About the Songwriter


The Fifties

The following is excerpted from the introduction to David Halberstam's book "The Fifties":

...the fifties appear to be an orderly era, one with a minimum of social dissent. Photographs from the period tend to show people who dressed carefully: men in suits, ties, and—when outdoors—hats; the women with their hair in modified page-boys, pert and upbeat. Young people seemed, more than anything else,"square" and largely accepting of the given social covenants. At the beginning of the decade their music was still slow and saccharine, mirroring the generally bland popular taste. In the years following the traumatic experiences of the Depression and World War II, the American Dream was to exercise personal freedom not in social and political terms, but rather in economic ones. Eager to be part of the burgeoning middle class, young men and women opted for material well-being, particularly if it came with some form of guaranteed employment. For the young, eager veteran just out of college (which he had attended courtesy of the G.I. Bill), security meant finding a good white-collar job with a large, benevolent company, getting married, having children, and buying a house in the suburbs.

In that era of general good will and expanding affluence, few Americans doubted the essential goodness of their society. After all, it was reflected back at them not only by contemporary books and magazines, but even more powerfully and with even greater influence in the new family sitcoms on television. These—in conjunction with their sponsors' commercial goals—sought to shape their audience's aspirations. However, most Americans needed little coaching in how they wanted to live. They were optimistic about the future. Young men who had spent three or four years fighting overseas were eager to get on with their lives; so, too, were the young women who had waited for them at home. The post-World War II rush to have children would later be described as the "baby boom" (everything else in the United States seemed to be booming, so why not the production of children as well?) It was a good time to be young and get on with family and career: Prices and inflation remained relatively low; and nearly everyone with a decent job could afford to own a home. Even if the specter of Communism lurked on the horizon—particularly as both superpowers developed nuclear weapons—Americans trusted their leaders to tell them the truth, to make sound decisions, and to keep them out of war.

For a while, the traditional system of authority held. The men (and not men and women) who presided in politics, business, and media had generally been born in the previous century. The advent of so strong a society, in which the nation's wealth was shared by so many, represented a prosperity beyond their wildest dreams. During the course of the fifties, as younger people and segments of society who did not believe they had a fair share became empowered, pressure inevitably began to build against the entrenched political and social hierarchy. But one did not lightly challenge a system that seemed, on the whole, to be working so well. Some social critics, irritated by the generally quiescent attitude and the boundless appetite for consumerism, described a "silent" generation. Others were made uneasy by the degree of conformity around them, as if the middle-class living standard had been delivered in an obvious trade-off for blind acceptance of the status quo. Nonetheless, the era was a much more interesting one than it appeared on the surface. Exciting new technologies were being developed that would soon enable a vast and surprisingly broad degree of dissidence, and many people were already beginning to question the purpose of their lives and whether that purpose had indeed become, almost involuntarily, too much about material things.