Martin Luther King and Selma rain on LBJ’s parade, and the cost of Vietnam cuts deep into social programs. TV tries to sell War Is Fun, but young Boomers turn to Folk Rock for amusement and protest. Rock & Roll becomes their official language and Teen Utopia sheds its dead skin on SoCal beaches and slithers up the West Coast to San Francisco. The FCC accidentally creates FM Radio.
1965: Days of Our Lives, Never Too Young,A Time For Us, The Moment of Truth and The Nurses (New Soaps)
Poor Lyndon. He wanted so much to be able to step out of Kennedy’s shadow, and into the spotlight as one of America’s greatest Presidents. He might have made it, too, if a tiny, backward nation, half way around the world hadn’t shot him right in his Achilles’ heel. Play “word association” with any Boomer. The answer for LBJ is Vietnam. But contrary to popular contemporary Boomer thinking, Johnson wasn’t a complete idiot. Kennedy had taught him that, in modern America, the President’s image matters more to the public than the real man or his actions. Lyndon waited patiently for his turn, and now carefully molded his media reflection. LBJ leveled with a group of reporters on January 10, 1964: “If you play along with me, I’ll play along with you. I’ll make big men of you. If you play it the other way, I know how to play it both ways, too, and I know how to cut off the flow of news, except in handouts.” Lyndon had already written the scenario for his presidency, and those lowly newsboys better not mess it up. But sadly, even the President of the United States cannot write history in advance.
Act One of Johnson’s script actually worked. He looked good on TV during his State of the Union Message on January 8th, as he declared the War on Poverty and civil rights to be the major issues of the day. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act on July 2nd, and Lyndon signed it in a televised ceremony the same day. By the end of the year, 70% of Americans polled declared that LBJ was doing a good job, and only 10% said he sucked.
But the curtain barely rose on Act Two when an unexpected character from another story walked right out on to center stage. On January 2nd, Martin Luther King, Jr., just back from picking up his Nobel Peace Prize inSweden, pointed out that a law, such as the Civil Rights Act, is only a law if it is enforced. That line wasn’t in Johnson’s script. Martin was improvising! Lyndon had made a big show out of a Southern president signing the new-and-improved Emancipation Proclamation, and yet, not much had changed. Black adults were now guaranteed the right to vote, but local officials, especially in the South, blocked their registration with absurd “competency” tests and illegal voting taxes. King decided to expose the system atSelma,Alabama… the site of the Confederacy’s last stand at the end of the Civil War. Bigots there still fiercely protected their divine White Rights a century later. Most of the Caucasian adults in the town were registered to vote, but only about 3% of the African Americans.
During the past decade, coverage of a civil rights demonstration such as King’s would have been buried on the back pages of your local newspaper, but now, in 1965, “mobile” TV news crews finally lived up to their name. Cameras quickly reached the scene, capturing all the action: local police brutally unleashing bullwhips, night sticks, tear gas, fire hoses and attack dogs against unarmed demonstrators, of every race, including religious leaders and many women and children. A proud sheriff described the fine work of his men on network television, “You just gotta know how to treat them niggers.” The images outraged viewers, and instantly,Selmabecame a national problem demanding an immediate solution. Governor Wallace refused to protect the protestors, which forced Johnson (reluctantly) to send in the National Guard.
LBJ, however, didn’t hesitate to send teenage Boomer boys to the opposite side of the planet to protect a tiny third world country’s right to be ruled by an unpopular puppet government. As King planned a march from Selma to the state capitol at Montgomery on March 8th, the first American combat troops (3,500 Marines) landed in Danang, South Vietnam on Johnson’s orders. The event received only a brief sound bite on the network news, as did the first “teach-in” protest at the University of Michigan on March 25th, as did violent anti-USA demonstrations in Latin America, Europe and Africa a month earlier during heavy bombing of North Vietnam by the United States. These vague reflections would soon gain significance as they crystallized and magnified into the form of Lyndon’s Monster of the Id.
Vietnam loomed as the most threatening event in the lives of Boomers for the next decade. Ten million boys (out of thirty) served in the Armed Forces, more than three million saw duty in Vietnam, 58,000 died in action and hundreds of thousands returned maimed for life. Every Boomer was touched by the war.
The government recognized the plus side: the glut of Boomer teens did not affect the unemployment rates. Lyndon hired them. As the number of kids turning eighteen increased month by month (beginning in mid-1964), so did the draft quotas and the numbers of teens sent the combat zone. The only problem with this plan was the staggering cost of the war. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara estimated on April 26, 1965, that the price had surpassed $1.5 billion annually and continued to rise.Vietnamsiphoned off enormous chunks of federal money from LBJ/JFK’s domestic social programs, such the War on Poverty, enforcing Civil Rights, urban renewal and improving education, all of which Lyndon promised in his State ofUnionmessage. Now, he reneged, and many of the hopes and dreams that he and JFK stirred up in good faith, became blatant lies.
Thus began the year of the Gap. Johnson inadvertently caused a widening credibility gap, which in turn reopened the generation gap. A handful of students atBerkeleyin the fall of ‘64 kidded, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty,” but by the summer of ‘65, millions of Boomers accepted the joke as fact. This caused a communication gap. Teens shed their blind faith respect for politicians, teachers, and parents and no longer trusted the conventional communication network of newspapers, TV and schools. Boomers felt a compelling urge to communicate with each other, but not with “them.”
Rock and Roll
Rock & Roll became more than just entertainment for young people… the music transformed into a secret language in 1965, and Boomers only trusted leaders who spoke it fluently. R&R sounded foreign to our elders and separated us from them. So much the better, because the music brought our generation together as never before.
The British Invasion set up an International Teen Network, which turned out to be a two-way proposition. As the Beatles and their Brit buddies took over American AM radio, Dylan and folkie friends began nudging them off the charts inEngland. Each group influenced the other. Dylan morphed into a poet with an electric backbeat, and the Beatles realized that there was more to life and lyrics than just holding hands.
The young felt betrayed by their elders and this resentment reflected in their choice of music. Stop In the Name of Love, You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling and What the World Needs Now Is Love rode high on the pop charts. The Beatles released two albums (Help! and Rubber Soul) in 1965, and each showed a metamorphosis from their earlier upbeat, puppy-love lyrics to a thoughtful statement about the world around them. Help! reflected feelings of betrayal, and then moved beyond to accusation: “You tell lies, thinking I can’t see,” and “Were you telling lies the night before?” The next step, of course, is self-pity: “I’m down, I’m really down,” “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away/ Now it looks as though they’re here to stay/ Oh, I believe in yesterday,” and even, “Gonna play the part about a man who’s sad and lonely/ And all I got to do is act naturally.” The next step is desperation: “Help me get my feet back on the ground/ Won’t you please, please help me?” In December, we heard the final step of anger from the Beatles on Rubber Soul: “I’ve got a word or two to say about the things that you do/ You’re telling all those lies about the good things that we can have if we just close our eyes/ Do what you want to do/ Go where you’re going to/ Think for yourself, because I won’t be there with you.” And let’s not forget, “He’s as blind as he can be/ Just sees what he wants to see/ Nowhere Man, can you see me at all?” All steps complete, Boomers prepared to let go and sever ties with the over-thirty Establishment.
Bob Dylan played the role of angry young poet to a limited audience of War Baby Folk purists until he released the album Bringing It All Back Home. Dylan’s lyrics remained Folk Protest, but the music sounded suspiciously like Rock & Roll. Bob played his usual acoustic, but now an electric lead guitar was added and a rhythm section of drums and bass pushed the beat behind him. Dylan explained, “I may look like Robert Frost, but I feel just like Jesse James.” Jesse came out with guns a-blazing; taking shots at Lyndon: “Even the president of the United States must sometimes have to stand naked,” and his Vietnam policy: “Of war and peace the truth just twists/ Its curfew gull, it glides/ Upon four-legged forest clouds the Cowboy Angel rides/ With his candle lit into the sun, though its glow is waxed in black.” Bob took a shot at politicians in general: “Though the masters make the rules for the wise men and the fools/ I’ve got nothing, Ma, to live up to,” and “Don’t follow leaders and watch the parking meters.” Dylan hit capitalism: “Money doesn’t talk, it swears,” and commercialism: “Advertising signs they con you into thinking you’re the one who can do what’s never been done/ Who can win what’s never been won/ Meanwhile life outside goes on all around you.” Bob even proclaimed to the Great Society, “Your ancient, empty street’s too dead for dreaming.”
The path from betrayal to anger had been a long one, but Boomers completed the trip by mid ‘65. Is it any wonder that the number one song for most of that summer screamed, (I can’t get no) Satisfaction? The Bad Boys of Rock & Roll (the Rolling Stones) delivered the message. The lads tried their best to follow the advice of manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, who told them: “Drive parents up a bloody wall.” Obediently, they sang, “A man comes on the radio/ He’s telling me more and more about some useless information/ Supposed to drive my imagination/ I can’t get no satisfaction/ I can’t get no girl reaction.”
That same summer, TV continued their stale old sales pitch of War is Fun, with new shows like Hogan’s Heroes, The Wackiest Ship in the Army, Mr. Roberts and Mona McCluskey added to the ongoing Gomer Pyle, McHale’s Navy, No Time for Sergeants and Broadside. In honor of Texan, LBJ, TV even presented Army fun set in the Old West on F-Troop. Boomer boys did not rush right down to their local Army recruiters. TV networks decided to pull another old trick out of the hat… the Red Scare. “Look out! There are Commie spies everywhere!” Television then offered to save us with its amazing group of counterspies: a British spy (in honor of the Beatles) on Secret Agent, a black spy (in honor of MLK) on I Spy, and, “Would you believe,” a silly spy on Get Smart? Again, in honor of Lyndon, the networks even claimed that spies and counterspies once roamed the Old West in The Wild, Wild West.
“Like, sorry Mr. TV network Dude. Boomers aren’t digging the ‘War is Fun’ or the ‘Commies are hiding under our beds’ concepts. Kind of stale. Leaves a bad aftertaste in our mouths.” TV moved on to Plan C… Teen Utopia. That whole scene began with the movie Gidget in 1959, and TV tried to revive the dead with a series with the same name, staring Sally Field. The Beach Boys jumped back on the Beach Party bandwagon, with (I wish they all could be) California Girls.
Hollywoodjoined in, offering misleading hints of sex in Beach Blanket Bingo and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. Boomers passed on Teen Utopia, and the Movie Industry snapped back (like a woman scorned) with Village of the Giants… a horror film that delivered a warning to, and about, rebellious teens. Plot: Six Boomer teens steal a young boy’s scientific experiment, and the formula enables them to expand their bodies to six times their normal size. The rebellious giants take over the town, terrorize the citizens, laugh at the local authorities and dance to a lot of music that could only be called Rock & Roll in the context of a low-budget teen-scene screamer. The tyrant teens overpowered the adults, but preteen scientist, Ronny Howard, saved the day by spraying an antidote on the big punks to shrink them back to normal size. The message was aimed at younger, preteen Boomers, to warn them that they must avoid the evil influence of their older siblings. Boomers, of all ages (the few that saw it anyway), thought that Village was the silliest flick of the year.
Rock and Roll
The Stones provided an answer to the Great Society’s sales pitch to the youth of America: Hey, You, Get Off of My Cloud and (Don’t play with me ‘cause you’re) Playing With Fire. The naughty band headlined the T.A.M.I (Teenage Music International) Show, which promised something for everyone… soul, teen idol, beach sound and British Invasion. But the raw power and excitement of Jagger and the Stones brought a live concert ambiance to the movie. When Mick sang, It’s All Over Now, the performance served as an obituary for jukebox musicals and lip-synch TV shows like Hullabaloo, Shindig and Bandstand, because now, the old styles seemed hopelessly out of date by comparison.
Barry McGuire, no less subtle, sang (“Why don’t you tell me over and over again, my friend, that you don’t believe we’re on the”) Eve of Destruction: “You’re old enough to kill, but not for voting/ You don’t believe in war, then what’s that gun you’re toting?” The song belonged to the new “Folk Rock” genre that saturated the pop charts in 1965. Dylan opened the doors with Subterranean Homesick Blues in March, and an army of imitators followed. The lyrics shouted angry protest, but the music rocked for fun… the ideal combination that Boomers needed. Many Rock bands covered little-heard pure folkies, much the same way that White Teen Idols covered Black R&B originals in the mid-’50s. The Byrds hit the charts for the first time in April with Mr. Tambourine Man, just a month after Dylan’s folkie version failed to dent the list. In June, they also covered Bob’s All I Really Want to Do. The Turtles debuted in July with Dylan’s It Ain’t Me, Babe. Glen Campbell scored a big hit with a cover of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s powerful anti-war song Universal Soldier in August (The original version had flopped in 1964).
Dylan announced the birth of Folk Rock when he walked onto the stage at the Newport Folk Festival on July 25th with an electric guitar in his hand. Accompanied by the Butterfield Blues Band, Bob blasted the sedate audience out of their seats with a rocking version of It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (Was he talking about acoustic music?). Folk purists (War Babies) hated it. Their Bob Dylan had defected to the Boomer Camp, and he smirked, Don’t Look Back. The Animals warned, We’ve Got to Get out of This Place, and some Boomer teens acted on their advice and ran away from home. A month later, Dylan asked, “How does it feel to be on your own/ With no direction of home/ A complete unknown/ Just like a rolling stone?”
Boomer kids still watched The Fugitive (an innocent man, forced to run and hide), and now, found a new show to identify with. In Run for Your Life, Paul Bryan learns that he has an incurably illness with only a few months to live, and then decides to use what little time he has left in the pursuit of adventure and happiness. With the draft hanging over their heads, Boomer boys could dig it. Didn’t Dylan just tell us, “Let me forget about today until tomorrow”?
Boomers understood images of alienation and isolation in Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence: “Hello, Darkness, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.” Gillian’s Island felt like a tragedy now, and a new show, Lost in Space symbolized a dead end for Kennedy’s New Frontier. TV also created another presidential oater tribute to LBJ with A Man Called Shenandoah, in which Robert Horton, an amnesiac, roamed the Old West in search of his identity. (Lyndon in search of his Great Society?).
A riot exploded in Wattson August 11th… 35 people killed, hundreds wounded and $200 million in property destroyed. A year prior, Motown played Dancing in the Streets, this summer, inner-city kids dug Shotgun and Otis Redding’s (You’d better give me some) Respect. The reflections on TV news stunnedMiddle America. “Anger and frustration among Blacks in southernCalifornia, just a few miles from the Beach Boys’ Teen Utopia? I thought that sort of thing was isolated in theDeep South.”
The Defense Department issued the largest draft call since the Korean War on October 14th. Anti-war demonstrations on college campuses across the country broke out the next day, and young men burned their draft cards in mass for the first time. Phil Ochs released I Ain’t Marching Anymore and tension filled the air. TV debuted The FBI and abrasive talk show host, Les Crane, pointed a shotgun microphone at his audience.
Young people talked about returning to nature, escaping the Great Society and leaving the corporate/ military machine/ urban sprawl behind. TV’s response to their dream was Green Acres. Many Boomers pulled the plug on television for the next decade.
The Lovin’ Spoonful suggested a new lifestyle in Do You Believe in Magic?: “The magic’s in the music and the music’s in me.” Dylan asked Mr. Tambourine Man to “Take me on a trip upon your magic, swirling ship… Let me forget about today until tomorrow.” Buffy Sainte-Marie added “Don’t ask forever of me, just love me now.” The Beatles saw the light, and shared their revelation, “In the beginning, I misunderstood/ But now I’ve got it and the word is good/ Say the word, the word is love.” All these pieces of the puzzle began to mesh. Peace, love (both free and brotherly), drugs and Rock & Roll. Teen Utopia shed its dead skin and slid up the coast toSan Francisco.
The US government unwittingly gave the fledgling hippie movement a tremendous boost in 1965, as the Federal Communication Commission ruled that radio stations in cities with more than 100,000 people must avoid duplicating AM/FM programming for more than 50% of their schedule. Station managers scrambled to fill the time as cheaply as possible, and thus, opened the door for Underground FM radio. The counterculture would soon have a voice.