Monday, March 11, 2013


I have always been fascinated by the impact of technology on culture from Gutenberg to Twitter – and don’t forget the Gatling gun – innovation can have far-reaching and unexpected results. Until reading the following in David Halberstam’s book The Fifties, I hadn’t considered how the transistor radio had freed teenagers from parental control of the music to which they listened.

“The rock and roll revolution rode in on the rails of technology. Disapproving parents in the 1950s might have been in control of the family record player, but they couldn't control a brand new marvel of technology, the portable transistor radio, which enterprising manufacturers would sell to the newly prosperous postwar teens for $1 down and $1 a month. Portable record players were not far behind. In fact, the average teen had almost as much disposable income as entire families had had only fifteen years earlier: 
"[Elvis] Presley's [career] timing was nearly perfect. The [rock and roll] crossover, led by Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard, was in full force. Parents might disapprove of the beat and of their children listening to what they knew was black music. But their disapproval only added to Presley's popularity and made him more of a hero among the young. Local ministers might get up in their churches (almost always well covered by local newspapers) and attack demon rock as jungle music and threaten to lead a crusade to have this Presley boy arrested if he dared set foot in their community (generally, there was no problem, their towns were too small for him to play). It did not matter: Elvis Presley and rock music were happening. In this new subculture of rock and roll the important figures of authority were no longer mayors and selectmen or parents; they were disc jockeys, who reaffirmed the right to youthful independence and guided teenagers to their new rock heroes. The young formed their own community. For the first time in American life they were becoming a separate, defined part of the culture: As they had money, they were a market, and as they were a market they were listened to and catered to. Elvis was the first beneficiary. In effect, he was entering millions of American homes on the sly ..."  

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The secret word is Ear 

1 comment:

Jan Hagel said...

Yeah, most importantly, "...they were a market".