Mother wasn’t sure about Elvis. And only her strong Christian upbringing kept her from outright disliking Jerry Lee Lewis. She asked me once, “What does it mean, ‘I’m itching like a man on a fuzzy tree’?”
“It’s just a song, Mom! The guy is all shook up!”
“Well then, explain, ‘You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain.’”
Momma thought that “Rock and Roll” music was tearing at the very fabric of America. “Son, I fear we are losing tiny pieces of that fabric here and there. We are a great nation. No person or foreign enemy can attack us directly. But I worry about little rips from within…….”
I scratched my head in bewilderment. How could anybody be so unhip? A daily dose of rockin’ music was good for the soul. My generation was tired of Guy Lombardo and Lawrence Welk. We wanted something that hopped! And besides, she was talking nonsense. Fabric was the cloth she made our shirts out of. It didn’t have nothing to do with real or imagined enemies, foreign or domestic!
She felt a twinge of disrespect in the music; and she highly questioned some of the lyrics. “Son, if the songs are so graphic now, where will they be when you have children?”
I’m eleven years old here! Are all grown-ups completely nuts? The last thing on earth I’m thinking about is children. Mom went back to her ironing. I headed to the bedroom humming, “You ain’t nothing but a hound dog”.
My older brother tried to calm her fears, “Mom, as long as the kids are dancing six feet a part, shaking and jumping up and down, everything is all right. It’s when they play one of those slow songs and everyone moves in close is where you had better watch out!”
That was the summer Leon also let his hair grow ala James Dean, complete with a swept back duck tail. Mother wrung her hands. He defended his flowing locks by explaining that Jackie Burns, Bobby Thompson and Nicky Joe Stafford were way ahead of him in the “Rebel without a Cause” look. Ye gads, we had to endure the “if everybody else jumped off the cliff” speech till school started back in the fall!
Mom was dead set positive that long hair was a synonym for anti-culture, rebellion, disrespect and/or a sign of the approaching apocalypse. She allowed it was just another tear in the fabric.
I immediately tried to join the protest by letting my hair grow out. It curled! Ye gads again! God was against me! You couldn’t impress Bonnie, Jane or Mary Hadley with droopy curls flopping behind your ears. I had to switch to the George Jones “flat top” look. Daddy said it was just as well. “Son, if we keep on going like this, one day you won’t be able to tell the men from the women.”
We finally got a TV out at the end of Stonewall Street. You’d a’thought all was right with the world. And it was going pretty good until Matt Dillon started shooting somebody down in the middle of Dodge City every Saturday night. Mother worried about the violence. We near ’bout laughed her out of the house. “It’s a TV show for goodness sakes. NOBODY thinks it’s real. It’s just a harmless form of entertainment.”
Mom was undeterred. She didn’t like all that beer and whiskey drinking being portrayed as “routine and natural” right in our own living room. She wanted to know about the relationship between Matt and Miss Kitty. “Are they ever going to get married?” Before we could laugh that off, Matt would shoot two more people.
We didn’t let her watch “Have Gun-Will Travel” or “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp”.
Her fear was if they shoot one or two this week and four or five the next, where will it go from there? She believed with all her heart that little missteps could lead to more and bigger problems down the road. It was always that fabric thing.
Mom even raised an eyebrow over the six o’clock news. She thought imagines of the Viet Nam war scenes way too graphic. She feared the lasting impact it could have on children. She also realized quickly that Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and Chet Huntley (or the powers behind them) had an easy access to the American people. “What if they decide to slant an issue in a particular way, regardless of the truth?”
We thought that a silly notion. “It’s just the news, Mom.” We were trying to hurry it along so we could get to “The Twilight Zone” and “Peyton Place”.
It’s amazing what the passing of a generation can do to your thought process. And to the country you live in. I’m not saying Matt Dillon, duck tails and Rock and Roll are to blame for every problem besetting America today. But we got here somehow!
There is music, “story lines” and COMMERICALS on TV today that I would be embarrassed to watch in front of my children…..or my Mother!
What a sad commentary.
Or, perhaps, just another tear in the fabric…...