Where were you when Dylan switched from acoustic to electric guitar in 1965? If you were in elementary school (or in utero), you’re not a member of my generation. And, yet, popular culture has chained us together for eternity. They call us baby boomers.
Damn the demographers, but I don’t believe that group identity is formed by a nation’s birthrate, as much as by shared history. I was born in 1947. Not quite at the head of the line, which began the previous year, but a good 17-year start before the last of the boomers came straggling along in 1964. They were 5 years old when Woodstock turned us pot-smoking, acid-taking, free-loving 20-somethings into a “nation.” So, what do I have in common with these latecomers who have no memory of the Bay of Pigs, the fall of Saigon or Altamont? Absolutely nothing.
I grew up with black-and-white TV, an eight-track tape recorder the size of a large suitcase, and a tiny pink plastic transistor radio. We didn’t wear jeans to school. Hell, girls weren’t allowed to wear slacks or culottes. And nobody, but nobody, had s-e-x in high school — except Bad Girls because birth control pills hadn’t been invented. Going to second base meant letting some poor schmuck fondle your heavily padded bra. Drugs? We had Midol.
Those of us born between 1946 and, say, 1950, witnessed and, in many cases, participated in every cataclysmic event of the ‘60s and ‘70s. We remember where we were the day Kennedy was assassinated. The draft hung over our heads like a low, dark cloud. We protested or died in Vietnam. We were radicalized by the massacre at Kent State. We were brothers and sisters in-arms with student revolutionaries at Berkeley, Columbia, and the Sorbonne. We lived communally and started food co-ops. In my case, I was the only female in a commune of seven gay men in the backwoods of Massachusetts. (Think Snow White meets La Cage aux Folles.) We went to Nepal, meditated, had sex with strangers and got urinary tract infections 40 years before Eat, Pray, Love was a gleam in a publisher’s backlist. And, oh, oh, did we party. Every generation believes it invented sex, but the thing is, we actually did. I should know. I was there. It didn’t start out that way. It was supposed to be just another meeting of Students for a Democratic Society and, what can I say? Things got out of, uh, hand.
I don’t have to take a survey to see the yawning cultural gap between my peers and those who were born just five years before or after. I can see it in my own family. My older sister, born in ’42, never fantasized about which of the Beatles she would marry and didn’t heed Timothy Leary’s call to drop-out, turn-on and tune-in. Meanwhile, cousins who were five to seven years my junior, wore their hair long, got high and listened to the Stones, but never understood our politics, existential angst, or the words to Subterranean Homesick Blues.
This is not to imply that I only feel a bond with people my own age. I have close friends who are considerably younger or older than I am, who missed the boomer boat completely. While we don’t share a common frame of reference, we connect on a deeper level. On shared values and ethics. I don’t believe that is true of everyone born between 1946 and 1964. (Case in point, we have a presidential candidate who seems to have spent the late 1960s on another planet.)
There have been many attempts to label my generation. Hippies. Woodstock Generation. Effete Intellectuals. None get it quite right. Especially baby boomer. I mean, who wants to be categorized by a population explosion? No. We deserve something more reflective of our unique experience. I’ll go along with Neil Young’s interpretation: “We are Stardust.”