In all of rock-and-roll history, one of the most misguided if entirely memorable lines came in an otherwise excellent 1965 song by the Who. “I hope I die before I get old,” they declared in “My Generation.” I doubt that many people who joyfully sang along with those lyrics 50 years ago really believed them, except perhaps metaphorically.
But the song captured something that was in the air then and has never fully left us. Every generation considers itself special, but the post-World War II period saw the rise of a particularly powerful brand of generational consciousness, and it permeated American politics.
John F. Kennedy built his career on the theme. He was first elected to Congress in 1946 at age 29 on the slogan: “The New Generation Offers a Leader.” Seeing no need to change what had worked for him, he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960 by declaring it was time “for a new generation of leadership — new men to cope with new problems and new opportunities.”