Saturday, May 08, 2010


My mom talks about how strange it is that my generation thinks it's no big deal to have people in space. Moon landings have been around for longer than we have. Because Mom remembers when the first one happened, it's still a big deal to her.

My grandmother, born in 1908, saw a lot more changes in her lifetime. She remembered when electricity came to her hometown. One change I had never thought much about, but that revolutionized people's lives in the last century, was easy access to birth control. Fifty years ago, sex usually meant babies. If you listen to old songs, you hear it everywhere.

The lyrics to the Kingston Trio's "It Takes a Worried Man to Sing a Worried Song" never made much sense to me. Recently I heard Woody Guthrie's version, no doubt influenced by his time in the 1930s as a homeless dustbowl refugee trying to earn money to send back to his wife and three children. (Long distances are an unpleasant but effective method of birth control.)

Yes we got six children, and expecting several more
Kids run out like cattle when you open up the door.
Yes you single boys can ramble and can lead a rowdy life
But you'll have to take it easy when you get yourself a wife
You will have a flock of children and have others coming on
It takes a married man, boys, to sing a worried song.

Older folk songs are full of the same complaint:

When I was single, I'd sport and I'd play
Now how the cradle it stands in my way.

Loretta Lynn (who married at 13 and had four children by the age of 19) recorded a number of songs on the topic. In 1970 it was "One's on the Way," written by Shel Silverstein(!)

The girls in New York City, they all march for women's lib,
And Better Homes and Garden shows the modern way to live.
And the pill may change the world tomorrow, but meanwhile, today,
Here in Topeka the flies are a buzzin',
The dog is a barkin' and the floor needs a scrubbin'.
One needs a spankin' and one needs a huggin',
And Lord, one's on the way.
(Oh gee, I hope it ain't twins again.)

In 1972 when she recorded "The Pill", stations wouldn't play it:

You wined me and dined me
When I was your girl
Promised if I'd be your wife
You'd show me the world

But all I've seen of this old world
Is a bed and a doctor bill
I'm tearin' down your brooder house
'Cause now I've got the pill.

Matt McGinn of Scotland writes of the same wish in another part of the world:

Now they're talking o' the pill, they've filled my heart wi' hope
I'm sitting here and waiting on a signal frae the Pope
I went along to buy some at fifteen bob a tin
I hope we hae the Pope's okay before my man comes in.

It's fifty years this week since the FDA approved the first birth control pills. What a change.

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