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America’s turbulent years

Boomer Days chronicles it all

Created date

July 26th, 2011

At 4 a.m., a phone call roused Gus Russo from a deep sleep. On the other end was Academy Award-winning director Oliver Stone, thousands of miles away in Berlin and six hours ahead of Baltimore, Md. Russo, who the year prior had consulted Stone during the making of his blockbuster conspiracy film JFK (1991), was the filmmaker s go-to man for the Kennedy assassination. This morning s call was about an article on the slain president s autopsy, recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Stone hadn t bothered reading it and wanted Russo to brief him for his network television interview with Dan Rather. The author rubbed the sleep from his eyes and wearily agreed to help him in half an hour after he d had some coffee. While it may seem bizarre to most, the early-morning incident was business as usual for Russo and one of the many scenes that fill his memoir Boomer Days (Excelsior! 2011). Far more than a life story, this book is a chronicle of baby boomers in America, told through the lens of Russo s own experiences.

How crazy it all was

When you stop to think about the events that we as baby boomers not only witnessed but were part of, it s quite striking, he says. Our lives have spanned a transformative period in American history, and when it unfolds chronologically you really get a sense for how crazy it all was. Russo s memoir recounts 40 years in America, throughout which the baby boomers came of age. They bloomed as idealists and by the 1990s resigned themselves to reality. They were born into the idyllic 1950s and early 60s the golden age of television, when families basked in the black-and-white glow of I Love Lucyand witnessed Elvis Presley gyrating onThe Ed Sullivan Show. Kennedy was the young, debonair leader, James Bond fought evil, and the Rat Pack was the very picture of cool. Russo further recalls with great clarity the day that Oswald killed Kennedy, ushering in a turbulent era of political and social strife. Martin Luther King fell to an assassin s bullet, followed by Bobby Kennedy. Drugs flowed freely, and college was as much about avoiding the rice paddies of Southeast Asia as it was about educational opportunity. Indeed, Russo beautifully recreates the tension surrounding the Vietnam War in a number of scenes, one of them in his parents living room. It was December 1, 1969, he remembers, and CBS had preempted an episode ofMayberry televise the draft drawing. The fact that they bumped a program that symbolized quintessential American life for one that sent men off to die was something that I ll never forget. Russo, like millions, watched with bated breath to learn if he would be among the next 850,000 to go to Vietnam. As it turned out, he wouldn t. In writing this book, I tried to universalize my own experiences, and I think that the draft drawing is a good example of that, he remarks. It doesn t matter if you re in your 50s, 60s, 70s, or 80s. You probably remember waiting for your number or that of a close friend or relative. This was part of the American experience at the time. Yet, Russo s memoir is as entertaining as it is nostalgic.

Zelig-like character or Renaissance man?

Somehow he always managed to find himself at the center of major events. Like Forrest Gump, but with the witty literary flair of the late raconteur Jean Shepherd,Boomer Daysboasts an impressive cast of characters that leaves the reader wondering who he ll meet on the next page. Russo, for instance, helped a nude Jane Fonda as she emerged from the Reflection Pool in Washington, D.C. He stood beside the manic hippie Abbie Hoffman as he cart-wheeled his way through a political rally, and worked as a staffer in the 1972 presidential campaign of South Dakota Senator George McGovern. Russo has made a life as a Renaissance man, and it shows in this book. An accomplished tennis player, he volleyed with world champion Vitas Gerulaitis; a trained guitarist, he jammed on stage with John Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas. By the 1990s, he had established himself as a writer and investigative journalist. His memories of the Kennedy assassination, so clearly recollected inBoomer Days, were a driving force behind several of his books one of them, Live by the Sword(Bancroft Press, 1998), garnered a Pulitzer Prize nomination. But in many ways, Russo s story is America s story. Though I wrote this book to show people the last half of the 20th century from my perspective, he says, I also wanted to push them to reassess their own experiences. My hope is that readers learn something about themselves. In this regard alone,Boomer Dayswill not disappoint.