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A history lesson for the Millennials

Date: 8/20/2015

Hey there, Millennials, tired of trying to decipher pop culture references made by the grey hairs? Hey geezers, tired of having to explain yourself to wet-behind-the-ears pups who think they invented the world?

The other day I realized once again just what kind of gap exists between my generation and folks in their 20s. I was shown an excellent column in a recent edition of the Boston Globe by a guy who realized the Millennials have no idea who is Humphrey Bogart, the star of two of the best films made in the 1940s – or any other time – “The Maltese Falcon” and “Casablanca.”

How could this be, the 61 year-old asks himself?

The beauty of popular culture is that it can bridge gaps between generations.  Seeing young music fans discover artists of 30 or 40 years ago and sharing an interest with an older family member or friend, for example, is heart-warming. Having them tell you they’ve never heard of The Beatles or The Rolling Stones seems impossible.

It’s interesting that as a journalist who works with younger people I have to make some effort to understand their popular culture. I’m not sure the evidence points to the effort not being always mutual.  

The simple fact is this: Millennials, you’re missing out on a lot of cool stuff if you discount it simply because it’s old and you’ve not heard of it. Plus, few things score more points with geezers than a mutual understanding.

In the effort to promote understanding between the generations, here is a quick reference for some key pop culture references and attitudes for Millennials confronted by conversations with older family members or co-workers.

Think of it as homework. You remember that better than we do.     

Tough guy stars you should seek out: the aforementioned Bogart, James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson. If a movie pops up with the phrase “Pre-Code” describing it, watch it. Warner Brothers, Paramount and Universal made some great innovative films. Repeat this mantra: black and white is my friend.

Realize that for at least 30 years, people listened to a device called “radio” in order to be exposed to new music. The hosts of these shows were called “disc jockeys” or “deejays” and they often selected the records themselves, showing their own taste in music. A deejay in a major market could make the career for a new artist.

Music recordings were called “records.” I’m sure your parents or grandparents still have some. If taken care of, they last for years. And believe or not there’s some pretty good music available only on vinyl and never made the transition to CD or digital. I understand vinyl is making a comeback, although records today are far more expensive than they were at the dawn of time during my youth.

People didn’t always have cell phones. Many homes had one phone, maybe two. They had cords and were anchored to one spot. Long distance calls cost a lot of money.

Comedians you must seek out: Buster Keaton, The Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Abbott and Costello, Ernie Kovacs, The Firesign Theater, Jonathan Winters, Carol Burnett. For the sake of your soul, watch “SCTV.”

Boomers learned to question authority because we read “MAD.” You guys read “The Onion,” a worthy substitute.

There were no coffee houses back in the day. No multi-word coffee drinks. “Sanka” was considered exotic. Instant coffee was seen as a modern convenience. Here’s a vocabulary word: “percolator.”

What could be considered “good” cigars could be purchased at convenience stores.

Here’s another “convenience” of our generation: “Tang.” Look it up. “Real” orange juice came in a frozen tube, which you mixed with water.

I know these suggestions just scratched the surface, but I hope in the name of a better relationship between the generations, we can find some common ground.

And for your own damn sake, watch “The Maltese Flacon” and “Casablanca.”

Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.