“Because something is happening here / But you don’t know what it is / Do you, Mister Jones?”
I knew this Baby Boomer refrain long before I ever heard the song it came from. It symbolized everything I knew about the 1960s, from family stories of protest marches, to the hippie stereotypes that still popped up on television in the 1980s. The ‘60s, I knew, were all about rebellion against The Man, and the ‘80s and ‘90s, as I was reminded at every pop culture turn I made, were all about the Boomers’ struggle for self-identity once they could no longer rebel against The Man… because they had become him.
Or, to put it in terms more familiar to my own generation:
When that Simpsons episode first aired, I was about to graduate high school, and, like young Homer Simpson, I was convinced that no matter what the grown-ups said, I’d be able to “keep rocking out forever.” Eighteen years on, I’m starting to understand a little better how Homer feels when he visits the ‘90s version of his old favorite record store and struggles to make sense of the music his kids love. Something is happening here, and I totally know what it is, because pop culture’s been warning me about it all my life.
This week’s JUKEBOX explores the generation gap in song. Mr. Jones is joined by Mr. Grey, Mr. Businessman, a Well-Respected Man, and the unnamed man in “The Door Into Summer”: uptight, conservative workaholics who just don’t understand those kids today — or even worse, remain oblivious to the teenage revolution, and everything else around them because they’re too busy with meetings and paperwork.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Grey, Mr. Green, and all their friends in Gerry Goffin’s bitter vision of West Orange, New Jersey, fill up their empty lives with chores, possessions, and endless barbecues. They complain to their kids about how hard their lives are, but the kids don’t listen — they’re busy dreaming about escaping suburbia.
The narrator in “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (presented here in Carole King’s original demo version) needs a change of scenery. But what happens when that isn’t enough, or when it isn’t even an option? Simple: all-out teenage rebellion. For example, joining a gang that enjoys singing and dancing together, like the Jets of West Side Story, who satirize the well-meaning — but clueless — adults in their lives in “Gee, Officer Krupke.”
The Standells document a real-life teenage curfew protest in the theme from the exploitation film Riot on Sunset Strip. The 13th Power (aka Max Frost and the Troopers) threatens revolution in “Fifty-Two Percent,” and the mighty Sweet take that sentiment and wrap it up in glam bubblegum in “Teenage Rampage.”
Did we miss your favorite generation gap song? Which side of the revolution are you on? And was Homer Simpson right about rock music attaining perfection in 1974? As always, let us know in the comments!