Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Are You Too Young To Remember Bob Hope and Al Jolson?

While I have always known that a generation gap existed in pop culture Sunday night's annual Academy Awards show revealed something quite sad to me: the gap is far wider than I ever imagined.

Because this show was Hollywood's 80th annual gala celebrating its own wonderfulness there was a lot of reminiscing using video clips from past Oscar telecasts. Several snippets featured Bob Hope, a man who was an icon to more than one generation. Hope became famous because of his stand up comedy, his long running TV variety series, his many overseas excursions to entertain our troops, his road movies with Bing Crosby, and also because he was the perennial host of the Oscars, but when I asked my 24 year old daughter if she knew his name when his face popped up on our TV screen she didn't have a clue. Her lack of recognition of one of the most famous American entertainers in our history was expected and that is why I asked her the question. Hope has been gone for a few years now so his image is rarely seen on TV today.

Each generation believes their movies, literature, and music is better than the one it followed. Most of us are not only ignorant about the art and entertainment from different eras, we often fail to understand it, and we frequently even loathe it. Young people who appreciate the culture from their parents generation and earlier are definitely in the minority. As a corollary much the same thing can be said about those who are older. We baby boomers often feel alienated from the films, TV shows, and music favored by today's high school and college students.

I possess highly negative feelings toward rap and the entire hip-hop culture. Likewise, I've never been turned on by the 90s grunge movement. However I am glad that I've been exposed to and learned to appreciate many musical artists who have either made their their greatest impact, or recorded their debut, in the new millennium. Since Y2K I've discovered Los Lonely Boys, The Cat Empire, Sea Wolf, Kathleen Edwards, Brandi Carlile, James Hunter, Michael Buble, and Grace Potter and The Nocturnals, just to name a few. At the same time I haven't forgotten the musical heroes of my youth, most notably, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Jackson Browne, Chicago, many of the Motown groups, and the classic rock bands of the later British Invasion. My mother instilled in me an appreciation for the old big bands of the World War Two era, especially Glenn Miller and Harry James, which in turn led me to seek out and discover Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and others. I'm glad I've made all of these artists from different eras a part of my musical life.

The point of all of this is simple. It's sad that someone who means so much to an entire generation, and has put so much time and energy into their art, has no place in the consciousness of succeeding generations.

I'll end this article with some musical and movie history. Can anyone under the age of 50 (and maybe some of you who are even older) identify the picture and the voice of Al Jolson, who was beyond argument, the most popular singer of the early 20th century? Even if Jolson isn't your cup of tea it would be nice if people were interested enough in our history to learn about him. Today he is mostly known for starring in the first widely released talking movie, The Jazz Singer, that debuted in 1927. Here is a clip of Jolson in action.

4 comments:

  1. when we older folks lament what we consider the pop culture/other culture gaps between the generations, we might look through the lens of the younger generation - they have been bombarded with information until it has ricocheted off of the kids' c drives! My husband and I can recall so much about our youth yet our very intelligent sons often tell us that they don't recall, as acutely as we, specific incidents and general situations of "growing up". I had 3 coaches in my h.s. career and they had at least 6-9 coaches in h.s. plus others in college, etc.
    Am sure you get my drift - this wave (tsunami) of information whether it be in the arena of pop culture or science or history has caused many to find a focus in one or two fields--simply for sanity.
    Nice blog - got me thinking.
    Chere - mom of guitarist for Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.

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  2. I fondly remember both Bob Hope and Al Jolson. Its hard to imagine someone not knowing who they are.


    Oh, and I'm under 50

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  3. Charlie:

    I thought that you and your first commenter had an interesting perspective. It seems to me that the common culture all of us share is of a much different nature now than it was even a generation ago. The proliferation of options and the resulting fragmentation of the potential audience into small slivers means that we experience practically nothing in mass numbers anymore, certainly not like we once did. Even something as transcendently important as September 11, which was probably the rawest and "real"-est event many of us will ever experience, has ceased to become a "common" experience. When we retreated to our cultural slivers in the days that followed and began to process it in different ways, even that experience ended up not being shared "in common" the same way the Kennedy Assassination was, or the death of FDR in 1945.

    On the subject of Jolson, he's an interesting case. He's the last major pre-television star whose stardom did not, like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, transfer into the TV era. His down-on-one-knee, blackfaced and melodramatic crooning looks like something from another world because it is. Stars were made of different stuff after the coming of TV---just as they tend to be made of different stuff today, thanks to the proliferation of media.

    Just thinkin' off the top of my head . . .

    jb

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  4. I grew up watching the Disney Channel... Which when it first started out had much different programming than it does now. It wasn't anywhere near as "kid-centric" Sure there was plenty of programming for the "young'uns" but there was also a lot of classic film. And being an avid TV watcher I immersed myself in films like Hans Christian Andersen and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (with Danny Kaye), The Princess and the Pirate (with Bob Hope and Virginia Mayo-- another favorite of mine), and the classics of Charlie Chaplin (The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times, The Kid, and The Great Dictator). I also used to spend Sunday afternoons-- after church watching the old Abbott and Costello films with my father on WPIX 11 out of NY city. I LOVED those movies and the classic slapstick humor of what was, by then, a bygone era.

    My wife often teases me that I'm 31 going on 75 because I was raised by parents considerably older than me (they were both in their 40s when they were born, my father just turned 75 in January) and because many of my musical, film, and literary interests pre-date me by a considerable margin. Add to that my grandmother moved in with my parents & I in 1985, a few months after my grandfather died... I was essentially raised by 3 senior citizens that really exposed me to a lot of great stuff that I would not otherwise have been exposed to.

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