Monday, January 26, 2009

Little Boxes: Essence of Suburbia

In the early 60s, Malvina Reynolds captured the essence of suburban life and the beginning of No Place in her famous song Little Boxes. I've set the lyrics down here and provided a link to Pete Seeger's version of the song because the language and melody capture perfectly the happily unconscious diminishing of Place and Individuality that I find so troubling:

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.


And the people in the houses
All went to the university,
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same,
And there's doctors and lawyers,
And business executives,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.


And they all play on the golf course
And drink their martinis dry,
And they all have pretty children
And the children go to school,
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university,
Where they are put in boxes
And they come out all the same.


And the boys go into business
And marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.


Watch Pete Seeger's version of this 60s song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONEYGU_7EqU

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

This brought back memories of an unusual time and a bit of amusement as well.

The song was one of many statements by a new generation which chose to question and rebel against the morals and social values of their parents. They were proclaiming their individuality and their "right to do what and as they pleased". At the same time they were living off the largess of their parents and society, so it was relatively easy for them to do as they pleased.

Not knowing the motivation of the writer (because it was in a folk song format) it may also have been a lament as to the loss of the older traditional style of community and gained popularity as a song for quite a different reason. I doubt this premise because in it's full context it was critical of society in the same vein as "Nowhere Man".

What caused me some amusement upon revisiting the song? Most of those (would be rebels) now occupy those "little boxes on the hillsides". When faced with the reality of making a living, raising a family, and generally being assimilated back into mainstream society; they lost the very individuality they had been proclaiming -- just perhaps as their parents had.

Marilyn Finnemore said...

Yes those little boxes, like social norms, are difficult to get away from. All the more reason, I think, that we need to pay attention to what we're building and create places we can care about. Watch the Kunstler video on my new post! It states beautifully what's at risk.