. At the same time, tattoo removal services have also grown exponentially. According to a 2006 study by the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, nearly a quarter of Americans between 18 and 50 have at least one tattoo.

These days it’s hard to turn practically anywhere without seeing people of both genders sporting tattoos. Male and female stars on all types of TV shows, movie stars and sports stars proudly display their tats. More establishments are relaxing their ban on tattoos in the workplace as the popularity seems yet to have reached its peak. Who knows where this will lead? Mister Boomer can’t help but wonder if the Boomer Generation didn’t set the stage for the level of freedom this current generation has to express themselves with their bodies.

While Mister Boomer doesn’t have any tattoos and doesn’t know tattooed boomers himself, he did run into one man in his daily work commute last summer who had a series of tattoos on both his arms and legs. The man appeared to be of boomer age and was dressed in shorts, so he may have been retired or worked as a corporate messenger since he was observed carrying large envelopes each time Mister Boomer encountered him on the train platform. The interesting thing about his tattoos to Mister Boomer, though — and what made him think the man was a boomer himself — was that virtually all of his tattoos were cartoon characters from our boomer days. The man had Mighty Mouse, Heckel and Jeckel, Huckleberry Hound, Popeye, Felix the Cat, Yogi Bear and Bullwinkle and Rocky inked on his arms and legs! While Mister Boomer isn’t of the mindset to ever get a tattoo of any type, this was one display he could appreciate. How is that for a rebellious boomer?

Did you know any fellow boomers who got tattoos back in the day, boomers? Have you jumped on the tattoo bandwagon yourself in subsequent years? Do your children have tattoos?

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