Stand-up/singing comedian Richard Stockton—born in 1949 in Bakersfield, raised in SoCal and Sacramento, and living now in Santa Cruz—is all about the good old days. Those of his and his fellow baby boomers' good old days, that is.
In his stage act, he openly fawns over the big cultural touchstones from the past. Not in the perfunctory and treacly way that Billy Joel does in "We Didn't Start the Fire" (a tone-deaf Boomer version of REM's Gen-X non-sequitur anthem "It's the End of the World As We Know It"), more like the wistful way that Don McLean did in "American Pie."
Stockton venerates his times, yes, but he also makes fun of its more ridiculous extremities, eliciting a loving kind of laughter that might end in sighs of reminiscence by people of a certain age.
He's the author of Fondle the Fear, he creates short stories for public television, he performs in a comedy/variety show called Planet Cruz Comedy at the Rio Theatre. He's bringing that form of laughter this Friday to the Carmel Foundation, a senior membership activity center, to see if those folks there get where he's coming from. Stockton says they will.
The show is called Planet of the Boomers: Comedy and Music of an Evolving Generation. He says it's been described as history, but funny. Here is more of what he says.
Weekly: What were the 1950s like for you?
Stockton: It was wonderful. It was everything. It was perfect. I had great loving parents. And the world was right. Everybody believed in the neighborhood and the flag. I lived in a conservative home and area, Bakersfield. We did not aspire to the American Dream, we were born into it. There was goofy stuff. Helping my mom lick green stamps so we could buy a funky little lamp. Boys building pretend bomb shelters in the back yard. It was a time of music exploding. Our parents were mystified by rock and roll. We were the first generation to have music dedicated to us. And our own delivery system. Sacramento's KROY, 1240 on your AM dial. All of a sudden these little white kids got exposed to James Brown. Black people weren't in my neighborhood. We were so white we thought the Chinese kid was white.
How did the cultural and political turmoil of the '60s occur to a generation that had it so good?
I think what made our generation unique, and changed us, was our size. There was 7.28 million of us. We sensed it was all about us. They had to build a grammar school and high school for us. We got it all along that we were big and important. We were the first television generation. Ozzie and Harriet was about the way America was supposed to be. But we could look around and see it wasn't that way. On the news, white kids were watching these [black] people who wanted to sit at a damn lunch counter and eat, and they're being pinned against the wall with a fire hose. It made a big impression. Then comes rock n roll and folk music. It was integrated.
My situation was more extreme. My biological mother got sick and I was raised by a black women those first years in Bakersfield. When Civil Rights came along, on the front page of the national papers, the four girls walking out of their church in Alabama—those girls were my age. That could be any one of us. By the time the Civil Rights Movement hit, oh man. Stokely Carmichael, Eldridge Cleaver, Mario Salvio. I wanted to be Mario Salvio. He led the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley.
That was another thing. We were highly educated. The education system back then kicked ass. We had small classes and good teachers and all the audio visual stuff we wanted. We were reading ahead of our age group. It was not lost on us that standing up for the right thing can work. That's why Boomers became obsessed w the idea that we want America to really be America. That's what JFK got elected for. Whoa. Now America could be for everybody.
What were some tough lessons for you at the time?
It was a real gut punch when [John F. Kennedy] got shot. In 1969, to take the heat out of the anti-war movement, they switched to the draft lottery. I've performed hundreds of times and I don't remember one Boomer who doesn't remember theirs. They can't remember their wedding anniversary, but they remember their lottery number.
Do you remember yours?
What happened in the '70s to your generation?
Me, that's when I actually dropped all the way out. I became a folk singer in the '60s and hitchhiked all 48 states and 10 Canadian provinces. I was pursuing folk music in North Carolina, the Appalachian mountains, where the hillbillies are. Beyond roads, beyond electricity. This culture had been there pretty much like it had been for 300 years. I traveled there to find a lost folk song. I fancied myself an Alan Lomax. My mind was blown by finding this ancient community. They farmed with mules. Really old-timey. I was a hippie and became a hillbilly. Hillbillies and hippies really get along.
The first part of my 1970s were there. Then my mom got sick and I was needed at home. I came back to California and became an entertainer, going to bars, telling jokes, singing songs. I had a great lounge act. Sing a song, tell two jokes, repeat until last call.
You were listening to Howard Zinn just now for motivation. To do what?
I believe that my function in my show is to help Boomers relive their own history and reclaim it. Because I believe they're forgotten it, in the crush of fast paced life, overstimulation of media, they've forgotten. I want to add hope to the show. When you want to add hope to your work, how do you do that? Howard Zinn fills me with hope. This idea that you can make a difference, no matter how small. He gives me that over and over again.
What music will you perform?
"Summertime Blues" by Eddie Cochran. "16 Tons" by Tennessee Ernie Ford. "For What it's Worth" by Buffalo Springfield. I have some original tunes. One says, "Things we had then that we don't have now." Like 5 cent packs of baseball cards with a slab of bubble gum. Table top jukebox with Elvis on there. Colored sugar waters in those tiny Coke-shaped wax bottles. Roller skates that came with a key. Cars that had hand throttles. Roy Rogers and Trigger. Pepe le Peu, the little French skunk. Eisenhower. My mom was so into Eisenhower, I kept my room extra clean in case the president should come to our house and look in my room. Swanson's TV dinners. Televisions was huge in our lives. Now a lot of people don't have TVs anymore. Then it was the center of the family.
What's your take on subsequent generations, like Generation X or Millenials?
I'm blown away by them. Boomers were the technology generation. We loved it. What the kids are doing with it absolutely blows me away. My 28-year-old son, who's [making] websites and films, his output is beyond what I've ever done. I have a lot of faith that the youth will right the country. I'm just hoping we're not going to leave them with a world that is so crippled that they can't pull it out. I think it will be ok.
Richard Stockton performs Planet of the Boomers: Comedy and Music of an Evolving Generation 5:30pm Friday, June 5, at the Carmel Foundation, Eighth and Lincoln, Carmel. $15 (includes a glass of wine). 620-8702.