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Exhibit brings Wolfman, boomer generation to life

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Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Museum of the Albemarle invites you to celebrate the opening of a new exhibit, “The Boomer List: Photographs by Timothy Greenfield Sanders” next Saturday, beginning at 11 a.m.

The exhibit was developed by the Newseum in collaboration with AARP. The Newseum, an interactive museum covering the history and on-going developments in the news industry, is located in Washington, D.C. AARP is the exclusive sponsor of The Boomer List exhibit. Learn more by visiting newseum.org and aarp.org.

The exhibit focuses on the contributions of the Boomer Generation, those Americans born between 1946 and 1964, using the classic coming of age film, American Graffiti. “Where were you in ’62?” is the question the film’s narrator, Wolfman Jack, poses to the audience. The legendary radio personality Wolfman Jack guides the teen characters through their final night of juvenile, summer revelry before each depart for post-high school, “adult” endeavors.

Wolfman Jack was born Robert Weston Smith in the Brooklyn borough of New York City on Jan. 21, 1938. Smith began his radio career in the 1960s, broadcasting from Norfolk, VA, and Shreveport, LA, under different pseudonyms before developing his signature “Wolfman Jack” character.

Beginning in 1963, Smith became a fixture at XERF-AM, a Mexican radio station just south of the U.S. border. This radio station had less regulation and more powerful equipment than the American counterpart. For the first time, Wolfman Jack’s nightly show could be heard throughout the U.S.

Smith spun rhythm and blues records by artists like Aretha Franklin and James Brown, before they gained popularity on American stations. Smith had a distinct, baritone voice. As Wolfman Jack, he croaked suggestively across the radio waves, often peppering his commentary with wild howls appropriate to his lycanthropic persona. This alternate personality became so popular that Smith legally changed his name to Wolfman Jack.

Wolfman Jack is often considered an important predecessor to “shock jock” celebrities like Howard Stern. Wolfman Jack’s voice acted like a siren call to American teenagers. They could safely explore subversion with the flick of a wrist and a turn of a knob.

Wolfman Jack had an impressive reach. He left an indelible mark on young George Lucas. Before Star Wars, when Lucas was challenged to create a heart-felt film, he took a nostalgic turn towards his California youth. Lucas wrote American Graffiti with Wolfman Jack especially in mind. Lucas vividly recalled Wolfman’s voice blasted from the diners and drive-throughs he frequented as a teen. In accordance with his memories, Wolfman Jack’s voice spills from the cars cruising across the California Valley town depicted in American Graffiti. Even as Wolfman Jack was himself not a Boomer, the film suggests that Wolfman Jack was the voice of the Boomer Generation.

Wolfman Jack retired to the Albemarle region in 1989, sixteen years after American Graffiti debuted in theaters. Wolfman Jack’s wife, Lou Lamb Smith, affectionately referred to as “Wolfwoman” on air, hails from Belvidere. Wolfman Jack’s voice could be heard in syndication until his death in 1995.

Jessica Cosmas is an Artifact Collections Specialist at Museum of the Albemarle.

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