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In Good Company Among the Generation Jonesers

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In Good Company Among the Generation Jonesers

Our generation created punk and hip-hop, rebelling against post-hippie musical excess and responding to a cultural landscape slowly becoming bleaker and harsher than the hopeful optimism the already-codified hype about the ‘60s kept shoving down our throats.

There’s a particular reason why I couldn’t wait to dive into 1959, or look back at some of the major events Kaplan’s roundup omitted. That was the year I was born, on 29 August to be exact (a happenstance I wrote up previously in my Michael Jackson appreciation “He Got the Money, I Got the Good Looks”).

That places me in fairly eclectic company. Among the others sharing my birth year are White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, architect Maya Lin, former Public Enemy #2 Flavor Flav, news anchor Keith Olbermann, actress Rebecca De Mornay, and the American statehoods of Alaska and (speaking of the big 5-0) Hawai’i.

Technically that makes me party to the tail end of the Eisenhower years, but I’ve never claimed to be a child of the ‘50s. Nor do I really feel like a product of the ‘60s, at least not the mythologized version repackaged for ready consumption. I don’t remember where I was when John F. Kennedy was assassinated; all I know is that I was only four when it happened. Woodstock had no resonance for me as a nine-year-old at the time. I knew who the Beatles were, but that was largely thanks to my older sister, who was a teenager when they hit America and had many of their early albums.

The Baby Boomer generation is generally accepted to include those born between 1946 and 1964, but many of us born in the latter few years of that span don’t have the same experience as those born in the earlier part. TV staples of a ‘50s childhood like Hopalong Cassidy mean little or nothing to us. The national trauma of our early-‘70s teenage years, for example, was Watergate; the defining Rolling Stones song was “It’s Only Rock and Roll”, not “Satisfaction” or even “Gimme Shelter”. 

Our generation created punk and hip-hop, rebelling against post-hippie musical excess and responding to a cultural landscape slowly becoming bleaker and harsher than the hopeful optimism the already-codified hype about the ‘60s kept shoving down our throats (which reminds me: punk provocateur Lydia Lunch and old-school legend Kurtis Blow were also born in ’59).

There’s even a moniker for us late-era boomers, Generation Jones, that distinguishes our experience as largely separate from those who made The Sixties, and slyly alludes to the comparative non-branded anonymity of our experience compared to our older siblings (and also our younger siblings from Generation X, and even our kids in Generation Y). Other Gen Jonesers include Prince, Madonna and Michael Jackson (all born in 1958), early hi-tech and online adapters Brewster Kahle, Jaron Lanier and Glenn Reynolds (b. 1960, the latter no relation to me), and the most famous person born in 1961, President Barack Obama.

Obviously, we Jonesers can’t claim the breakthroughs of 1959 as our own. But Kaplan’s entertaining slice of American history lets us take some wind out of the Boomers’ sail by noting that, contrary to popular opinion, they didn’t invent The Sixties from whole cloth. And it helps give our particular comings-of-age a cool factor and pop-cultural panache of their own, by showing us we were born at a time when so many of the things and events that have marked our lives to date first surfaced.

When I first discovered Ornette Coleman’s music through his Dancing in Your Head in the late ’70’s, little did I suspect that he had officially burst onto the scene the same year I did. When Spike Lee emerged with She’s Gotta Have It in 1986, I had no idea he was reinvigorating a tradition of independent filmmaking that dated back to my birth year. And I’d always taken it as faith that the Pill was a direct product of the women’s lib movement of the ‘60s, never knowing that its major clinical trials took place in the late ‘50s and that the Food and Drug Administration application to market it as a birth-control medicine was submitted 37 days before I was born.

All in all, it’s been a fascinating ride since 1959, both for me personally and for our world as a whole. I can’t wait to see what the next 50 years will be like.

Mark Reynolds has written extensively about African-American culture and celebrity since the late '80s. He began his print journalism career with the weekly Cleveland Edition, and was a longtime contributor to its successor, Cleveland Free Times. He has also written for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and various publications in Cleveland and Philadelphia. His national credits include reviews and features for the college-distributed entertainment magazine Hear/Say, and reporting on the travel industry for the trade magazine Black Meetings & Tourism. His media criticism was honored in 2004 by the Society of Professional Journalists, Ohio chapter.

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