Rock explosion of the “baby boom” generation

Rock Music and The Protest Movements during the 1960’s in AmericaThe sixties are usually known as a decade of lots of changes in diverse fields such as fashion, politics, education, and music. Young people –especially students—became a factor of social change. They were rebels who wanted to express their dissatisfaction with society and who were capable of confronting any authority, in order to seek for solutions to many of the problems that developed at that time. According to Hunt (1999), the sixties were “synonymous with “the movement,” a vague yet frequently used expression used to describe a cluster of mass protests, on local and national levels”. Likewise, the demographic explosion of the “baby boom” generation in the United States after the war created a powerful mass market that manifested itself strongly during this time even though it began almost a decade before. Music consumption thrived rapidly, predominantly rock since it became the most popular among the youth, and also the most effective means of expression about complex topics like politics, culture, and society (Anderson, 1996; Gitlin, 1993; Sorey & Gregory, 2010).      Seeking to understand that connection between this music genre and the activist revolts from the time, it was found that the post-war American society yield the foundation for protest movements to loom, education allowed the organization and strengthening of the movements, and music became a powerful means of sociocultural expression during the sixties in which, predominantly, rock was the catalyst of desires and thoughts of a dissenting young society.The development of protest movements was encouraged by the Post-war American society.After World War II, the most prosperous time for the United States developed in which significant economic, social and technological advances took place. American journalist Terry Anderson (1998) describes the period as: “the Wonder Bread decade: Campbell’s soup, Jello, Velveeta. Everyone seemed the same and that happy message was broadcast prime time. . . For most Americans, the fifties were nifty, an “American High”. On that account, during the early fifties everything seemed almost picture-perfect: the rapid development of the industry and the capitalist economic model placed the country as a global power causing the increase of wages and salaries, and this also led families to have lots of children; which was the well-known demographic explosion that gave birth to the “baby boomers” (as cited in Sorey & Gregory, 2010, p. 190; Heale, 2005, p.136). However, just like all things must come to end, it just so happened that things got complicated by the end of the decade. Aaron Bobrow-Strain (2011) states that by that time, “the U.S. appeared to be losing ground to the Soviets in almost every arena that mattered—education, science, technology, weapons.”. Consequently, tension began to grow between the Soviet Union and the United States, evoking a feeling of insecurity and constant fear in all Americans since that implied a high possibility for a nuclear war to unleash. Education strengthened and influenced the ideals that structured the movements.Already entered the sixties, the economic growth from the last decade allowed for an educational growth to arise too (Gitlin, 1993).  The number of young students grew significantly in educational institutions “where they had more free time and were exposed to broader currents of ideas than in the past. If nothing else, this has produced many more “conscience constituents” allowing the formation of thought that opposed to those of the time (Tarrow, 2011). Ergo, political, economic, and social factors began to be questioned by a young generation, or counterculture, who were challenging the traditional values of a society that they thought irregular and in need of change.  According to Miller (as cited in Hunt, 1999) they were “an impetuous and extreme spirit—youthful and reckless, searching and headstrong, foolhardy and romantic, willing to try almost anything” generation. Through activist revolts, they began to spread important messages about their society, provoking different riots all over the nation while claiming for their rights (Civil Rights Movement, Anti-Racism, Anti-Vietnam War, among others,.). These young protestors “related issues to what they believed universities should be … which led them to relate issues to what they expected America to be.” (Sorey & Gregory, 2010). Even though they began as peaceful protests, they rapidly became violent and influential to the point where both, the state forces and students, were almost out of control. For example, during the late sixties, the meltdown of Kent State University rocks were thrown, buildings were burned down, several were wounded, and some even killed. This event affected hundreds of campuses nationwide, influencing other students, as it happened in the Jackson State University revolt which also left some deaths during the riot (as cited in Sorey & Gregory, 2010 pg. 201).Protest movements quickly became a phenomenon in society that opposed to the American life model of the post-war society since students were feeling “less obliged to defend Western democracy and felt more free to take a critical look at their own society” (p. 21) (as cited in Sorey & Gregory, 2010, pg. 191). Therefore, the began to remind people of their own rights and duties and persuade them to question the principles of almost every institution and authority (Anderson, 1996, pg. 16) which led to generate politcal trust through their discourse in their people. For instance, in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement “students came to view the campus as an avenue for describing their political ideas, as well as the American higher education institution began to be scrutinized” (Sorey & Gregory, 2010, p. 195). Therefore, by protesting against the irregularities and inequalities within the country, students found the way to strengthen and structure their movements.Music as the most powerful sociocultural mean of expression during the 60’s.Music, painting, poetry, among other art forms, are means in which an individual relates to the world. Nonetheless, they are also known as an activity that, despite having an implicit aesthetic and communicative purpose, also allows to express ideas, emotions or our conception of the world. In her article “Social disruption and its effects on music”, Karen Cerulo (1984) states that “when the impact of social events is especially acute-for instance, economic depression, famine, revolutions-one might expect to observe measurable consequences for the music created during such periods”. (pg. 886)These young people also began to break many of the patterns that were established by the society of the fifties. This was evident not only in their iconic physical appearance, but also in their behavior and thoughts about concepts such as politics, family, sex, freedom, among others. Regarding music, Cerulo (1984) argues that “it may be the case that war is the ultimate catastrophe, and further, such a degree of disturbance is necessary for musical change to occur” (p. 901). For instance, during the sixties, rock ceased to be a simply another musical genre and became a more powerful feature of popular culture. In Gitlin’s (1993) book “The Sixties: Years of hope, days of rage” he explains how the technological advances during the rise of mass entertainment adapted by American society converted rock into the preferred means of expression:The right technology was there at the right time to serve— and help form— the youth market. Even more than the saxophone or the electric guitar, the instrument that made rock culture possible was the radio, then a medium in search of a message.  For in the early Fifties television was replacing radio as the ideal vehicle for advertising and mass entertainment. But if the family no longer huddled around the living-room radio console together, radios, plural, were now available for other purposes, especially as they became steadily cheaper and— with the advent of plastic cases and transistor models— more portable… Recorded music was ideal. Rock, augmented by jukeboxes, proved most ideal of all. Rock, then, allowed them to unite and defend themselves by rebelling against any attempt of oppression, forming a new identity that sought for a less conservative and more revolutionary thought. Already knowing that rock and the protests are related in their foundations, and that in one way or another it is not possible to de-link one from another if we take into account that these two are interconnected to the youth of this counterculture, it is necessary to demonstrate the incidence of this in rock songs. Correspondingly, Bob Dylan is a symbol of this period due to how involved he got with society. In his songs, he draws attention to the values of the protest movements that developed during the decade. Gitlin (1993) gives a brief list of the relationship of some of his songs to some protest movements: “Insiders knew Dylan had written the chilling “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” during the Cuban missile crisis, evoking the end of the world; the anthem “The Times They Are A-Changin'” sounded like a musical version of the “new insurgency” rhetoric of America and the New Era”.ConclusionAlthough some studies argue that what happened during the sixties is not as radical enough to provoke a change in society and for it to be reflected by popular culture (Cerulo, 1984; Blau, 1988), this paper found that while the protest movements expanded without control, the counterculture of the sixties grew dramatically and the feelings and emotions of unconformity which encourage university students to battle for their ideals, power, and pertinence nurtured rock music.