night the family all gathered together to watch the EdnSullivan Show.nAs we have suggested before, the 1950’s were more annexperiment than a return to normalcy. Among the postwarnleadership there was a desire to recreate the world ofnNorman Rockwell in a suburban setting. Planners, journalists,npoliticians, and textbook writers attempted to reinventnthe United States as the land of opportunity and equality,ndemocratic process welded to middle-class values. In manynways it was a noble attempt to crystalize the wholesomensentiments of the American people into institutions. In thenend, it was the institutions—not the people—that degenerated.nThe almost 20 years between the end of the war andnthe election of Lyndon Johnson were, for most people, angood time to be alive, a period of great promise and hope.nBut as time went on, suburban America proved to be anPotemkin village that would blow away in the first seriousnstorm.nMy father would probably have dated the end of the goodnlife to one Sunday night when Elvis Presley appeared on thenSullivan show. After that it was all downhill—liquor,ndrugs, sex, and spitting on the lilag. Maybe so. But in thosenglorious years, where were the poets, novelists, and philosophersnwho spoke out for the old order? Hemingway andnFaulkner were still around, to be sure, but they were relicsnof the 30’s. Of the writers at the top of their form, JohnnO’Hara and perhaps James Gould Cozzens were the bestn—not much to build a golden age around.nThe most symptomatic writers of the 50’s may have beennpeople like Jack Kerouac and Paul Goodman, and neithernhad much good to say about the era in which they foundnthemselves. Goodman’s Growing Up Absurd, a powerfulnindictment of bourgeois sterility, conveyed some of thenagony experienced by adolescent males growing up in ansociety where the idea of manhood had become cloudy.nGoodman saw teenage gangs as omens of a generation thatncould not learn to grow up. It is pleasant to remember thatnRussell Kirk realized the significance of Goodman’s critiquenand praised the book.nAnd then there was Kerouac—not just a Beat, but ThenBeat. If ever there was a man who loved this country, thisncontinent, it was the strange, unhappy Canuck who wrotenOn the Road. What some readers interpreted as pointlessnthrill-seeking was really more of a relentless search for thenlost American frontier. In one of his last books, Kerouacncomplained that you never saw anybody whistiing on thenstreet anymore: we were all so busy being cool that we hadnlost the art of enjoying ourselves without aflFectation.nThe people we most remember from the 50’s werenrevolutionaries like Kerouac, Goodman, and Presley, rathernthan representatives of the establishment. For all the wholesomencharm of the bourgeois decade, there was hardly annancien regime worth overturning, as things turned out.nElvis scandalized our parents on the Sullivan show, butnwhat were they doing letting a man like Ed into their livingnrooms—a Broadway journalist who reputedly consortednwith mobsters? Or listening to singers like Frank Sinatra andnDean Martin, both of whom have been linked repeatedly tonunderworld figures? What sort of cynicism was it that couldnstomach the sappy sentimentalism of a popular music thatnhad one theme and one only—summed up by Cole Porter’sn”Let’s Do It.” When the reputedly bisexual Porter wasn’tn”doing it” with all and sundry, he was complaining, “I getnno kick from cocaine.” Elvis only took drugs, he didn’t singnabout them, and he tried, at least, to stay married to onenmate—and a woman, at that.nThere was a good side to rock ‘n’ roll. At its best, itnrepresented a healthy reaction against the cheap and tastelessnmusic of Tin Pan Alley songwriters like Irving Berlin.nWhat Stephen Foster was to the 19th century, Berlin hasnbeen to the 20th. But while Foster wrote heartfelt songs ofnthe American experience, songs that fit into a long traditionnof British and American music-making, Berlin ground outnhis slick imitations of blues and rags with the regularity andnsincerity of a Hong Kong blue-jean factory.nIdeally, rock music was a return to the tradition ofnScottish ballads; it was powerful, dramatic, and dealtndirectiy with the big subjects—love and death. (Isolde,nbrought back to life, might not have liked the music, butnshe would have understood the themes.) What else explainsnthe successful transplantation of rock music to Britain? Oh,nit’s popular all over the world, but it is only in England andnScotland that they learned to play the real thing and exportnit back to America. (The other exceptions—Canada andnAustralia—prove the rule.)nRock music, at its best, represented a restoration ofnauthenticity. At its worst—perhaps even its average—itndeserves every complaint that has ever been made against it.nMost of it is as cheap as Irving Berlin and a whole lotnnastier. But in the beginning, it overwhelmed all thosensuburban teenagers who sensed there had to be somethingnmore to life than they showed on Father Knows Best. Theynneeded adventure and excitement. Europeans may bencontent to settie back and enjoy the fruits of civilization, butnAmericans are still young enough to remember the frontier.nThe first generation of suburbanites clearly saw themselvesnas taking part in the great adventure of taming thenwilderness. Unfortunately, they made it too tame. Dadnwent off to work in his gray flannel suit, while Mom stayednhome to cook, clean, and drive the children from onenplanned activity to another. In these circumstances, anwhole lot of unpleasant developments make sense: thenfeminist movement, the sexual revolution, and the youthnrebellion. “Get your kicks on Route 66” was the rocknversion of On the Road. The rootlessness of the suburbsngave way to restlessness: hitchhiking and pointless road tripsnbecame routine remedies for boredom: New York, FortnLauderdale, Yellow Springs, Ohio—anywhere, in fact, butnhere and always with the radio turned up full blast. Rock ‘n’nroll was a populist uprising such as this nation had not seennsince the great days of William Jennings Bryan. Nothingncould stand in its way. Before this onslaught of electricnguitar, bass and drums, the Walls of Jericho—so painfullynconstructed by civics teachers and Sunday schoolnsuperintendents—came tumbling down.nThe musical revolution, like the sterility of Americannletters and the growing hostility to the cynicism andnvulgarity of postwar American life, was a clear sign thatnsomething was seriously wrong. The election of JohnnKennedy, a spoiled rich kid with few qualifications, over anseasoned veteran like Richard Nixon was a desperaten(continued on page 18)nnnMAY 1386/9n