When it comes to the key events that helped to create the societies that emerged in America and the West at large in the post-war years, and specifically since the 1960s Counterculture,
the 1950s are of considerable relevance, with 1955 being arguably of special significance in this respect, as Charles Ealy, author of a 2005 article Seeds of Change Sown in 1955,
published on the 26th of November 2005 in The Dallas Morning News, cogently argues:
‘The Fifties are popularly remembered as a period of shiny complacency, but in reality, American culture was being shaken to its core by mid-decade.
In 1955 alone, the nation sat up and took notice of Elvis and rock 'n' roll […] It saw the rise of teen culture,
with James Dean representing youth alienation in East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause […] "It's a crucial year in a crucial decade in so many ways," says Christopher Sharrett,
a professor of communications and film studies at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.
"I think the year represents the increasing discontent of Americans during a period of great prosperity and expansion" after World War II.
It's easy to overemphasize one year such as 1955 and not see history as a continuum, historians say. But "we begin to see major cracks in the plaster of American culture," Dr Sharrett says.’
1955 was the year in which Rock and Roll started making serious incursions into the mainstream of popular music thereby helping to ignite the Rock and Youth revolutions to come,
with Chuck Berry reaching number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July with Maybellene,
and Bill Haley & His Comets’ Rock Around the Clock becoming the first rock and Roll record to reach number that same month; while Little Richard would reach number 21 with Tutti Frutti,
featuring its celebrated Rock and Roll battle cry of ‘awopbopaloobopalapbamboom!’, in October.
The previous March had seen the release of Richard Brook’s film version of Evan Hunter’s semi-autobiographical novel Blackboard Jungle, featuring Rock Around the Clock,
which had initially been recorded by Sonny Dae And His Knights, over the opening credits and beyond.
Unlike Dae’s easy going original, complete with tasteful Jazzy guitar solo,
Haley’s ferocious version was remarkable for its earth-shaking sense of urgency ; and it could be argued that the world would never be the same again following its inclusion in Blackboard Jungle.
Then in August, Sun Records of Memphis, Tennessee, released a Rockabilly cover of Mystery Train, written by Junior Parker and recorded as Little Junior’s Blue Flames in 1953, by Elvis Presley,
Scotty and Bill, featuring the so-called King of Western Bop who went on to become not just the dominant artist of early Rock and Roll,
but one of the most momentous cultural figures of the 20th Century.
On the 30th of September, James Dean died in hospital following a motor accident aged 24, with his third and final film, Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause,
emerging a little under a month after his death, and Dean’s luminously beautiful image, captured in innumerous charismatic photographs,
has never dated nor been truly surpassed in terms of its status as an icon of tortured rebelliousness.
One of the last of the year’s major revolutionary events took place on the 7th of October at San Francisco's Six Gallery at 3119 Fillmore Street,
when about 150 people gathered to witness readings by Philip Whalen, Philip Lamantia, Michael McClure, Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, with Kenneth Rexroth serving as MC, and Jack Kerouac,
Neal Cassady and Lawrence Ferlinghetti forming part of the audience.
Ginsberg galvanised the audience with excerpts from his epic poem Howl, destined to become the defining poem of the nascent Beat Generation, while Kerouac, almost completely unknown at the time,
emitted rhythmical cries of encouragement , until the entire audience joined in.
Two years later, Kerouac’s On the Road, a semi-autobiographical novel based on his time on the road from 1947 to 1950, much of it with Cassady, famously named Dean Moriarty in the novel,
would secure his reputation as the movement’s prime mover, even while the self-styled Canuck from Lowell, Massachusetts, was not a natural rebel,
given his working class origins and lifelong Catholic faith.
In a remarkable article entitled Youth in a Delinquent Society written for the Trotskyist Fourth International in the Fall of 1955, its author, Joyce Cowley,
was at pains to emphasize the general conformity of American youth in the mid 1950s, while also making it clear that cautious conservatism was far from being the total picture,
and that there had been a sharp rise in crime since the onset of the decade.
Additionally, she made the point that the nature of the crimes committed during this period were of a shocking gravity that had been relatively uncommon in the U.S. in more recent decades.
In support, she alluded to various phenomena which are all too familiar to those of us who came to maturity in the 1960s and beyond, including the abuse of narcotics,
and acts of gratuitous cruelty and violence, from teen gang rumbles to the senseless sacrifice of innocents.