Boomers Liked “Young Girl” Songs

Boomers grew up in a time when underage marriage was allowed in all 48 (and later, all 50) states, at the very least with parental consent. Marriage laws were (and are) a state matter, not a federal one. Yet more than that, the dating of young girls below the age of 18 by men 10 or 20 years older — if not more — was both vilified and treated with indifference, depending on the state and the persons involved. There are many stories of bluesmen, in the decades before boomers arrived, taking advantage of younger women, and now rock ‘n roll, coming out of that tradition, which seemed to bring the subject out in the open. The developing rock ‘n roll culture of the late ’40s and early ’50s did nothing but shine a light on the arguments on both sides.

In 1958, when a 23-year old Jerry Lee Lewis married Myra Gale Brown, the 13-year old daughter of his cousin, he was riding the wave of world popularity. He had a world tour scheduled that year, beginning with England. His plan was to have his bride by his side, but the British tabloids would have none of it. Forced with the choice of either leaving Myra at home, or lying about their marriage, his European tour was cancelled. In the U.S., many venues in various states refused to book him. His career took a nosedive from which he never fully recovered.

In 1959, Elvis Presley was serving the remainder of his Army stint in Germany when he met 14-year old Priscila Beaulieu, the daughter of an Air Force captain. They spent the next six months dating. After Elvis left the Army in 1960, he kept in touch with Priscilla, inviting her to visit him at Graceland. She convinced her parents to let her go for a visit in 1963, under their provision that the entire visit was chaperoned. Within three months, she begged her parents to let her live with Elvis at Graceland. They relented when Elvis promised to marry her, send her to an all-girls Catholic High School and that she would live away from Graceland with Elvis’ stepfather and mother. The couple married in 1967 when Priscilla was 20, despite persistant rumors linking Elvis to many of the leading ladies of his movies through the years, including Ann-Margaret and Nancy Sinatra.

Chuck Berry had a checkered past when it came to young girls. In 1958, he wrote and recorded Sweet Little Sixteen, which on the surface seems a harmless enough tune. On closer inspection, the song can be interpreted as Berry watching 16-year old groupies from various locales heading to the rock shows and gathering autographs, from

… rockin’ in Boston
In Pittsburgh, PA
Deep in the heart of Texas
And round the Frisco Bay
All over St. Louis
And down in New Orleans
All the cats wanna dance with
Sweet Little Sixteen

Berry sings this “girl” has collected About a half a million … autographs. The song reached Number 2 on the charts. The Beatles recorded a cover version in 1963.

Two years later, in 1960, Berry was charged with violating the Mann Act, which made illegal the “transporting of minors across state lines for immoral purposes.” In Berry’s case, the girl was 14 years old. Berry claimed he met her in Juarez, Mexico, and offered her a job in his St. Louis nightclub. She accepted the job as a hatcheck girl, and after she was fired from the club, she went to the police.

After his first conviction, Berry appealed the decision, and a retrial was ordered. He was convicted on the retrial in 1961 and served 20 months in prison on a five-year sentence.

Johnny Burnette was 26 when he sang You’re Sixteen (1960) to the Top Ten on the charts. For coming-of-age boomers, You come on like a dream, peaches and cream/ Lips like strawberry wine/ You’re sixteen, you’re beautiful and you’re mine was teenage love. To guys the age of Johhny Burnette, it was, in the parlance of the age, “robbing the cradle.” It wasn’t any less creepy when a thirty-something Ringo Starr recorded a cover version in 1973.

By the mid-60s, though, songs about young girls took a somewhat hesitant stance in their lyrics. In Younger Girl (1965), John Sebastian and the Lovin’ Spoonful sung that:

A younger girl keeps a-rolling ‘cross my mind
No matter how much I try, I can’t seem to leave her memory behind

… but ultimately he concludes …

And should I hang around, acting like her brother
In a few more years, they’d call us right for each other

Bobby Vee and the Strangers sang Come Back When You Grow Up Girl in 1967. Here Bobby admits his attraction to this young girl:

I want you girl but your wide-eyed innocence
Has really messed up my mind, yeah, yeah
I’d rather you get your very first heartbreak
Somewhere else along the line

Ultimately but reluctantly, his reason takes over as the song concludes:

Come back when you grow up, girl
You’re still livin’ in a paper-doll world
Some day you’ll be a woman ready to love
Come back, baby, when you grow up

Gary Puckett & the Union Gap entered the genre with Young Girl in 1969. Gary wants the young girl to go away so he’s not tempted:

Young girl get out of my mind
My love for you is way outta line
Better run girl
You’re much too young girl

He doesn’t blame his own actions, but says that she misled him:

You led me to believe you’re old enough
To give me love
And now it hurts to know the truth

Boomers liked it enough that it spent three weeks as Number 2 on the Billboard Top 100 chart; the first week it was just behind behind Otis Redding’s Dock of the Bay, and the next two weeks it was bested by Bobby Goldsboro’s Honey.

Just when we think that these situations celebrated in song during the Boomer Era couldn’t be recorded or happen now, we not only get the rise of the Me Too Movement, but the reappraisal of child marriage laws in many states. Delaware became the first state to completely ban marriage under the age of eighteen in May of 2018. That’s correct. THIS YEAR. New Jersey followed suit in June. Several other states have revised their laws, though all the rest allow it at least under some circumstances.

Meanwhile, it is estimated that more than 100,000 children age 12 to 16 were forced to marry in the last decade in the U.S., usually due to pre-arranged marriages through religious beliefs, or due to pregnancy. Worldwide, the United Nations has set a goal of eliminating child marriage by the year 2030. Is that something rock ‘n roll will sing about, and will they be catchy enough tunes that people will propel these songs to the Top Ten?

Did you listen to and buy “young girl” songs, boomers?

Boomers Sipped Through Paper Straws

Boomers remember sipping all sorts of juices, milk, soft drinks and milkshakes through paper straws, but the invention of the paper straw goes back to the century before the Baby Boom. The story goes that one day, inventor Marvin Stone was sipping a mint julep through the type of straw that was used at the time — a stalk of rye grass. Stone saw that the plant-based material left residue and a gritty taste to whatever the person was drinking, so he thought about creating another method. He spiral-wrapped paper around a tube, glued it and received a patent for the first paper straw in 1888. Later, he improved on his design by switching to manila paper and coating it with paraffin wax. His invention quickly became the standard world wide. In 1937, the bendy straw, also made of paper, joined the regular straw and — other than a few innovations on glues, gluing production methods, and food-safe inks for printing on them — remained relatively unchanged when baby boomers took their first sips through straws.

Yet after 80 years, all was not settled in the straw industry. Like the character in The Graduate said to Dustin Hoffman, the world was moving toward “plastics.” The first plastic straws began to appear when Krazy Straws were introduced in 1960. These plastic straws were invented when some glass-blowing students bent glass tubing into twisty shapes, and began drinking from them in their studio.

Young boomers latched on to the novelty of these twisted tubes of colorful plastic, though many reused them again and again thanks to moms who washed them after each use, but the plastics cat was out of the bag. Plastic straws were cheaper to make and therefore cheaper for the rising fast food industry. One by one, soda fountains replaced their bendy and paper straws with plastic, and by the mid-70s, plastic had replaced the paper straw as king of the hill.

While this revolution in single-use, disposable plastic straws was rising, Rachel Carson’s eye-opening book on environmental hazards, Silent Spring, appeared in 1962, sparking the environmental movement. As the sixties rolled on, people in both cities and rural areas complained to government agencies about the obvious pollution of their air, water and soil that was happening at the hands of industrial plants coast to coast. For the first time, large fines were issued to offending companies, but the public wanted more. In response, Congress passed the Environmental Policy Act of 1969. By 1970, President Richard Nixon said, “A major goal for the next ten years for this country must be to restore the cleanliness of the air, the water, the broader problem of population congestion, transport and the like.” Nixon (believe it or not) became instrumental in getting Congress to create the first Environmental Protection Agency as a Cabinet post in order to coordinate and enforce the growing list of national environmental policies. The agency has become a political football ever since.

Despite the progress that has been made in air and water quality since the first steps toward environmental regulation were taken in 1970, plastics — and plastic straws — have escaped notice and criticism. Today America alone disposes of 500 million plastic straws per day. As a result of the worldwide use of plastic straws, scientists are seeing them turn up in the autopsies of dead marine animals and birds, and millions are washing up on the shores of countries around the world. In fact, plastic straws are among the top 10 things that wash ashore on beaches. The drinking straw market is a $3 billion global industry annually.

Currently, many cities and countries around the world are sounding the alarm and are taking steps to outlaw the use of plastic straws. According to CNN, studies are indicating that by 2050, there will be more plastic, by weight, in the world’s oceans, than fish. The European Union is proposing a ban by member states by 2030. Great Britain is investigating a total ban on single-use plastic straws, and Glasgow, Scotland has already issued such a ban. McDonald’s has announced they will stop their use in restaurants in the UK. Many other restaurant chains in the UK have already eliminated their use. Norway, Australia and New Zealand are also discussing a ban. Taiwan is banning all single-use plastic items by 2019, including straws, coffee stirrers and cups, with shopping bags joining the ban by 2030.

In the U.S., several cities — including Miami Beach, Seattle, Asbury Park and Malibu — have banned or plan to ban their use, and many businesses have voluntarily hopped on the “banned” wagon. In New York City, a Give A Sip campaign is recruiting the voluntary help of businesses with early success. This past week, the upscale burger chain, Shake Shack, agreed to stop distributing plastic straws in all their stores nationwide.

Mister Boomer recalls how boomers used paper straws daily, often sucking hard enough while sipping a milkshake to collapse them. Some boomers chewed on the ends, making mush of the paper. Nonetheless, paper straws ruled the day. In fact, paper straws were such an entrenched institution to baby boomers that Pixy Stix came about in 1952. Originally, the sugary-powder-filled paper straws were intended to make a drink similar to Kool-Aid. Once the company discovered that kids were eating the sugar directly from the straw, a national sugar rush was underway.

Mister Boomer recently spoke with a 10 year old girl to ask her if she has heard of the effort to raise awareness about single-use plastic straws. Not only did she say her school had discussed the issue, she said there was a boy in her class who brought his own metal straw to school every day.

Mister Boomer, being raised in an industrial city, saw pollution first-hand. He has written before about how his mother had to shake off the soot from the freshly washed bed sheets after they dried on the outside clothesline. He recalls one day heading to a nearby beach, only to be faced with a fence blocking entry to the lake. A sign said the lake would be closed until further notice due to pollution. This made him an early tree-hugger in his day. He is forever fascinated that many “cheaper, more convenient” items that became ubiquitous during and after the Baby Boom, such as plastic straws, plastic coffee stirrers, plastic shopping bags and plastic produce bags, did not exist in the 1950s and early ’60s. The funny thing is, we got along just fine without them.

Technology today has given us better food-safe glues and stronger papers for our next-generation paper straws. What’s more, they have been invented to naturally degrade over time. These paper straws are making their way to stores and food establishments now. It’s frightening to think that the very first plastic straws we used fifty years ago, boomers, are still out there, sitting in landfills and possibly washing up on beaches thousands of miles away. So why would anyone think we couldn’t return to paper straws and avoid hundreds of millions of these items littering our landscapes and ultimately endangering sea life around the world? Why should we be willing to accept this fact just so we can enjoy sloshing through our fast food soft drink, only to discard the straw when that familiar sucking noise tells us the cup is empty?

Mister Boomer urges you to take a personal stand now; this is not a political statement, this is a human statement on behalf of our one shared planet. When you are out in restaurants and bars, ask if the establishment offers biodegradable straws. If they do not, refuse to use plastic. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young once sang, We can change the world/Rearrange the world/It’s dying to get better. Now is the time for all good boomers to — once again — come to aid of their planet.

Do you remember the days before plastic straws, boomers?