Boomers Knew A Place to Go

In our current topsy-turvy, “we’re not in Kansas any more,” Oz moment, the concept of home has engulfed us. That’s not to say that boomers, aging as we are, weren’t already in the process of redefining what home and shelter means to us. Yet, this week, as Mister B pondered the historical landscape of everything that holds resonance for boomers — the 55th anniversary of Medicare; the launching of rover vehicles to search for signs of ancient life on Mars; the profound connections between the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and those of today’s Black Lives Matter protests; the political turmoil and uncertainty before a Presidential election — what he really landed on was what “place” has become. “Place,” as opposed to “home,” was somewhere to go that was not home. It was a location that could change attitudes and moods; provide comfort or discomfort; be educational or mind-freeing. Yeah, man, it was … a place.

So naturally, with all that rattling around Mr. B’s cranium, he woke up on two mornings this week with “place” songs reverberating between the ears for a get-outta-bed soundtrack. Here are Mister B’s top choices for “place” songs from the boomer era. See if your sense of place is stirred by any of these memories:

A Summer Place A Summer Place movie, 1959
An instrumental version of the song by Percy Faith was released in 1960, and it spent nine weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, reaching the number one spot. It was covered by a slew of other artists, in both instrumental and vocal versions. Among the vocal versions are Andy Williams in 1962; Julie London in 1965; Bobby Vinton in 1965; The Lettermen in 1965, and many others. Mister Boomer remembers being told it was a go-to make-out song for those warm summer nights listening to the car radio.

Somewhere (A Place for Us)West Side Story, 1957 on Broadway, 1961 on film
We have Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim to thank for this American classic. The Supremes recorded their version in 1965. It’s another boomer era song that keeps popping up, with new recordings still being released. Drama mixed with a sense of place has given this song a perpetual place in our consciousness.

In My Life — The Beatles, 1965
Right from the opening lyrics:

There are places I remember …

the song is a transportive trip down memory lane (as opposed to Penny Lane). Finishing in part, with:

In my life, I loved them all …

it is certainly aspirational for all boomers at the current stage of our long, strange trip. It was part of the Rubber Soul album, which is probably Mister B’s favorite Beatles recording.

No Particular Place to Go — Chuck Berry, 1964
Interestingly enough, when Chuck Berry wrote this song, he did not have anywhere to go because he was in prison. Convicted of violating the Mann Act — transporting a minor across state lines for immoral purposes — Berry was sent to Springfield, Missouri’s Medical Center for Federal Prisoners. Berry claimed his innocence throughout his life, but served more than a year. There’s a place you’d rather not visit.

Name of the Place is I Like it Like That — Chris Kenner, 1961
Written by Chris Kenner and Allen Toussaint, Kenner was the first to record it. His version was released in 1961, and landed in the number two spot on the Billboard Hot 100. This song lyrically invites us to a place that is named, “I Like It Like That.” The band beckons us to “come on, let me show you where its at.” Who wouldn’t like a place with a name like that? The Dave Clark 5 released a version in 1965, which is probably the version that Mister Boomer heard on his transistor radio. The Kingsmen also recorded it that same year.

I Know a Place — Petula Clark, 1965
Following her smash debut hit, Downtown (1964), Petula Clark struck gold a second time with this ditty. The suggestion to forget your troubles and head “where the music is fine and the lights are always low,” stuck with U.S. listeners. The song spent five weeks in the Top Ten, and Clark was awarded a Grammy for Best Contemporary (R&B) Female Vocal Performance. When someone told you they “knew a place,” you’d try it out, wouldn’t you?

We Gotta Get Out of This Place — The Animals, 1965
Mister Boomer was elementary-school age when the song was first issued. He credits it as being the first rock anthem of his young life. Moving from grade school to high school seemed like a forever task. School kids immediately clamped onto the chorus; Mister B would later learn older kids identified with the song for different reasons, as did soldiers in Vietnam. It still kicks it, as far as Mister B is concerned. It’s sung with raw emotion that speaks of a desperate hope that if this place is not going to cut it, another place has got to be better.

The places we can go will all be available to us again, but in the meantime, set the turntable arm down on the vinyl and you’ll be at the place you were when you first heard these tunes.

Which “place” song is your favorite, boomers?

Boomers Went to Drive-Ins Long Before Coronavirus

The 1950s and ’60s were considered the golden age for drive-in movie theaters. It was an inexpensive night out for the family, where children were welcome and parents could come as they are. During that era, there were around 4,000 drive-in theaters in the United States. Currently around 300 operate on a regular basis. That may be changing in this time of coronavirus.

Richard Hollingshead is credited with opening the first Automobile Movie Theatre in Camden, New Jersey, on June 6, 1933. He applied for and received a patent for his design, though there is evidence of similar car-viewing screens as far back as the 1910s. Hollingshead didn’t realize a profit on his idea, and sold it to an enterprise that promptly moved his drive-in to another location. Two decades later, the Baby Boom was in full swing and in 1950, Hollingshead’s patent was ruled invalid. That opened the door for anyone who wanted to start a drive-in movie business to do so without paying a royalty.

America’s love affair with the car had taken a firm hold on the developing national zeitgeist as more boomer families bought cars and moved to the suburbs. Cars were large, affordable and relatively comfortable, so drive-in movies were a natural fit for the generation. Land was cheap and available for would-be proprietors, as well. The perfect arrangement of circumstances fell into alignment for the industry to grow and thrive.

Once boomers were old enough to drive, and either borrow their father’s car or buy one of their own, the drive-in movie became an inexpensive place to go for a date. It was also a surreptitious location to gain some alone time. For some boomers, asking a date to a drive-in movie was synonymous with a pre-approved make-out session. The last row in the drive-in was often the place to be when watching the movie was a secondary event.

Mister Boomer went to the drive-in movies with his family at an early age. There were several to choose from near his home, so his father could decide which movies he and the family would see. Mister B recalls seeing Dumbo and Cinderella in a double feature for the first time at a drive-in. Most drive-ins in his area had a playground at the base of the screen. Families could arrive an hour before the show, which began at dusk, and the kids could play on swing sets and teeter-totters. A good many young boomers were already dressed in their pajamas, an indication that they would not last the full length of the two movies, intermission and cartoons that would be presented.

The dawn of the VCR, the downsizing of the family car and the widespread adoption of Daylight Saving Time are all mentioned as reasons why drive-in theaters began to close by the hundreds in the 1970s and ’80s. Land was also at more of a premium as the suburbs grew, so with the average drive-in occupying 15 acres, proprietors could retire on the profits of selling the land to housing and mall developers.

Flash forward to today’s headlines about how the presence of the coronavirus has changed just about every aspect of our lives, and the drive-in theater looks to be an idea whose time has come once again. Drive-ins are being used for graduation ceremonies, weddings and pop, rock and country concerts. People can venture out of their quarantine shelters, still protected by the shell of their cars. Social distancing isn’t much of a problem when drive-ins limit the number of vehicles. Open air and space to breathe remind people of a day when we’ll put this health crisis behind us.

Jumping on this bandwagon, Walmart announced that the company will create 160 drive-in theaters in its parking lots, set to open in August and stay operational through October. Others are popping up in parking lots of restaurants, malls and stadiums. While there are no longer any drive-in theaters in business in Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana and North Dakota, Mister Boomer reminds all boomers that, if they live near one of the 300 or so drive-ins that have remained in operation, convince your children and grandchildren to make the nostalgic choice and patronize your local drive-in. After all, we were there first.

What family memories do drive-in theaters bring back to you, boomers?