I come across a couple interesting items recently that kind of explains a lot of things I’ve wondered about. First off, we’re all familiar with the so-called “Boomer” Generation. Those were the people born right after the end of WWII. That was followed by Generation X, according to the media. And then Generation Y, also known as the Millennial Generation, those folks born in the mid-1970s to the early 2000s.
Now that’s all well and good, but how about me? Don’t us oldies who had the good luck to be born in the mid- to late-1930s get a title? A name? A designation that tells the world who we are? Well, according to Frank Kaiser we do. We are the Silent Generation.
Frank has a website that is “A place for everyone who became a senior before their time”—it is www.forum.suddenlysenior.com/ and a good place indeed. In an article I found on that site he explained all about the Silent Generation.
Apparently the term was coined in an article in the Nov. 5, 1951 edition of Time Magazine. Sometime later, Frank writes, Life Magazine picked up the idiom and then the president of IBM used it in a speech admonishing the DePauw University graduating class of 1957 to “speak out… take chances.”
Well, that wasn’t the way we were brought up.
Frank reports that today there are 49 million of us, born too young to have struggled through the Depression or fight in World War II. “Sandwiched,” he says, “as we were between the much larger, but quickly diminishing GI Generation (63 million) and the Boomers (79 million), neither politicians nor advertisers pay much heed to us,” he writes. (if you go to the Suddenly Senior Forum you can probably find the column. There are a lot of good ‘stuff’ to be found on that forum.
You have to remember, this was the generation who wouldn’t think of not following the rules. Probably the last group who can say that with any honesty. It just came natural to us. We’d been brought up by parents and teachers who had lived through the Depression. That ugly event formed their lives and that is what they based things on when shaping their children.
Part of it was economic fear. The taste of financial hardship still lingered from Dad and Mom’s Depression-era childhoods. The majority of us went directly from school to work, to jobs that gave us such things as annual pay raises, job security and retirement plans. To conform to this meant success.
Rebellion was far in the future, but the seeds were being sown. And that is the second part of things I recently concluded; music can be the lubricant for change. The fact is music is the triggers that can make memories come alive. Music is also a good way to mark events.
I wasn’t aware of it but thinking back I have to believe for me it started the first time I heard of Elvis Presley. I had joined the US Navy in December 1955 and was at boot camp at the Naval Base, San Diego, California at the time. Someone had a radio on tuned to XERB radio, out of Tijuana, Mexico. This was pure country music, my friends, not the Bing Crosby or Perry Como ballads that I’d grown up with.
One of the songs was a bit more than the usual Eddy Arnold or Hank Williams type western singing. A guy in the barracks said something like, “Oh, yeah, I know him. That’s Elvis Presley. I knew him down in Texarkana where I grew up. He was driving a big pink Cadillac the last I heard of him.”
Well, as any Elvis fan knows, the King was born and raised in or around Tupelo, Mississippi. He played in Texarkana in about 1953 but he didn’t live there. And the pink Cadillac, shoot, everyone knows he bought a couple of them. The first one was a 1954 model and it caught fire and burned on the road between Hope and Texarkana, Ark. on June 5, 1955. Everyone knows that.
When I was home on leave early in 1956 I heard Elvis singing something on the radio and asked my mother what she thought of it. Mom said she’d stay with Frank Sinatra and Nat ‘King’ Cole. Well, I didn’t argue. Old Blue Eyes was good, but Elvis was different.
Life for me went along its way; I married and became the father of a beautiful baby girl. Working at my chosen field of endeavor I was happy with the way things were going. At least I thought I was. Looking back, weren’t things a little, mmmm, boring?
In her early teen years my daughter was growing into being her own person and I was no longer married. Slowly but surely I was growing too. It was a slow but steady movement away from the safe, silent and boring life that marked what I now know was the bane of the Silent Generation.
My awareness of this came clear recently when I recently discovered a mystery novel called White Rabbit. It had been written by David Daniel. Actually I don’t think the novel was all that much, but the word pictures Mr. Daniel draws in the story of the ‘happenings’ in Golden Gate Park are superb. And disturbing.
From Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams to Elvis, popular music had changed and now it was Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead and the Beatle’s. It was about this time that their wonderful album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, came out and got a lot of radio play.
Reading Daniel’s book and remembering the music of that era made me wonder, am I the only member of the Silent Generation who feels he has missed out? The music of the late 1960s and early ‘70s filled our house, my teen-aged daughter and her friends saw to that. What that music brought to them, I as a father probably didn’t want to know. But I can recall what happened to me during the days of Eric Clapton and Cream, The Mama’s and the Papas and groups like The Doors and Daltry and The Who.
The generation my daughter was part of seemed to be having all the fun. The kind of fun my generation hadn’t been allowed to have. But then, thinking about it further, I have to admit that thought doesn’t hold water.
We were the last generation that grew up not worrying about AIDS or getting busted for smoking dope. A few bottles of beer was all it took to make a party when I was a teen-ager. What am I thinking I missed out on? Old Hank Williams made pretty good music and I can remember dancing cheek to cheek to Joni James or Teresa Brewer or some of the big band music; slow and up close, what my mother called, ‘dirty boogie’ dancing.
Before rock ‘n roll we had the jitterbug, and yes that dance came out of the generation before us but we enjoyed it too. And that brings me to the answer; we may be of the Silent Generation but we’ve also got a bit of the ‘Boomer’ mindset as well as some of the Gen X attitude. I suppose the dividing line between generations is thin if non-existing, the boundary is self-imposed. In living our life we take and use what makes us happy. It’s only when we need to describe something in the larger sense do we need to put a name to it. Names can be limiting if we let them.
Wow, and all this philosophizing because I just learned about what Frank said my label is. Guess I'm not to old to learn new things.