Dr. Richard Cirulli delves further into his growing body of work regarding societal evolution, known as the “Boomerang Series,” in his most recent article: “The New American “Cool” By Dr. Richard Cirulli, Ph.D. (https://www.yonkerstribune.com/2018/11/the-new-american-cool-by-dr-richard-cirulli-ph-d) this Friday, November 23, 2018 at 10am EST on the Westchester On the Level Internet radio broadcast. Listen to the broadcast “Live” or “On Demand”. Use the following hyperlink – http://tobtr.com/s/11064649. This segment: 10-11am.
The New American ‘Cool’ By Dr. Richard Cirulli, Ph.D.
The Fifties, Fins, Fenders, and Frets
There are many unsung heroes who influenced the early popular culture of the Boomers. The genesis of the Sixties’ ethos was heavily influenced by the Fifties; the era when adolescent Boomers began to transition into their rebellious teen years. For all of us who are now- classically matured – and who can recall those days with some degree of clarity and nostalgia, the Fifties were a time when cars were designed by human stylists that branded their models with unique signature designs. Unlike today’s cars designed by computers, and wind tunnels in order to comply with federal standard and safety regulations. Undoubtedly, today’s automobiles are technical wonders, though all share the same generic body geometry; their respective brands identified only by their unique hood logos. This was not the case in post World War II America, when consumers craved for product designs that emulated the jet-age future. That call was answered by General Motors Automotive Designer Harley Earl who introduced America to the rear tail fin when he placed them on the 1948 Cadillac. Earl set the corner stone for America’s automotive architecture with those rising fins scraping the high skies of American prosperity.
Earl complimented his fins with indulgent chrome everywhere, leaving more glamour, weight, and most importantly, consumer hyperbole in its wake. If you have an interest in automobile history, I would suggest you read Fins by William Knoedelseder. America was now free to cruise our new Interstate Highway System compliments of President Eisenhower’s Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 that took 35 years to complete and would eventually come to span 48,181 miles. Earl created American’s love affair with cars by making them an extension of their personality, jettisoning their cars imagery as purely utility vehicles, and making it “cool” just to cruise without a predetermined destiny. It was also during that time that “cool” as a multipurpose slang grew prevalent – to mean anti-square by 1960; in fact “cool” made it into Life Magazine. Earls sweeping (un-square) sheet metal designs were the material manifestation of the new American “cool”. America’s youth cruised down “our” highways in their sheet-metal mobile sculptures, with the radios cranked up listening to the new guitar driven music of Rock and Roll.
While Earl was transforming the American auto industry by placing fins and chrome on his cars; Leo Fender was busy in his shop tinkering with placing chrome electric guitar pickups on a slab of solid wood. Working on what may be considered to be one of the most transformative inventions in the history of popular music, that is, the electric solid body guitar. Fender’s first commercially successful guitar was the Telecaster, achieved by its unmistakable steely and twangy tones dear to both Country and Rock ‘n Roll guitarists searching for a lead tone that can punch through the most dense instrumental mixes and rhythm sections. The Telecaster was designed as a working-class instrument, and was often compared with Henry Ford and his Model T, since it was both affordable and easily repaired (Tolinski and DiPerna 2016). Fender soon followed up his success with the legendary Stratocaster with its three pick-ups that offered a broad range of new tonalities, warm timbre, and steely tone delivered from its curvy double-cutaway design. The Stratocaster’s quality and versatility has placed it in the hands of the best guitarists in the music industry ranging from Country, to Rock, and Jazz.
In closing, many fellow guitarists worth their salt would agree the Tele, and the Strat are still their axe of choice. Worth noting, the Cadillac is hardly distinguished from its competition, is designed by computers and built by robots. In contrast to the Tele and the Strat that are still being designed by human ingenuity, and built with human hands, truly an anachronism, though still an American treasure and icon. Thank you Leo Fender.
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Dr. Richard Cirulli is a retired Professor of Business, consultant, writer, Playwright, author, Innocent Bystander, Author of “The Songs of Roland” and critic at large. He looks forward to your comments at email@example.com