The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

By Tom McDonald
Guest columnist 

Opinion: Boomers did rock and roll right


November 7, 2018

SANTA ROSA — If there’s anything the baby boomers did well, it’s music.

We rocked.

Of course, rock and roll wasn’t born entirely out of our generation. It was the byproduct of all sorts of musical genres, including and especially rhythm and blues and Southern Gospel.

Suffice it to say, I’m no expert on music — I can’t read music, nor do I play a serious instrument — but I think I have a few insights owed to my eclectic taste of musical genres.

It takes no great insight, however, to see that the music that came out of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s was filled with a youthful passion for a better, more peaceful world.

Of course, the emergence of rock and roll wasn’t exclusive to the U.S.A. I’ve always found it somewhat amazing that youth on an island overseas would latch on to American bluesmen such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Diddley to create a new sound that would emerge from the working-class neighborhoods of Great Britain.

Maybe that’s why the “British Invasion” caught the U.S. by storm — we had a kinship to the sound they were creating.

Of course, before the Beatles hit the Ed Sullivan Show, there were other rock-and-roll pioneers. Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley were instrumental in giving birth to a new American sound that would ultimately have broad and permanent repercussions on our cultural underpinnings.

Rock and roll became so much to so many. Elvis became the top pop rock performer, giving people a sound and a beat they could move to. Young people found freedom, and, sometimes, even their own sexuality though his musical gyrations.

But Elvis didn’t create the only revolutionary sound. The old spiritual, “We Shall Overcome,” may have been the theme song to the Civil Rights Movement of the ’50s and ’60s, but James Brown’s 1968 hit, “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud,” took the movement a step further; it became the unofficial anthem for a Black Power movement that followed the fight for integration.

And then there was Vietnam. Creedence Clearwater Revival provided a sound that fit that divisive and prolonged war, with songs like “Fortunate Son” and “Run Through the Jungle” connecting with soldiers and peaceniks alike. And Jimi Hendrix created a heavy metal version of the conflict itself. Listen to his amped-up version of the “Star Spangled Banner” and you can hear that war in one incredible guitar solo.

Years later, Bruce Springsteen would memorialize that war and its aftereffects with “Born in the U.S.A.” — which tells the story of a Vietnam War vet who returns home, lost and alone and on the edge. Ronald Reagan’s 1984 presidential re-election campaign wanted to buy the rights to that song, but Springsteen wouldn’t sell it. Listen to the haunting lyrics of that song sometime and you’ll better appreciate how he was protecting the integrity of the song itself. It’s not a “patriotic” song, but it is all American.

If you want to hear great rock lyrics, revisit Springsteen sometime. In the 1970s, Time magazine touted The Boss as “the future of rock and roll” and I suppose they got that right. But, by then, rock had already made an indelible mark on our cultural landscape — and you can still feel its impact on America today. At least we boomers got that part right.

Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. Contact him at: [email protected]


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