Jennifer Greenburg is a photographer, and she’s spent part of the last decade chronicling the American Rockabilly community.
…people that not only dress like it’s the Fifties, but also drive perfectly preserved Cadillacs and decorate their homes with furniture to rival the retro sets of Mad Men. (Source: Daily Mail UK)
I believe that Mad Men has now wended its way to the late 1960’s, but that’s a quibble.
Ah, the Fifties…
While I expect that those retros who are glorifying the Fifties didn’t actually live during them, there is certainly plenty of kitsch to go nostalgic over: chrome and Formica dinette sets; Fiestaware; jewel-tone aluminum drinking cups; Davey Crockett caps; ceramic panthers on top of the TV set; foam dice hanging from the rear-view mirror (my rockabilly Uncle Bob had these); etc.
And it was certainly better for everyone that the teen idol drama revolved around Elvis getting drafted and having his sideburns and pompadour shorn, than watching a stoned Justin Bieber drag race his Lamborghini and hurl eggs at his neighbors’ home.
So, yes, there’s much to look back fondly on…
I especially liked this photo (from Greenburg’s website), mainly because my father had an earlier (rounded profile) version of a two-tone blue and white Ford. Needless to say, my mother never perched on the hood in skintight gold lamé pants. At least not that I recall.
I also enjoyed this picture of the cowboy kid, in his rockin’ cowboy outfit, with his rockin’ cowboy wallpaper, and his rockin’ chenille cowboy bedspread. He sure as shootin’ looks like a Fifties kid – although in real life he would have had a buzz cut, or those bangs would have been butch-waxed or Brylcreemed off of his forehead. Just wondering whether the parents enforce a TV time-warp for their kid, what with all the cable channels that show re-runs of of Wagon Train, The Rifle Man, and Wanted Dead or Alive - the full Fifties kid experience in black and white.
I do feel a bit bad for this kid.
Does he always have to be Fifties-ish? On Sundays, does he put on a little bowtie and mini-fedora and go to church? Is he allowed to play with Legos, or is he stuck with Lincoln Logs? Does he get to play Nintendo, or is it all Chutes and Ladders (gee, this is fun!)?
Does he even know who Justin Bieber is? I know, I know, it would be a blessing not to. But can he only listen to music that comes on a 45? Is it all Rockabilly Sheb Wooley Purple People Eater on his record player?
And how many of these rockabilly Billy the Kids are there out there?
Apparently plenty of them – at least plenty of grownups - and it’s not just about Fifties style:
'At first I thought the culture was about fashion,' the 36-year-old photographer told MailOnline. 'Then I realized it was much, much, more than that. I realized that this was a culture of people who functioned as a community.'
From bankers and laborers to teachers and doctors, Ms Greenburg says there is 'not just one type of person who joins the Rockabilly community'.
'Some participants make their living inside the culture, but most have the same gamut of jobs that all people have. There is no trend,' she explained. 'Some dress at work to blend into the generally [sic] culture, some do not. Some have a hybrid way of dressing that is just toned down and not necessarily identifiable as 1950’s.'
Greenburg believe that Rockabilly folks are drawn to the quality, beauty, and “joyous”-ness of Fifties design.
Well, I’ll giver her that there was plenty joyous about a poodle skirt.
Still, this nostalgia for the Fifties may be a bit misplaced.
Sure, I like Buddy Holly as much as the next guy – in fact, while writing this post, I’ve been singing Rave On to myself – “Well, those little things you say and do/Make me want to be with you-hoo-hoo/Rave on it’s a crazy feeling/ And I know you’ve got me reeling…”
And if you were Beaver Cleaver, it probably was a kinder gentler world than the one Justin Bieber inhabits.
But when you think Fifties, you also have to think complacence and conformity. And things that were a whole lot worse.
Emmett Till, the fourteen year old African American kid who was murdered for glancing at a white woman in Mississippi – he was from Chicago; he wasn’t aware it was a capital offense – never got to party like it was 1955.
I seem to remember that Joe McCarthy’s reign of terror occurred in the Fifties.
And vice squads made it a practice of raiding gay bars.
So it wasn’t all joyous and beautiful.
Not that I begrudge the Rockabilly community their Rockabilly-ness. (They even have dating sites, combining their Fifties sensibility with 21st century technology.)
Rock on, folks.
It’s a big country.
Plenty of room for those who want to haunt flea markets for vintage cocktail aprons and Melmac plates.