Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sundays with Steve - We were way cool, Dude

These Sunday's segments are written by my husband, Mr. Jenny. Here's what he has to say about his posts:

I’ve been writing these weekly stories about life in Northern Idaho, as a youngster and as growing into a young man, primarily for our family. And I'm delighted to share them with you. Just between us, I’m anticipating being cranky when some whipper-snapper who may not even be born yet harasses me in 30 years or so with 'Grandpa, tell me about when you were a boy.' That will probably be after the mad cow disease has set in and erased whatever memory is left. So these are the not-so-dramatic adventures of a Baby Boomer in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

We were way cool, Dude

Every generation has both its language and its cultural peculiarities. Except ours of course. That we were groovy and cool cats, that we embraced rock & roll with loud nonsensical music, all of that drove the prior generations a bit crazy. We never understood the generational push-back much, as our language and music were all perfectly normal and acceptable to us.

I asked my father one day why his radio station wouldn’t play a particular record. His was a small town radio station in the days before FM, where there were just two stations serving our area. I heard the disc jockey Gerry Geht on the air that afternoon answer a call-in request with, “I’m sorry, we can’t play that record.” My farther wasn’t much better than the radio disc jockey, “We just can’t,” he said, with a ‘Don’t ask any more questions’ tone to it. I suspect it was one of those generational things, a song perfectly acceptable to us developing Baby Boomers in 1963, but quite offensive to the Greatest Generation.

The Beetles hit our generation hard, of course, and the night they debuted in the U.S. on television’s Ed Sullivan Show was a watershed event, although nobody knew it just then. My brothers and I grinned ear-to-ear that night listening and watching our new heroes, while my parents grimaced in the background. Chuck Berry had laid the ground work, the Beetles, the Who, the Monkeys, the Motown groups, and hundreds of others, were embraced by our generation, and defined our generation for decades.

Language and culture changes with each year, and with each generation. Every year some words are added into the world’s dictionaries (although I don’t recall ever hearing of any words being retired from the dictionaries).

I am a Baby Boomer, born in the 1946 – 1960 range. We were a progressive group, we were told, that embraced hippies, Janis Joplin, and free love. We were tolerant, we were free thinkers who threw polite society’s rules to the wind, and we would change the world. We did. We shocked our parents, and we shocked the world in the 1960s and 1970s when we forced the end to a war, forced a president to retire, another to resign, we forced a society to integrate, and we partook in Woodstock and the Height- Ashbury. Then we settled into our lives and for the most part, we have lived by society’s rules and orders ever since.

I remember one of my best friends, Fritz Streiff, arguing with my father in the kitchen one afternoon, Fritz and I were both high school juniors, and he was discussing, calmly, with the former Army Colonel the merits of marijuana. I was mortified that Fritz would talk about such sensitive generational topics, that my father would intellectually engage him in that conversation, and above all, that Fritz admitted to using such things in our here-to-for innocent small town. Fritz was a pretty interesting character, a life-long best friend who went off to Harvard for college, then to Paris for a post-grad cooking school, back to Boston for a few years with Julia Child, and then to the San Francisco area where he still is today, operating a French restaurant. I never did see those illicit drugs in our town in those years, and I suspect Fritz’s admissions were mostly bravado.

A conversation with the Greatest Generation about illicit drugs was on the same “never mention” list as sex and fast women, underage drinking, or the embedded racism against Indians in our town. They were the “don’t ask, don’t tell,” topics of the generation, the elephants in the room that were never mentioned in polite society. All of those topics were addressed head-on in a few years, but at that time they were still untouchable.

As a free thinking Baby Boomer, I can tell you when my open mind started to close: Rap music. I’m sorry world, I hated it from the first “tune”, and I still do, even though some cross-over into popular music can be interesting.

Language is such a funny thing, don’t you think, Dude? Dude? What the hell is a dude? Where did that come from?

There are other pieces of language that have crept into popular use that I just don’t understand, really, some phraseology that just has me clueless.

One of our kids started using a phrase “my bad” a number of years ago. My bad? What does that mean? Really, what in the world is that? Several of the kids now utter that on occasion. I looked up a definition of “my bad”:

“A way of admitting a mistake, and apologizing for that mistake, without actually apologizing. ‘I did something bad, and I recognize that I did something bad, but there is nothing that can be done for it now, and there is technically no reason to apologize for that error, so let's just assume that I won't do it again, get over it, and move on with our lives.’ n.) A combination of an apology and a dismissal. Basically, saying "oh yeah, I did that, but I don't care". A grammatically incorrect way of acknowledging (facetiously) a wrongdoing. The terrible grammar tends to drive literate people up the wall in absolute irritation.”

Language changes with time and the aging of the generations, and the cultural impacts each embraces and integrates. We had our Beetles, our Motown, and our civil rights movements. Our kids have ‘my bad’.

I was quite surprised not too long ago when a 72-year old worker at our company made an error, and quickly said, “Oh! My bad.”

I instantly responded with my true reaction when I hear that phrase: “It’s not my bad, it’s my stupid.”

I guess my days of having an open and tolerant mind, my days as a free thinker, are now firmly closed. My bad.

(c) 2010 Stephen J. Matlock
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Leslie Morgan said...

LOVE YOU, Steve. Really! We share a life, a generation. Thank you for today's musings. I detest "my bad". But I put a smiling face on it. For today, you are the gift I failed to expect.

Bits-n-Pieces said...

I missed this generaton by a few years...but I've been to Haight& the Halloween parade, no less. Quite the eye opener!!

Great entry!

Bossy Betty said...

WoW! Some great memories here and some great details to bring them all back. You are still very cool in my book.

Pondside said...

Another Boomer here - but I grew up in a military family and we moved around a lot, thus keeping us kids pretty close to Mum and Dad and apart from the huge change that was shaking our North American culture. I've always felt apart from my generation because of that. I do remember that Ed Sullivan show though - what an event that was. I knew every word of every Beatles song.

Jeanie said...

Another phrase to not like so much, "been there, done that", but it is what came to my mind as I read your post. You describe our Baby Generation so well.

Ms. A said...

When hubby goes on a tirade about "specific" types of music, I try to remind him how our parents felt about ours. Afraid it's not much consolation.

Happy Father's Day, Steve!

RedBettySummer said...

Oh, good. I am a little younger than you and I didn't get the "my bad" thing either. I am glad you explained it. I have just been ignoring it and not responding when people say it- like they are speaking a foreign language, which they are. My mom and I just discussed what my generation will think of the next generation's music as we get older. We seem open minded now but I imagine we will not be so tolerant of the younger ideas, eventually.

Ames said...

From one boomer to another...I hate that rap crap too Steve!~Ames

Life@Cee said...

Thanks for sharing your memories. I feel the same way about rap, and I would add hip hop to the list of bad ideas gone terribly wrong.

Judie said...

Hahahaha! Your life was certainly a lot more interesting than mine and Rod's was. We grew up in Atlanta, in a very sheltered environment. We were even forced to take ballroom dancing!

Pat Tillett said...

I'm right there with you!
I've gone from being a person who hitch hiked to Haight-Ashbury during the summer in love to being totally closed minded when it came to Rap and sagging pants.
All I can say to that is, "don't do what I do, do what I say," and "my house my rules!" Things I NEVER thought I'd say.

Another GREAT post Steve!