Boomers Got Summer Haircuts

As people in many states are exiting their homes from shelter-in-place orders due to the coronavirus pandemic, word is, the first stop for many is the barber shop or hair salon. After three months at home, these services are now seen as an essential part of modern life.

That got Mister Boomer thinking about his summer haircuts. It was about this time each year, when school was finished for the summer, that his mother would give him and Brother Boomer a dollar each, often in quarters, and tell them to go to the neighborhood barber shop, a block from Mister B’s childhood home. The haircuts were seventy-five cents, and the extra twenty-five cents was an additional tip for the barber. Each boy could give the man the cost of a haircut, and an extra quarter, just like the adults.

On the designated day, Brother Boomer and Mister B would hang around the house until the barber shop opened at 9 am. Despite not having to get up for school, it was their usual pattern to wake at the same time and be ready for outdoor fun by 7:30. The walk to the shop was usually uneventful, except that it was situated on the opposite side of the main highway that connected Mister B’s state with the neighboring one. For a duration of at least the next five years, which spanned the late 1950s and early ’60s, the Boomer Brothers would see this highway evolve from a two-lane blacktop to a three lane, and finally five lane highway. At the same time, the motels and luncheonettes that dotted the area slowly disappeared as the interstate freeway system built two blocks the other side of the Boomer home lured the truck traffic from the road, forever changing the type of vehicles that traversed the 35 mile strip between cities in neighboring states.

It was all a matter of timing, first taught by his father and then repeated by his brother. The boys stood on the edge of the highway waiting for trucks to stop at the traffic light four blocks to the north, then, calculating the speed of the traffic coming from the other half of the road, made a dash to cross to the other side. (The answer to why the Boomer Brothers crossed the road was not just to get to the other side, but to get a haircut). There was usually enough time to do so, as traffic on summer mornings was not that heavy. Nonetheless, as a child under the age of eight, it was a daunting exercise that gave Mister B pause each time.

The barber shop was housed in a cinder block building that sat adjacent to an empty lot. The name of the shop was painted on the side of the building, and the familiar barber pole spun around next to the front door, fixed to the brick column that framed the glass front. Sometimes the shop would be empty, and the boys would be the first ones in the chair. Other times, there was already a line of two or three men, eager for a trim, shave or cut. In the early years, the barber had a helper, but later, he ran the shop alone. The boys always preferred him to the second-banana barber — he knew them by name as soon as they walked through the door.

He was a man of Italian descent, who ran his namesake barber shop in a city that was a mix of people from various parts of Europe, along with a healthy dose of southern folks who had come north to work in the factories, the same as the region’s Poles, Germans, Irish, Greeks, Italians and Slavs had done. The barber was more relatable to Mister B and Brother Boomer because he looked like Mister B’s maternal side of the family; short and stocky, with extremely hairy forearms that would flash into view as he deftly maneuvered scissors and trimmers around his head.

Brother Boomer and Mister B always came for the same summer style — a buzz cut, also known as a crew cut. Having no consideration for fashion, the style was purely practical. By getting the military-like mowing of all the hair on the head, the boys were free of combing or flicking hair from their eyes all summer long. Whether the boys engaged in neighborhood baseball games or spent the afternoon at the local high school pool, hair was not going to get in the way.

Brother Boomer was three years older than Mister B, so as he was entering high school and discovering the fashions of the sixties, that left Mister B to visit the barber by himself for a couple of years. By the time Mister B was twelve, men were wearing their hair longer, and the idea of a summer buzz cut was no longer as attractive a notion as it had once been. Visits to the barber were no longer dictated by season. By the late sixties, the barber was out of business.

These days, quarantine or no quarantine, Mister B’s hair has receded to points unknown from those days sixty years ago. Consequently, his wife has handled his haircuts with an electric home trimmer for nearly forty years. Every three or four months, she remarks on the unkempt ring of what’s left of the hair on his head, and a haircut is planned. Her style of choice? The buzz cut. She says it gives her a sense of power, plowing through the shagginess and leaving behind a velvety stubble that she says reminds her of dog fur, something she much prefers than the thought of running fingers through a little dab of Brylcreem.

How about you, boomers? Did you get summer haircuts?

Boomers Heard the Answer Was Blowin’ In the Wind

The tremendous outpouring of anger, frustration and ultimate resolve displayed in recent marches that coalesced under the cry of “Black Lives Matter!” strikes an optimistic chord for Mister Boomer. The Boomer Generation was on the cusp of the first marches for Civil Rights, sparking hope in our era that the answers to a multitude of societal questions would soon to be found. Nearly 50 years later, those questions are still being posed, but now, something does appear to be in the wind.

When the first Civil Rights legislation was enacted in 1964, the majority of Baby Boomers were too young to have participated in the movement on their own. For some boomers, it was their parents who brought them along to marches. Others joined in as soon as they became aware in their teens. Songs of our era were filled with calls against social injustices, mixed with peaceful coexistence messaging from the Peace Movement in one seamless blend of things we wanted to change in our society. Boomers of all ages bore witness or marched along with other demonstrators from 1955 to 1973. Nonetheless, even as teens not ready for joining in, boomers were moved by pictures of the marches and violent responses of law enforcement that were broadcast on TV and featured in magazines like Look, Life, Newsweek and Time. We were supposed to be the generation that changed it all. History will be the judge of how much the Boomer Generation was able to accomplish.

One undeniable contribution boomers made to the world was boomer-era music, in all forms. Among the earliest, and most recognizable, of songs that became known as protest songs of the Civil Rights movement, was Blowin’ In the Wind, written by Bob Dylan in 1962. The song’s lyrics give reference to both the Civil Rights and Peace Movements of the day. Yet with the lyrics posing questions like, How many roads must a man walk down/Before you call him a man?, and … how many years can some people exist/Before they’re allowed to be free? the song seemed to offer no hope by stating, The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind/The answer is blowing in the wind. However, Dylan himself has written that he thought the song was a hopeful one. If the answer was blowing in the wind, then it was discoverable, and to him that meant there was hope.

The first recording of the song was by The New World Singers, a group Dylan had known in his West Village days singing at The Gaslight Cafe. Peter, Paul & Mary recorded it in 1963, and took the song to number two on the charts. Dylan finally recorded it himself in May of 1963 for his second album, Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.

The song quickly became an anthem of the Civil Rights movement. Around the time he released his version, Bob Dylan sang it at a voter registration rally in Greenwood, Mississippi. On August 28, 1963, the day Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his I Have a Dream speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Peter, Paul & Mary sang the song into the same microphones. Peter Yarrow sang the song during the March from Selma to Montgomery. Joan Baez, a constant fixture in Civil Rights protests throughout the 1960s, and known for her version of We Shall Overcome, also included Blowin’ In the Wind in her protest performance repertoire.

The song had wide-ranging influence on musicians around the world, including The Beatles and Sam Cooke. Both stated the song changed the style of lyrics they wrote after hearing it. Sam Cooke released, A Change Is Gonna Come, about one year after the release of Blowin’ In the Wind, in February of 1964. It quickly joined Blowin’ In the Wind as an anthem for the Movement. Unfortunately, in December of 1964 Cooke was killed by a motel manager in an incident she claimed was self-defense. The mysterious circumstances surrounding his death are the very type of incident that protestors are calling out today.

Stevie Wonder, himself a new teenager and recording star when the song was released, actually competed on the charts with his Fingertips (Part 2) in 1963. Stevie stopped the song’s momentum to number one, and Peter, Paul & Mary’s version finished in the second spot. Three years later, Wonder released his version of the song, to become the first Black artist to do so. His version topped out at number 9 on the charts.

The list of artists who recorded the song are too numerous to mention, but it covered all music genres and ages, both black and white. It is estimated that hundreds of artists from around the world have pressed their versions. In 2004, it was ranked number 14 on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1994.

What memories do you recall about Blowin’ In the Wind, boomers? Which versions did you have on record?