Hello friends. Sorry for the hugely long silence here on my blog. We took a 6,600 mile coast-to-coast road trip in September, and I’m still unpacking.
Not literally, as in unpacking my clothes. But still unpacking the impressions of traveling through 20 states and spending time with family, grieving, rejoicing, sweating, feasting, crying, and rubbing sore behinds from all the time sitting in the car.
Anyway, I want to share a couple of things we did on our trip that were, for me, weirdly dissimilar strolls down memory lane. These influences from the past formed “bookends” around a period of my life that is generally tumultuous for most people (the teen years). I was no exception.
While we were in Columbia, South Carolina, visiting our daughter and her husband, she took us to the Nickelodeon Theater on Main St. to see Ron Howard’s documentary on the Beatles: “Eight Days a Week–the Touring Years.”
Enter Beatlemania – Bookend #1
Dear baby boomers and other fans of the music of the sixties: do not miss this film. We laughed, we cried, we wanted to scream when the Fab Four shook their hair (well, I wanted to). We lip-synced along with the Beatles in concert, on Ed Sullivan, and in their studio sessions. But most of all, we remembered. We remembered the joy and elation we felt when one of their songs came on the transistor radios we carried around with us. Or when we were able to buy a 45 rpm single of the latest #1 hit and play it til our parents cried, “Enough already!”
The Beatles had no clue (they readily admitted) that they would be so successful, or that the novelty of their sound and looks would last. They had no idea that they were going to become a huge influence on the baby boomer generation or that they would set the standard for pop music for decades to follow. Or maybe for forever. They were just four guys from Liverpool who loved to make music together.
Watching this documentary transported me back into my teen years. For a couple of hours, I could be that silly young girl again, gushing over those four Brits and singing their songs at the top of my lungs. I was happy–back then and during the film. And I was happy to be sharing the moment with my 30-year-old daughter, who sat beside me during this journey into my youth.
I had an ah-ha moment. I realized that the Beatles’ music defined the first half of my teen years–years that could have easily been marred by the Cold War with its drop drills and bomb shelters. By the Cuban missile crisis, the assassinations of President John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr.. By the Watts riots, and the failed experiment with busing, to name just a few. Instead, the music kept us smiling, and singing, and hopeful.
Enter the Vietnam War – Bookend #2
But the music died. The Beatles split up. And a dark cloud of anger and mistrust hung over our baby-boomer heads at the end of the sixties. It was the “war” and we were subject to the draft. Yes…remember the draft? Our brothers, boyfriends, and classmates were given a lottery number based on their birth date. Once they turned eighteen, unless they were enrolled in college or declared 4F, they were shipped off to Vietnam–to an undeclared war (aka conflict) that nobody wanted to support. A war where our guys were sent to fight and die even before they were allowed to vote. We protested–but the war went on. Those who made it home were changed, and not for the better. This war stole our men and stole our joy.
All of this came back to me in a huge wave of anguish when we visited Patriot’s Point in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. There they have an exhibit called “The Vietnam Experience.” It’s a living history museum that is a re-creation of a typical US military camp from those times, complete with mess tent, hooches, sick bay, helicopters, tanks, jeeps, bunkers, river boats, and all the sounds that our soldiers heard, night and day, in the jungles of Vietnam.
Fortunately, they didn’t include the smells, the rain, or the bugs. Otherwise, I doubt many would want to explore. But for me, even though I wasn’t ever a soldier there, the experience was very emotional. Again, the VN Experience brought back to mind a season of my life. This time, one where we were so angry at our government, so worried about our boys in uniform, and so disillusioned about our role in the world. Yes, we were supposed to be combating the spread of communism. I get that. But in Vietnam, we failed to effect a change in ideology, and succeeded in the deaths of thousands.
I emerged from my teen years a troubled young woman (just being authentic here.) Other factors played into that, but these two “bookends” of the sixties were formative aspects of my outlook on life and of my future. I may not have ever given the juxtaposition of these two influences much time or thought except for having viewed the Beatles film and gone to the Vietnam Experience within days of each other. And feeling the past once again.
Elation and anger. No wonder I was confused. Thank God that’s all behind me now. But I still can sing along to “She Loves You,” “Hey, Jude,” “Can’t Buy Me Love” and many of the other 234 originals the Beatles recorded. (Yep, my memory still works.)
How about you? What events were the bookends of your teen years? I’d love to hear about them in the comment area below. “Don’t Let me Down…Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” 😉