A terrible curse lay on the 1960s: minds were breaking. A lot has been written about that turbulent era, but the issue of broken minds has not been well documented until now. Anecdotal evidence may have suggested it to you. However, popular songs, those bellwethers of the era’s culture, recorded the phenomenon. It’s no wonder my generation has been so beset, and, after showing early promise, has yielded a legacy that likely will be remembered only for producing Enron, the gulf oil spill and Mel Gibson.
You may not have noticed this malignant undercurrent, but that’s why I created this blog: to elucidate the tiny cultural details that signify the ebb and flow of human destiny.
The phrase may have entered the lexicon in about 1966 courtesy of the journeyman singer-songwriter John D. Loudermilk (his signature piece is “Tobacco Road”) who wrote a song covered by artists ranging from Pat Boone to Roy Orbison with the title, “Break My Mind:” “Break my mind./Break my mind/You know I just can’t stand to hear/Those big jet engines wind.”
John D. Loudermilk: “Break My Mind”
Some zeitgeist was in the wind, and who more likely to catch its drift than Paul Simon, who recorded “Cloudy” with Art Garfunkel in June of ’66. Typical of the semi-demi-pseudointellectual Simon, in the song, a mind hasn’t quite broken, but it is bending: “Hey, Sunshine/I haven’t seen you in a long time/Why don’t you show your face/And bend my mind.”
In 1971, as the 60s surreptitiously continued for several years disguised as another decade, The Canadian Five Man Electrical Band recorded “Signs.” (they’re still playing, it seems): “Signs, signs, everywhere a sign/blockin’ out the scenery/breakin’ my mind.”
Minds bending? Minds breaking? Would Sinatra have sung a song like that? Would Elvis? No… well, maybe the Las Vegas Elvis would’ve, but he was only the Alien Clone Elvis after the fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches took over: not the Real Elvis. It was one more self-indulgent overly theatrical self-aggrandizing bit of bombast from a generation that has, unfortunately specialized in same. Would Harry Truman have said to his Secretary of Defense, Louis Johnson, “Louie, those Commies are breaking my mind. What-are-we-going-to-DO-about-it?” Would JFK have said to McNamara, “Eh, Rahbehrt, the – ehh – Cubans are – ehh- breaking my mind. Weh’re going to hahve to doo something about thaht.”
Instead, we, the Boomers, have contributed the concept of minds breaking to the history of Western Civilization, along with Bill Gates, Oprah, Bono and, yes, Mel Gibson, though we’ll try to pass Mel off on the next generation.
Now you know.