Fifty years ago, in January of 1969, the country was still reeling from the previous year. 1968 would forever be remembered as a tumultuous year, marked by violence, assassinations and an escalation of the war, mixed with hopes of peace and prosperity. A new president was elected and about to be sworn in, but his very presence divided the nation, in no small part along the Generation Gap of young and old. Television, the national highway system and an expanding economy all led to a widening of the Gap. This gave rise to the opening of the first The Gap retail store in 1969, in San Francisco, California. The store catered to boomers with a limited, but highly discounted, inventory of clothing that would appeal to the boomer generation; chief among the items was Levi’s jeans. Blue jeans had become the de facto uniform of the Boomer Generation. Jeans represented a break from the constraints of earlier generations, and exemplified the freedoms cherished by boomers to do what they wanted, when they wanted, dressed as they wanted. While not every boomer was in the streets protesting “Tricky Dick” in their blue jeans, the mistrust boomers had for the incoming president, especially when it came to Vietnam, turned out to be well warranted.
Here are some of the events that marked that month, fifty years ago:
January 5: The Space Race continued to heat up with the Soviet Union launching two space probes to Venus within a few days of each other, Venera 5 and Venera 6. The intention was that both crafts would arrive at Venus one day apart in order to cross-calibrate data collection of the planet’s atmosphere and surface before being disabled by heat or crushed by pressure. Venera 5 descended at a faster rate than Venera 6, broadcasting data for only 53 minutes, thus dooming the main goal of the mission.
January 12: Led Zeppelin released their first album in the United States. Featuring songs with titles like, Dazed and Confused, Good Times Bad Times and Communication Breakdown, boomers were immediately on board.
January 14: Lyndon Johnson gave his final State of the Union address before Congress. He only had one week left in his presidency, so it turned out to be his farewell speech to the people of the United States. He highlighted some of his accomplishments during his five-year tenure, including the passing of the Voting Rights Act (1964) and the creation of Medicare (1965). He mentioned that the unemployment rate, as 1969 began, was sitting at 3.3% and spoke of his hope for peace in Vietnam. He also spoke about the need for Social Security to keep up with the times, and urged a raise of “at least 13%” for the nation’s seniors on the program. Johnson also mentioned that though a new administration would be taking over, it did not mean a dismissal of the issues and challenges that faced his administration. On that front, he wished his successor well on behalf of the American people.
January 15: The Soviet Union launched Soyuz 5 with the intention of docking with Soyuz 4, which was launched a few days earlier, and in orbit. The spacecrafts were manned and became the first ever to dock in space. Cosmonauts on board became the first ever to transfer from one craft to the other via a spacewalk before both vehicles headed back to Earth.
January 20: Richard Nixon was inaugurated as the 37th President of the United States.
January 22: An assassination attempt on Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev failed. An army deserter, Victor Ilyn, fired shots at Brezhnev’s motorcade, killing a driver and injuring several cosmonauts who were riding with Brezhnev in the motorcade. Ilyin was captured and, while facing the death penalty, was declared insane. He was placed in solitary confinement in a mental hospital for twenty years.
January 26: Elvis began recording what turned out to be his comeback album at the American Sound Studios in Memphis. Among the songs that became hits from the sessions were, Suspicious Minds, In the Ghetto and Kentucky Rain.
January 28: A massive oil spill from an off-shore well occurred off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. It caused the closing of the harbor as oil leached onto the beaches. It was the first oil spill that was ever given coverage on TV as images of sludge-covered seals and sea birds reached into homes across the country. Historians say this event galvanized the people of the state and marked the beginning of state — and later, national — environmental legislation. The disaster inspired Senator Gaylord Nelson (Democrat, Wisconsin) to create the first Earth Day in 1970. Long a proponent of conservation issues, Senator Nelson wanted Earth Day to be a grass-roots effort by the people, with the goal of making the nation’s city, state and national governments aware of environmental issues.
January 30: The Beatles gave their last public performance on the roof of Apple Studios in London. After a few songs, including Get Back and Don’t Let Me Down, noise complaints from nearby office buildings brought the police to the roof to shut the impromptu concert down. The 42-minute show was filmed and recorded with two eight-track machines in the basement, five floors below, and became the basis of the Let It Be film and album in 1970.
Nixon was sworn in as president, the Space Race was going full tilt, and the Vietnam War raged on. The Beatles played on a rooftop, and Led Zeppelin hit the shores of the U.S. Fifty years ago, the month of January was a momentous beginning to what would prove to be yet another historic year in the lives of boomers.
What event from January of 1969 looms large in your memory, boomers?
It is tradition at the New Year for Mister Boomer to salute the men and women who have passed on in the previous year. Here are just some of the people who had an influence on boomer culture and are now gone:
Ray Thomas (December 29, 1941 – January 4, 2018)
Mr. Thomas was a flautist, singer, composer and founding member of The Moody Blues, best known for lush orchestral arrangements mixed with rock guitar. Mister B was introduced to the band first from the single, Go Now! (1964), then by his brother playing Nights in White Satin (1967) over and over again after a breakup. Ray Thomas (and fellow bandmate Mike Pinder) contributed background vocals on The Beatles’ I Am the Walrus, and harmonicas on The Fool on the Hill (1967). Along with the remaining living members of The Moody Blues, Mr. Thomas was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year.
Jerry Van Dyke (July 27, 1931 – January 5, 2018)
To some boomers, Jerry Van Dyke was the younger brother of Dick Van Dyke. Yet he was an actor, musician and comedian in own right, making many guest appearances on TV, including The Dick Van Dyke Show. After turning down several TV offers, Jerry finally agreed to appear in a scripted show of his own in 1965: My Mother the Car was beloved by some boomers, and reviled by others. In later years, he had a successful run in the TV series, Coach (1989-97).
John Young (September 24, 1930 – January 5, 2018)
Unknown to many boomers by name, John Young was selected for the second group of NASA astronauts and, for 42 years, became the longest serving astronaut. He flew in the Gemini, Apollo and the Space Shuttle programs. John Young flew in the first manned Gemini mission (along with Gus Grissom, 1965). He then became the first person to fly solo around the moon and one of only three people to have flown to the moon twice. In 1972, he was ninth person to have walked on the moon in Apollo 16 (Note: Alan Bean, fourth person to walk on the moon, died May 26, 2018).
Hugh Masekela (April 4,1939 – January 23, 2018)
Mr. Masekela’s biggest break came in 1968, with the release of Grazing in the Grass, an instrumental composed by Philemon Hou. The song reached number one on the Billboard charts, crossing all boundaries between rock, jazz and pop. (See: Two More Giants of Boomer Music Are Gone)
Dennis Edwards (February 3, 1943 – February 1, 2018)
In the early sixties, Mr. Edwards was a member of the Contours, best known for Do You Love Me (1962). After the Temptations fired David Ruffin in 1968, Edwards became the lead singer. His gritty vocal moved the band’s sound to a more bluesy, soulful direction, inspiring the group to pen more socially-conscious songs. (See: Two More Giants of Boomer Music Are Gone)
Billy Graham (November 7, 1918 – February 21, 2018)
Dubbed “America’s Preacher,” Graham was an evangelical minister who took his early radio broadcasts into “crusades” in the 1940s and ’50s, where he would preach to thousands over several weeks under tents pitched in parking lots. Those events drew media coverage, which landed him on television. He would arguably become the most successful evangelist ever to appear on broadcast TV. Reverend Graham became the spiritual advisor to every U.S president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. He became close personal friends with Lyndon Johnson and Dwight Eisenhower, and was an early opponent to racial segregation. His friendship with Richard Nixon was said to allow him to be one of the first to advise the former president he should resign.
Roger Bannister (March 23, 1929 – March 3, 2018)
Sports-minded boomers recall Roger Bannister’s feat of becoming the first person to run a mile in under four minutes. He did so in his home country of England on May 6, 1954, wearing leather track shoes with metal spikes on a dirt track.
Gary Burden (May 23, 1933 – March 7, 2018)
Though boomers may not have known him by name, they surely knew his work as an album cover artist. Gary Burden designed covers for Joni Mitchell, Mama Cass, The Doors, The Eagles, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and went on to design Neil Young’s album covers for 35 years.
Tom Wolfe (March 2, 1930 – May 14, 2018)
Author of many popular books during the boomer years, his The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968) about Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters is considered an important look at the hippie movement and an example of New Journalism.
Joseph Campanella (November 21, 1924 – May 16, 2018)
Character actors show up time and again, causing viewers to recognize the face if not the name. Joseph Campanella appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows during the boomer era, including Combat, Mission: Impossible, Gunsmoke, The Big Valley, The Untouchables, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mannix and many others.
Robert Indiana (September 13, 1928 – May 19, 2018)
Born Robert Clark, he is best known to boomers as the artist who created his “Love” print for the Museum of Modern Art’s 1965 Christmas card; later it was the basis for his “Love” letter sculpture (1970) and subsequent U.S Postal Service “Love” stamp (1973).
Matt “Guitar” Murphy (December 29, 1929 – June 15, 2018)
A blues guitarist who played with legends like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf in the 1950s, many boomers recall his turn in The Blues Brothers movie (1980) where he played Aretha Franklin’s husband and blues guitarist sideman to Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi’s Blues Brothers band.
Joe Jackson (July 26, 1928 – June 22, 2018)
As the patriarch of the Jackson family, he gave the Jackson 5 (Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and of course, Michael) their head start in the music business, but family legal battles and allegations of abuse followed him his entire life.
Steve Ditko (November 2, 1927 – June 29, 2018)
Teamed with Stan Lee, Steve Ditko was the legendary comic book artist and the co-creator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange.
Roy Carr (? 1945 – July 1, 2018)
Another person whose name may not jump out at boomers, but British music journalist Roy Carr wrote reviews of jazz, rock and pop for New Musical Express (NME) and edited NME, Vox and Melody Maker. He also authored or co-authored books on The Beatles, Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Fleetwood Mac, as well as books on jazz.
Stan Mikita (May 20, 1940 – August 7, 2018)
Before there was a Wayne Gretzky there were guys like Stan Mikita. Remembered as one of the 100 Greatest National Hockey League Players in history, Mikita played his entire career with the Chicago Blackhawks. He led the league in scoring for four seasons, was a nine-time NHL all-star and was part of the team that won the Stanley Cup in 1961. He was inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame in 1983.
Tab Hunter (born Arthur Andrew Kelm) (July 11, 1931 – July 8, 2018)
Actor Tab Hunter became a 1950s heartthrob for his big screen performances in Damn Yankees (1958), The Pleasure of His Company (1961) and Ride the Wild Surf (1964), plus dozens more into the 1980s. In addition to his acting career, Hunter’s recording of Young Love topped the Billboard pop chart in January of 1957. Though closeted during the boomer years, Hunter revealed he was gay in the 1970s, reminding people that there was no way he would have been accepted in earlier decades.
Aretha Franklin (March 25, 1942 – August 16, 2018)
Daughter of a Baptist preacher in Detroit, Aretha Franklin got her start as a gospel singer in her father’s church. She quickly became known as the “Queen of Soul” with a decade-long string of hits in the 1960s, including Spanish Harlem (1960), Respect (1967) and Chain of Fools (1967). A Civil Rights activist like her father, she sang at the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, and the presidential inaugurations of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Winner of 18 Grammy Awards, Ms. Franklin became the first female performer inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987). Mister Boomer became a fan as soon as his brother brought the 45 RPM single, Respect, home.
Aretha sings to Matt “Guitar” Murphy in her memorable scene from The Blues Brothers movie.
Senator John McCain (August 29, 1936 – August 25, 2018)
A Navy pilot who was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967, McCain spent five-and-a-half years as a POW. He became a Republican congressman from Arizona in 1983, then a Senator in 1987. He ran for president in 2000, but George Bush got the GOP nomination. McCain ran again in 2008, securing the Republican nomination, but lost the General Election to Barack Obama.
Bill Daily (August 30, 1927 – September 4, 2018)
An actor and comedian, Bill Daily left a lasting impression on boomers as astronaut Major Roger Healy, neighbor and co-worker to Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden in the TV series, I Dream of Jeannie (1965-70).
Burt Reynolds (February 11, 1936 – September 6, 2018)
An actor who appeared in TV’s Gunsmoke from 1962-65, most boomers will recall his big screen performances in The Longest Yard (1974), Deliverance (1972) and Smokey and the Bandit (1977). For other boomers, he will be remembered as the first male nude centerfold of Cosmopolitan magazine (1972). Still others recall he was married to Loni Anderson, then to Judy Carne, and had well-publicized relationships with Sally Field and Dinah Shore.
Marty Balin (born Martyn Jerel Buchwald) (January 30, 1942 – September 27, 2018)
When Marty Balin met Paul Kantner at a hootenanny in 1966, the two formed the seminal psychedelic rock band, Jefferson Airplane. Balin sang, wrote songs, and played rhythm guitar, backing Grace Slick on vocals. Unhappy with the band’s movement toward the mainstream, Balin left the band he helped form in 1970. He teamed up with Grace Slick for an album in 1972, and by then, members of the former Jefferson Airplane were reforming as Jefferson Starship. Balin officially joined the band on tour in 1974. Jefferson Airplane was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. To this day Mister B marks Surrealistic Pillow (1967) as one of his favorite albums of all time.
Geoff Emerick (December 5, 1945 – October 2, 2018)
Hardly a household name, yet Geoff Emerick’s work was heard by millions as The Beatles’ chief recording engineer on their legendary albums, Revolver (1966), Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), and Abbey Road (1969), as well as Odyssey and Oracle for The Zombies (1967), Stealers Wheel’s Stuck in the Middle With You (1973) and many more.
Paul Allen (January 21, 1953 – October 15, 2018)
Alongside Bill Gates, Paul Allen was the co-founder of Microsoft. His subsequent wealth gave him the opportunity to become a major philanthropist and owner of the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trailblazers. A boomer and guitarist himself, Allen’s favorite musician was Jimi Hendrix. His love of music and science fiction led him to found the Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in 2000, which evolved into the current Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop) in Seattle.
Don Sandburg (? 1930 – October 6, 2018)
A writer, actor, and producer, boomers will recall Mr. Sandburg’s work in television; most notably as a producer of The Banana Splits for Hanna-Barbera (debut 1970) as well as Cincinnati’s WGN-TV’s Bozo’s Circus (1960), where he portrayed Sandy the Clown.
Dorcas Reilly (July 22, 1926 – October 15, 2018)
While working as the kitchen supervisor for the Campbell’s Soup Company, Ms. Reilly invented the green bean casserole in 1955. Cream of mushroom soup had been used as a binder in casseroles since the 1930s, but she was first to pair it with green beans. Campbell’s reports that 40 percent of their cream of mushroom soup sales are attributed to people making green bean casserole on Thanksgiving. The green bean casserole was not a tradition in Mister B’s home.
Stan Lee (December 28, 1922 – November 12, 2018)
By now every boomer knows who Stan Lee was, but that wasn’t always the case. As the McCarthy era shifted focus from Communism to becoming “crusaders of decency” in the 1940s and ’50s, superhero comics fell out of fashion. Comics were blamed for many of society’s ills, from juvenile delinquency to bad grades. Mr. Lee, then a comics writer for Atlas Comics, leant his talents toward romance comics, Westerns and humor. When the comics industry began its resurgence in the early 1960s, Stan Lee was at the forefront of the next wave of superheroes at Marvel Comics, becoming the writer and co-creator of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Hulk, Black Panther and more.
William Goldman (August 12, 1931 – November 16, 2018)
Boomers will best remember William Goldman as the Oscar-winning screenwriter for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and All the Presidents’ Men (1976). He also wrote the boomer favorite book (and later, the movie), The Princess Bride (1973).
George H.W. Bush (June 12, 1924 – November 30, 2018)
A WWII veteran, during the boomer years George Bush served as a Republican congressman from Texas. It was President Richard Nixon who appointed him ambassador to the United Nations. After Gerald Ford became president, he named Bush the chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in the People’s Republic of China. A few years later he brought him back to the U.S. to serve as director of the CIA. Bush ran for president in 1976 and again in 1980. That year, Ronald Reagan got the nomination and named him his vice presidential nominee. After Reagan and his vice president’s eight years in office, Bush ran again and became the 41st President of the United States in 1988, then lost his bid for reelection to Bill Clinton in 1992.
Ken Berry (November 3, 1933 – December 1, 2018)
Many boomers will remember Ken Berry as a TV sitcom star in Mayberry R.F.D. (1968-71) and Mama’s Family (1983-90), but others, like Mister Boomer, will always look fondly on his portrayal of the bumbling Captain Wilton Parmenter on F Troop (1965-67). To this day, when lost physically or mentally, Mister Boomer exclaims, “We’re the Hekawi.”
Of course, there were many, many more, but which of these illustrious people touched your lives, boomers?