Don’t know about you, but looking at these photos of teenagers from 1955, my immediate thought is “this is what 16 year olds looked like back then?” In a word; yes. Maybe it was the times – we were smack in the middle of the Cold War after all, and paranoia about being blasted into dust by a Russian Atomic Bomb made for many sleepless nights. It could explain the sudden maturity, the all-knowing gaze that offered the “we may not be here tomorrow” summation of life on the edge. Most kids hadn’t discovered Rock n’Roll yet. Mainstream Pop music was still of the Perry Como/Rosemary Clooney variety – lush strings, big production – somewhat banal lyrics. There were hints and flashes of Rock n’ Roll – mostly Blues and what was termed Race Music – like most things in the 1950s; segregated.
These were what some would refer to as “simpler times” – people dressed more formal for less formal things. Lives were less complicated; communication was either by telephone or letter – nothing instant about anything; it all took time to get points across. Long distance calling was an ordeal and was usually an event – but we were more complicated in other aspects. There was no sexual revolution – there was no birth control – there were no outward challenges to the status quo – you were expected to do what your father did, or be what your mother was – there was rigidity in those “simpler times”. But those times would begin to fade, as glimpses were starting to appear in 1954. By the end of 1955, the mainstream would start to notice and teenagers would begin to dance differently – not all at once; not by some sudden snap of fingers. But because communication moved slowly, music and ideas and styles would happen over months, not days.
So this snippet, a disc-jockey program as it was broadcast on April 4, 1955 from, KRNO in San Bernardino California – east of Los Angeles and mid-way to Palm Springs, was typical of the small town – the tight-knit community. It may seem strange to us now – it was, after all 63 years ago. But this was America in the 1950s. On the edge of something, but not quite sure exactly what. Hanging on and getting by, peering cautiously at the horizon.
Have a listen and try to imagine yourself as one of those girls posing by the gas station pumps, or one of the boyfriends of one of those girls. It might be impossible – you’ve seen too much and take too much for granted, here in 2018. And I would imagine the girls at the gas station pumps are either your mothers or grandmothers and they probably feel the same way about you.
Contrary to popular belief, you really can’t go back. And imagining is even harder.