So are we baby boomers more like millennials than we think, or less? Seattle boomer Ron Gompertz, author of Life’s Big Zoo, sees similarities amongst the many differences. And they all come together through music.
Back when TV sets were made in the Midwest and Dad rented a rotary phone from Ma Bell, boomers had “time to play B-sides” and could not have imagined someday calling them i-Tunes.
If you were a kid in the Sixties, you probably had a transistor radio. Sound quality was beneath low-fidelity, but it didn’t matter. That cheap earplug and tinny sound from the AM radio was our window to the rapidly changing world outside.
Did your parents ever tell you to pay attention and stop listening to that flippin’ radio? Did you ever smuggle it into a school assembly or house of worship to monitor the World Series? Did you put your tongue to the battery leads just for a jolt?
I hid my transistor radio under the pillow to listen to tunes (and I don’t mean “iTunes,” just tunes), talk, and ballgames after bedtime. I fell asleep to Wolfman Jack howling into the night, selling voodoo lotion, back beat commotion and hints of disorder from south of the border. The hit parade was filled with songs about cars, school, surfing, and girls. Songs about peace, freedom, and a strange new world.
There was no escaping the big boss beat. Not then, not now.
Walk into a store today and ask a 20-something for a “transistor battery.” They might figure out what you mean, but you’ll be more successful and look like less of a weird old fool if you ask for a “9-volt” or “smoke alarm” battery. You might get an ironic stare there at the cash register, but as soon as that helpful millennial takes a break, fires up Spotify and pops in the ear buds, you can see that we’re not all that different. Hippies and hipsters share the same prefix.
It seems like ages ago, but do you remember those first iPod ads with a dancing silhouette wired to a pair of white earbuds? The iPod sound quality was just as bad as our old transistor radios but it didn’t matter. It’s about freedom, not fidelity. The transistor radio, the Walkman, the boom box, the iPod, all appealed to what must be a genetic craving to personalize our world as we wander through it.
We still have our own portable rhythms, personal portals that provide life’s soundtrack. We might not have predicted that our transistor radios would morph into smartphones, but it’s not hard to see that “the song remains the same.”
Music makes us human. It’s the universal language. Our need for rhythm, rhyme, and harmony may shift between generations and genres, but it still has the power to unite us.
Next time you feel the urge to criticize a kid who seems checked out behind a pair of ear buds, remember that you were that kid once. We may be on different wavelengths but we’re all searching for static-free signals in this noisy world.