The aging of sweetness

Speaking of evolution, Cab Calloway's "Reefer Man" video in M. Simon's earlier post made me fixate on another form of cultural depravity. Or would that be degeneracy? I don't know the right word, but let's face it, some people just don't like songs about controversial cultural topics, not even if they're light-hearted and humorous.

Like the 1960 song "You're Sixteen, You're Beautiful, and You're Mine":

I don't know whether it's coincidental, but sixteen happens to be the magic age of consent in most places, so I suspect that the above song is having a little blatant fun with that subtext. While it's been performed by others, it wasn't the first in its genre.

Two years earlier, rock and roll pioneer Chuck Berry has a smash hit with "Sweet Little Sixteen" in 1958:

Here he is performing it that same year:

And here he is performing it in 1972:

In all these years, the girl never appears to have grown up. Nor has Berry, even though he is in his 80s.

Nor has his audience, which showed itself willing to sing the entire song for him last year:

The song being archetypal rock, it lives on in other ways. Because the Beach Boys' Surfin' USA is a direct copy of Sweet Little Sixteen, Chuck Berry owns the rights to it. (You could take a song like that and plug in almost any lyrics you want, as many a punk band did in the 70s and 80s.)

While Berry has had more than his share of legal problems, fortunately his music -- which is decidedly non-political if not apolitical -- is generally not considered part of the "culture war."

Well, back during the Reagan era there was an attempt to ban rock and roll during the Washington 4th of July festivities, but when it was learned that both the president and Mrs. Reagan loved the Beach Boys, the anti-rock crackpots (and, yes, I do think people who oppose rock and roll are crackpots) had to back off.

Of course, some might argue that the musical expression of attraction to a sixteen year old girl constitutes waging "culture war," and that there is nothing sweet about anyone who is sixteen.

There are people who want to raise the age of consent, and there are people who want to lower it.

At 55, I'm way above the age of consent and I am neither involved with nor attracted to anyone even remotely close to being that age. So it's easy for me to be glibly dismissive.

However, I just read about something dreadful which may soon affect me: an outrageous legislative attempt to institute age of consent laws at the opposite end of the age spectrum:

the law (in Massachusetts) would make it a very serious crime -- tantamount to child pornography -- to make, and distribute "with lascivious intent," "any visual material that contains a representation or reproduction of any posture or exhibition in a state of nudity" involving anyone age 60 or over
Sorry, but that's carrying the culture war way too far! My body is mine, and in five years it will still be mine -- even at Sweet Little Sixty! I mean it; if I can consent now to sending someone my own nude pictures, why can't I consent then?

BTW, the loon behind this insane bill is a Democrat, Kathi-Anne Reinstein.

As I say, in many ways the left wing is more against sexual freedom than the right wing.

posted by Eric on 09.23.09 at 02:42 PM


I played a number of "16" songs including some of the above plus 16 candles for my daughters 16th birthday - about two years ago. I don't know if she liked it but I did.

M. Simon   ·  September 23, 2009 3:36 PM

and, yes, I do think people who oppose rock and roll are crackpots

You know what, if you could go back to the 50s grab a HS principal and show him 2009 I bet he would say, "See! I was right!"

Look what Rock and or Roll hath wrought.
Sexual licentiousness, disrespect for authority, sloth, greed, violence and don't get them started on rap, an obvious offshoot. It's much more closely related to rock than jazz, that's why they often use rock tunes in their beat.

So you have your opinion, they have theirs. Of course, anti-rock people after about 1960 probably are crack-pots. You can't put the genie back in the bottle.

I'm not sure who's right or, if my mythical 1950s HS principal were right, if it's a bad thing. Freedom is cool.

I'm actually leaning toward they were right and they should have stopped the devil music in its infancy.

Of course that could be putting the horse before the egg, maybe the music reflected the age instead of inspired it. The 60s seems to belie that, but the 70s-today seem to prove that.

Eh, it's all academic and we're doomed anyway. I'll let historians decide, hopefully some cds survive for them to dig up.

Veeshir   ·  September 23, 2009 4:50 PM

(I'm 52, so I can say what I'm about to say free of cries of "ageism!")

The No Elderporn law may seem to be sui generis with the child pornography laws, but they stem from opposite motivations.

Child porn laws protect the subject from the viewers.

The new Elderporn law protects the viewers from the subject.

It's more of a Public Nuisance protection than a Protected Status prohibition.

bobby b   ·  September 23, 2009 5:59 PM

But I like naked old ladies. If I didn't I'd have to trade in my 60 for two 30s.

I think it is a good idea for youth to see naked oldies having fun. Every one who lives will be old some day. Pictures and videos are good preparation. Given the alternatives....

Veeshir: as to the breakdown of the culture. It would have been transient if not for government support.

M. Simon   ·  September 23, 2009 6:30 PM

Veeshir, I think you may be forgetting the anti-jazz hysteria of the early 1900s.

And rock and roll didn't assist in the killing of as many people as music like this:

Or this:

In fact, rock helped overthrow the latter!

Eric Scheie   ·  September 23, 2009 7:18 PM

Well, the anti-jazz was more race based I would bet.
Of course, I'm sure a lot of folks in the 50s (When men were men and men were white) thought rock was too related to blacks too.

Although I don't know if I agree rock really beat the commies. How many rock stars are/were commies? The biggest ever seemed to think good thoughts about the commies as did most of the British invasion.
Are you saying it was against the artists' wishes? That would be cool.

Of course nice, clean swing, big band and the Andrews sisters defeated the first one.
That must mean something.

Veeshir   ·  September 23, 2009 8:06 PM

"The new Elderporn law protects the viewers from the subject."

Now THAT is funny.

Penny   ·  September 24, 2009 1:30 AM

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