Saturday, February 18, 2012

Alice Cooper -- "I'm Eighteen" (1970)

I'm in the middle without any plans 
I'm a boy and I'm a man
I'm eighteen
And I don't know what I want 
Did you know that Alice Cooper's real name was Vincent Damon Furnier?

"I'm Eighteen" (or simply "Eighteen") was released in 1970, when I and most of my friends were 18.  Looking back, I'd say that I was more boy than man when I was 18.  But I probably felt differently at the time.

When I was growing up, you became an adult when you turned 21.  That was when you could vote, and that was when you could drink.  (I think the general rule was that you could get married when you were 18 -- even younger if you had parental consent.  Getting married is much more significant than voting or drinking, but we didn't see it that way.)

When the Vietnam War began to escalate and 19-year-olds were being drafted, things began to change.  "Old enough to fight, old enough to vote" became the rallying cry.  I think most of us were more interested in drinking than voting, but "Old enough to fight, old enough to get drunk" didn't have quite the same principled ring to it.

The 1969 draft lottery
The Voting Rights Act of 1970 lowered the minimum voting age to 18.  But the Supreme Court ruled that while Congress could allow 18-year-olds to vote in federal elections, it had no business setting standards for voters in state and local elections -- that was up to the states to decide.

In March 1971, the Senate voted 94-0 in favor of a Constitutional amendment lowering the voting age for all elections to 18.  (Can you imagine the Senate approving anything unanimously today?)  The House of Representatives voted 401-19 in favor of the proposed amendment only days later.  Within four months, the 26th Amendment had been ratified by three-fourths of the states, and so became law.

So much for the minimum voting age.  Let's move on to more important stuff -- the minimum drinking age.

Before 1970, most states prohibited the sale of alcohol to anyone under the age of 21.  (There were exceptions, most notably Kansas's wise decision to allow the sale of "non-intoxicating" 3.2% beer to me and my friends when we were 18.)

Between 1970 and 1975, 29 states lowered the minimum legal drinking age -- most often to 18, but sometimes to 19 or 20.  In 1973, Texas -- where I attended college -- lowered its minimum drinking age from 21 to 18.  Since I turned 21 in 1973, this didn't help me a bit.  Thanks for nothing, Texas.

Within a few years, studies indicated that lowering the drinking age had led to more traffic accidents involving teenagers.  (Did we really need studies to see that one coming?)  The states began to reverse course -- between 1976 and 1983, 16 states increased their minimum legal drinking age.

The federal government took care of the issue in 1984 by enacting the Uniform Drinking Age Act, which provided that any state that didn't ban the sale of alcohol to anyone under 21 would lose its share of federal highway funding.  

However, in most states, it is not illegal for minors to consume alcohol in private settings -- such as the home.  And as any 18-year-old knows, it's more fun to get drunk with good ol' Mom and Dad than just about anyone.

Here's a live performance of "I'm Eighteen" from 1971:

Click here if you want to buy the song from Amazon:

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