While the Fifties Beat poets howled against the machinery of Moloch, the current corroded state of the industrial complex that was America, a great mass of popular culture was emerging, led by network television, but also supported by the pervasiveness of radio driven primarily by the music industry. The broken, disenfranchised characters that populated Howl and other writings of the Beats were at polar opposites with the bubble gum chewing bobbysoxers at sock hops, the Cleavers, baseball loving, apple pie chortling Americans who spread like moist butter into the crannies surrounding all our big cities to become Suburbia. These were those who bought into the American Dream and had begun spreading their wings.
Most of the kids of these families, the Boomer generation, listened to Top 40 radio for at least a portion of their young lives. People like Murray the K and Cousin Brucie on WABC, the top rock station on the AM dial, owned the airwaves, slinging out the super hits one after another from sea to shining sea. Consider the contrast between I Want To Hold Your Hand (#1 song of 1964) and the opening line of Howl:
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix...
But during the Sixties the dark themes were seeping into popular music through various channels. The Animals took House of the Rising Sun to #38 that same year. And the songs of Simon & Garfunkel dealt with territory the Beat poets dredged like alienation (I Am A Rock, Fakin' It), suicide (Most Peculiar Man, Richard Cory), adultery (Mrs. Robinison) and brokenness (America, Over).
Which is why The Boxer was such a powerful songs of that time, one of those songs which takes you places you don't expect....
I am just a poor boy
though my story's seldom told,
I have squandered my existence for a pocketful of mumbles,
such are promises;
All lies and jest, still a man hears what he wants to hear
and disregards the rest,
mh -- hmm.
When I left my home and my family
I was no more than a boy
in the company of strangers
in the quiet of a railway station
laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters
where the ragged people go,
looking for the places only they would know.
Asking only workman's wages I come looking for a job
but I get no offers,
just a come on from the whores on Seventh Avenue.
I do declare
there were times when I was so lonesome
I took some comfort there.
Lie la lie...
And I'm laying out my winter clothes
and wishing I was gone,
where the New York City winters aren't bleeding me,
leading me, going home...
In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade
and he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down
or cut him till he cried out in his anger an his shame:
I am leaving, I am leaving,
but the fighter still remains
Lie la lie...
Do you think this song would have had the same impact had been called The Golfer? Make the most of your weekend. Food for thought.