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"Jersey Boys": Recreating A Lost Era in the Life of the American Working Class

"Jersey Boys": Recreating A Lost Era in the Life of the American Working Class

Joseph Sciorra (March 25, 2008)
"Big Girls Don't Cry," Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons

Fordham University history professor Mark Naison recently emailed his thoughts on the Broadway musical "Jersey Boys" and has allowed me to post them here verbatim.


“Last night, my wife Liz and I saw "Jersey Boys" and we were not only moved by how well the show recreated the songs the Four Seasons did- all of which we knew and loved- but by the window the show offered into a vanished moment in working class life in America when tough white kids  in city neighborhoods could dream of rock and roll s

tardom without the twin specters of war and racial upheaval turning their lives and their neighborhoods  inside out and upside down.

The Four Seasons were an anomaly, an Italian-American doo wop group whose greatest success came in the early Sixties rather than the Fifties.  Produced by a black owned record company, Vee Jay, and marketed on the R and B charts as well as the pop charts, the Four Seasons produced hit after hit between 1962 and 1965 and then quickly turned into a nostalgia act for those left behind by the social movements  of the of the  late Sixties , none of which were rooted in  the white, ethnic working class neighborhoods of eastern and midwestern cities 
You could argue that the Four Seasons were the last example of an era when white working teenagers, especially Italian Americans, were cultural pace setters for America's youth, creating styles of dress and carriage and speech, as well as music, which even middle class kids wanted to emulate. They took elements of black urban style, in dress and carriage as well as music, and made them broadly accessible, by fusing them with a white working class sensibility and projecting a concept of urban cool that reflected an unspoken adherence to racial boundaries that governed dating and sociability even in multiracial cities. They came of age in a time when cultural exchange across the color line had not yet been infused with Civil Rights rhetoric and adopted black musical forms as their own without guile or affect. The result was music of breathtaking beauty and a simplicity that could not be sustained as America entered an era of Troubled Times.
When the Four Seasons broke up in the mid 60's, never again would a white working class singing group from the Northeast or the Midwest dominate the pop charts, and never again would white working class teenagers and young men be marketed in popular music as the embodiment of cool.  As race riots, white flight and an unpopular war destroyed the stability of working class neighborhoods and left a legacy of bitterness, there were no longer urban spaces where the hopeful simplicity of the Four Seasons music could be recreated on street corners and in hallways    
When the show ended, I felt tremendous sadness, not only for the tragedies that befell individual members of the group -- which included bad marriages, gambling debts, and near fatal run ins with the Mob -- but for the passing of the world I grew up in and the working class America that I was part of, albeit briefly, which had a sensibility and a way of living which once set the pace for the entire nation.
I am not sure that the world we are living in now is a much better place.”
Mark Naison
Fordham University 
March 22, 2008

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