Thursday, 22 March 2012


by Ted Polhemus

I don't often go to the pub but the other night I did and someone I know vaguely, aware that I have just written and published a book about baby boomers, remarked 'You must be excited that that ultimate baby boomer Don Draper is coming back on the tele'. 'Yes', I replied, 'looking forward to the return of Mad Men but whatever gave you the idea that Don D is a baby boomer? The man was born in the 30s or even the 20s!'

1926 according to Wikipedia - I just checked. The post war 'baby boom' began in 1946 and really exploded in 1947 - the year I and a heck of a lot of other 'Boomers' were born (3.9 million of us in the USA alone to be more precise). Don Draper was what might be called a 'Pre-Boomer'. When series 1 of Mad Men kicks off in 1960, Don would have been in his 30s (like my father) while I and the other first wave of Boomers would be just entering our teenage years.

The distinction is important because, ironically, as it turns out so much of what we Baby Boomers are given credit for/slagged off for was actually down to Pre-Boomers like Don Draper.

Indeed, the amazing thing is that virtually everyone who razzled and dazzled in the infamous 60s was born during or before - often, like Don, long before - WWII: John Lennon (born 1940), Frank Zappa (born 1940), Bob Dylan (born 1941), Jimi Hendrix (born 1942), Brian Wilson (born 1942), Mick Jagger (born 1943), Pete Townshend (born 1945), Jack Kerouac (born 1922), Timothy Leary (born 1920), Andy Warhol (born 1928), Ken Kesey (born 1935), Elvis Presley (born 1935). So, interestingly, a demographically small generation (especially tiny for those born in the war years) had a huge, disproportionate impact. Even at Woodstock in 1969, all those zillions of Boomers who claim to have been there would have been sitting on their blue-jeaned butts in the audience rather than up their on stage changing the world.

As Hippies we Boomers chanted 'Never Trust Anyone Over 35' yet, in truth, most of our heroes were approaching or well past that age and, even more importantly, all those things which we Baby Boomers like to see as our generation's unique invention were, in point of fact, created before we were born or during the 50s when we were pre-teen children: Rock ‘n’ Roll, Modern Jazz, Surfing, Recreational Drugs, Let It All Hang Out Do It In the Road Sex, The Electric Guitar, Same Sex Sex, Oral Sex, Experimental Cinema, Streetstyle, Subcultures, Gender Bending, The Counter Culture and so forth and so on, were all rolled out of the factory in the 50s (or long before that) by lone, courageous/mad pioneers who were themselves born long before WWII had even started let alone finished.

Some months ago a student of mine in London exclaimed 'It must have been so cool in the 60s - everything happened in the 60s'. Well, actually, all the really world-changing stuff happened in the 50s - that decade which is so universally dismissed as boring, staid and uneventful. Perhaps most importantly, that 'youth culture' with which we Boomers are forever associated was actually rock & rolling and being target marketed to by the likes of Don Draper and his Madison Avenue predecessors by the mid 50s when even the oldest Boomers like me were still selling Boy Scout/Girl Scout cookies.

There's a slick video doing the rounds at the moment ('We All Want To Be Young' - on Youtube - do we? Not me thank you) which sings the praises of 'youth' as the inevitable wellspring of all things with it, innovative and happening. It's fun - lots of cool looking kids in tight jeans with designer tattoos doing groovy stuff on skateboards and laptops. There's a historical element which argues that my baby boom generation 'invented what came to be known as 'the youth lifestyle'')The implication is that thus it was always - and will always - be: with the hip kids leading the way and the middle aged and oldies trying to keep up as best they can.

Yet when we actually go back to the birth of 'youth culture' in the mid 50s we find (shockingly) that this Brave New World was being forged by adults. When 'Rock Around the Clock' leapt to #1 in both the US and UK music charts in 1954 Bill Haley was 29. Jack Kerouac was 27 when he started writing On the Road in 1949. Even when the Baby Boomers did, finally, become the future of Rock/Rock & Roll - David Bowie in 1972, Bruce Springsteen in 1975 - they were in their mid twenties.

In the same year as 'Rock Around the Clock' exploded onto the pop charts - 1954 - Don and Betty Draper had their first child - the (sometimes) lovely Sally. So it's Sally rather than Don or Betty who is the Baby Boomer and, now as series 5 shifts gears into the second half of the 60s, the interesting thing will be to see how cool dude Don will deal with the freaky, far out, freak out, psychedelic, wear flowers in your hair era which is about to explode in his bunker like that bomb in Korea. For the 60s were two very distinct decades for the price of one: 1960-1966 were cool school, modern and suited the like of Don Draper to a tea. But '66 was the pivotal year of a pivotal decade - when I traded my Modern Jazz Quartet style suit for bell-bottom flairs and a hand-knitted Native American style headband; when I and a zillion other Boomers smoked our first joint; when we resolved to 'Make Love Not War'. Somehow I don't think Don is going to like it.

So just to be clear and to put the cat amongst the pigeons:

- it was the 50s rather than the 60s which changed the world

- these changes were brought about by Pre-Boomers when Baby Boomers like me, David B and Bruce S were still kids

- while there are exceptions (early Punk, early Hip Hop, arguably a lot of computer/internet/gaming stuff today), teenagers have typically been passive consumers rather than wellsprings of pop culture creativity.

There, I said it.

Or do you disagree?

(BTW, the real, fictional 'ultimate baby boomer' would be Tony Soprano.)

Good News - My new book BOOM! - A Baby Boomer Memoir, 1947-2022 is now available in ibook digital format (for iPad, iPhone, iPod)from iTunes [search: Ted Polhemus] and the print version is now also available from

So . . .

if you want the paperback print version

or [search: Ted Polhemus] or your local Amazon site (e.g.

if you want the digital download for Adobe Digital Editions

[note: Adobe Digital Editions is a free download from and in my experience works very well. Download and install the free Adobe Digital Editions before you purchase and download the book]

if you want the ibook digital version for use on your iPad/iPhone/iPod >> Apple iTunes [search: Ted Polhemus]

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