We know what we think about our own generation. But how about the generation before us, the one with the ill-chosen name “The Silent Generation?” That is the theme of boomer Richard Sharp’s new novel, The Duke Don’t Dance. In this exclusive excerpt for BoomerCafé, Sharp’s protagonist characterizes his own “Silent Generation,” then assesses the generation that follows his: Ours! What you’ll find is, some of what he sees in his own generation is the same.
They populated a generation to whom the collapse of the Soviet Union was inconceivable, to whom China remained the land of little red books, who had loved Dylan when he knew which way the wind blew or hated him in a time it was acceptable to do so. It was a menagerie of men who tolerated Sinatra but thought his daughter had nice legs, women who once wore her boots and knew they weren’t made for walking, women who despised the ‘50s for beating down their mothers, and men who loved the ‘60s as those women rebelled against their mothers….
The coming world challenged the most fundamental beliefs of [the] generation; faith in the superiority of the TEAC reel-to-reel recorder, the unparalleled fidelity of the Shure V15 Type VMR cartridge, universal Ma Bell telephone service, the IBM Selectric and Whiteout, its faithful sidekick. Beyond the material, their old faith encompassed certitude in the immunity of heterosexuals from the gay plague, the contentment of female employees to serve secretarial and clerical roles, the fundamental sameness of American political parties, and the sanctity of the separation of religious belief and secular behavior, hypocrisy be damned …
Boomers…They stole our music. Elvis, the Beach Boys, Beatles, Doors, Janice, Buddy, Ray, Zappa, Hendrix, Tina, Dylan, Clapton, on and on… All of them were our generation, not f…ng boomers. They think they own the music, just because they listened to it when they were eight years old….
He mulled over the music of his generation, concluding…that the signature tune must be “American Pie” and not just because people his age grew up with the ill-fated musicians before the day their music died… The song was about enduring premature losses. Members of his generation experienced its share of them: leaders who inspired them cut short, JFK, King and Bobby and others; many of their cohorts, now names inscribed on that wall near the reflecting pool with those of the boomers they fought alongside or, worse, led into battle only to risk being fragged for doing so; worst of all, their lost bards and minstrels, Buddy, Richie, the Bopper, Morrison, Janice and the rest of the endless list. The lyrics allowed you to mourn those you missed in your own way and not think about the others. That said, however, he was still waiting for a girl who sang the blues to bring some happy news.
[He] took pride that it was his generation, more than the one before, or the boomers, who confronted the changing relationships between men and women. By 1967, when the first boomers had just turned twenty-one, the post-war sexual revolution and its less frivolous sister, the feminist movement, were already irreversible, birth control had been accepted, and the legal and social foundations for equal rights in the workplace were established, displacing the traditional bifurcation of male and female roles. By the 1970s, the turmoil of this transition was beginning to slow from the rapid boil of the sixties to a less active simmer, tapering to the luke-warm eighties. You could see it in the music, his music, the rough edges of rock and roll displacing the ballads of the fifties, then diversifying to speak more clearly to the multiple subcultures the upheaval created.