History 17B Lecture 18 War of the Generations Page 4


IV.  War of the Generations

A.  Non-Conformity

Why did kids like rock music?  Because it was different, it was new, and it defied the authority of the adult world.  Rock 'n' roll had no boundaries and went against the status quo.  It was, in other words, non-conformist in a decade of conformity.  And more importantly, kids knew their parents hated the music, so they played it even louder. 

ChuckBerry3.jpg (39047 bytes)
Chuck Berry

American youth were bored with the music of their parents and longed for something different.  Popular dancing became unnatural and routine while rock music allowed kids to feel the beat and their emotions to move their feet.  More important, rock music spoke to these kids in a way it didn't to their parents.  A great example of this is Chuck Berry's song SCHOOL DAY which talks about the frustration kids face in school every day.


B.  Youth Dreams

Performers like Elvis gave American youth dreams.  They fulfilled the need these children had but could not be felt by their parents who had run out of dreams.  Living in the prosperous '50s, most adults (after suffering through the Great Depression and the War Years) were fulfilling the dreams they had always had.  Elvis was the enchanter for children who were not enthralled by the post-war bonanza and did not share the dream of two cars in every garage. elvis1.jpg (21823 bytes)


Some observers blamed parents for rock music.  Parents wanted their kids to identify themselves with them, but somehow, according to one media critic, "failed to inspire in them a respect for our own standards."  Because rock 'n' roll was a technically crude and emotionally oversimplified form of music, he opined, it was an especially juvenile form that parents would never understand.  But the author did offer some hope:  rock music, he said, was probably a fad, and though it may never leave, it will eventually tone down once the rebelliousness burns itself out.

Yet many adults, unwilling to be patient, tried as hard as they could to give rock 'n' an early death.  A St. Louis radio station smashed rock records on the air proclaiming, "rock 'n' roll has to go!"  In Boston, Roman Catholic Church leaders urged that rock be boycotted, while cities all across the U.S. such as Asbury, Jersey City, San Jose, Hartford, and Boston banned rock concerts because of fear of more rioting.  Santa Cruz banned rock music from civic buildings, and San Antonio banned it from public swimming pool jukeboxes because of its primitive beat which attracted undesirable elements who practiced their "spastic gyrations in abbreviated bathing suits."

Parents continued to hope that rock music was a passing fad and that even Elvis Presley would become a flashy production with big bands, melodramatic lighting, a fancy costume, and a ballet chorus all rolled into a Rogers and Hammerstein production (this, of course, is pretty much what Elvis did become later on.)  But despite the attempts to crush it, rock music continued to grow in popularity.  So what did adults do?  The next best thing:  they made rock music respectable.


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