Calling all Boomers

By on 6 September, 2018 in Kate and Stephen with 0 Comments

There’s something special about living in the same city as the State Archives. People come from all over the state, sometimes all over the country, to visit the Archives (and its top-notch museum) and here it is in our town. That might cause us to take it for granted, so if you haven’t been lately, go check it out.

But our attention was piqued when we saw a brochure in which the Archives was seeking to crowdsource an upcoming exhibit on the Baby Boom generation.

Neither of us are Boomers. But the concept of generational markers has long been fascinating to us. There are obviously no bright lines to distinguish exact years, but the general consensus is that the Boomers come after the “Silent Generation” (people born between 1928 and 1945). We’re from the next generation after the post-War boom, the much-reviled Gen X. But whether you’re Gen Z, or something that has not yet even been named, you might appreciate the call for contributions to the Alabama Boomer Project.

They’re likely to get plenty of yearbooks and Vietnam-era military uniforms, but we thought we’d help make some suggestions of items that might best represent those beloved Baby Boomers in hopes of documenting Alabama history for future generations. Boomers, defined by Pew Research as being born between 1946 and 1964, are a notoriously fickle lot, but we hope they’ll take these suggestions with good humor:


Nothing says “Baby Boom” like the idea of World War II vets giving birth to anti-war hippies. That image is obviously an oversimplification, with many Boomers having complex feelings about war, and many of the Vietnam War’s conflicts breaking down along interesting kinds of nuance (global Communism and the illegal bombing of Cambodia both being objectionable). That said, one of the most interesting manifestations of Alabama’s counter-cultural experience comes from a guy named Rev. Fred Lane, who got into some supreme weirdness in Tuscaloosa in the 1970s.

We have a vinyl record produced by Lane, who made music and was part of a sort of conceptual art scene around the University of Alabama. There’s a new documentary out about Lane and his Raudeluna scenesters, which we haven’t seen yet. In 1973 Raduelunas joined the University of Alabama Homecoming Parade as The Raudelunas Marching Vegetable Band. This became an annual tradition as the group marched as in 1974 as The Raudelunas Marching Ubu Band, in 1975 as The Raudelunas Marching Booley Band, in 1976 as The Raudelunas Marching Arm Band and ending in 1977 as The Raudelunas Marching Appliance Band. They also appear to be somehow tied into the pataphysics of French writer Alfred Jarry. The Boomers were much weirder than they are often given credit for.


The exhibit can’t be all self-congratulation. Some of the exhibits have to hold Boomers accountable for their legacy of industrial contamination, which in Alabama is best embodied by any number of artifacts. Global export of toxic pesticides is a good issue because it opens a window into Boomer idealism about faith in science and markets, as well as the willingness to gloss over 1960s idealism’s international ripple effects. Even in the 1980s, there was a sense of what was going wrong. And for an Alabama angle, take a look at the legacy of PCBs in Anniston. The Boomers may not have invented chemicals, but they certainly did persist in weaponizing (and incinerating) them.


Maybe someone in Alabama has a boxed set of “Wonder Years” DVDs, or maybe a copy of Oliver Stone’s film, “Wall Street.” Those cultural artifacts could be put on display at the Archives. That show and that movie both perfectly capture so many elements of Baby Boomer contributions to American culture. You’ve got the rose-tinted navel-gazing nostalgia of  “The Wonder Years,” which ran from 1988 until 1993, and you’ve got the iconic “Greed is good” 1987 film. The ultimate Boomer text is, of course, Tom Brokaw’s ode to his parents’ generation, The Greatest Generation™, which is practically a cottage industry at this point.


Although Lurleen (born 1926) was certainly not a Boomer, her time as Governor of Alabama (1967-1968) perfectly overlays with the Boomer time period. Her story is a tragic one, and generally overlooked in Alabama’s strange political history. She didn’t embody the traditional values held by Boomers, but in many ways is a nexus for the confluence of social forces that define the era: old school establishment politics designed to maintain order and the status quo, pioneering roles for women, a bridge between the old ways and the new. Her death was part of a story that would propel our state into the national scene with her husband’s 1972 run for president and near-assassination.


Nothing says Baby Boomers in Alabama like the idea of retreating to the Florida coast. And nothing says Florida branding like 30-A themed merchandise. Scooting down to the white sands of Destin or Alys Beach is certainly a product of class privilege, but it can be meaningless without the community in-group behavior that comes with bumper stickers, shirts, visors, coozies and other signifiers of beach culture. And then there’s the equally Boomer-drenched universe of Jimmy Buffet fans. Boomers aren’t the first to love golf and beer, but at this point in their generational arc, the hallmarks of escapism and self-indulgence are as important as their Woodstock memories.


A Baby Boomer exhibit can also include items from the generation that the Boomers birthed. The Boomers themselves may have been too old to attend Space Camp, but they made the 1986 movie and sent their kids to Huntsville by the thousands, representing a vast and expansive optimism about the prospects for American leadership during the Cold War and the power of math and science to cause utopian technological advances. The Boomer off-planet fantasies can be seen across culture, ranging from EPCOT to Pink Floyd, but Alabama’s Boomers profited greatly by being in proximity to the legacy of Van Braun coming over after the war.


One of the best artifacts representing Baby Boomers and sports in Alabama would be a piece of good old Legion Field from Birmingham, which has been much-eulogized in some lovely pieces, but perfectly symbolizes all of the elements that defined that Boomer approach to history and urban development. Boomers fled cities across the nation, seeking to expand on the suburban dreams of their post-War parents: big yards with grass to water, parking lots, the sanctity of on-campus stadiums at the big state universities. Municipal-owned pieces of history were not (and are not) to the tastes of many Boomers, so it’d be fitting to have a piece of Alabama preserved for future generations.


The Baby Boom is often associated with free love freakouts and copious pharmaceutical experimentation, but decades after the head trips (mostly) subsided, the Boomers also comprised the school administrators who took up the Reagan mantra of “just saying no” to the substances that had once allowed many in their generation to tune in and/or turn on. Archivists could preserve the red ribbons of the 80s anti-drug hysteria while giving a nod to the Mr. Van Driessen types who brought different Boomer ethos into the same schools.


Jeremiah Denton was a naval aviator who was made a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. His book about the experience, “When Hell Was in Session,” propelled him to represent Alabama in the U.S. Senate from 1981 until 1987. It’s an amazing read (there’s an APT movie about it here), and is part of an American narrative about Vietnam POWs that ranges from the late John McCain to Chuck Norris pulp. It’s also interesting to contextualize Denton (and his supporters) in the same conversation as another (much less successful) Alabama politician who was injured in a military plane crash, Charles Woods. As products of World War II parents, Boomers understand the connections between suffering, bravery and leadership.

These are just a handful of ideas that might help provoke some thinking about the kinds of priceless Alabama-themed artifacts that Baby Boomers (and their descendants) can donate to the Alabama Archives for this sure-to-be-interesting and humble look back at their generation and its contributions to the fabric of these interesting times.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>suck it baby boomers <a href=”″></a></p>&mdash; KT NELSON (@KrangTNelson) <a href=””>September 3, 2018</a></blockquote>
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Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with two cats, a dog, ten fish, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.


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