Pasadena, California

The Little Old Lady From Pasadena by Jan & Dean

Well, she's gonna get a ticket now sooner or later
'Cause she can't keep her foot off the accelerator
In the UK, they call them the "Blue Rinse Brigade," elderly women - who are extremely conservative, refuse to accept any change, and vote in a block like it's life or death - so named for the blue tint they put in their hair after it turns gray.

In the United States we have similar demographics. Southern Florida and Southern California both tend to accumulate these types. This is caused by a number of factors: Women tend to outlive men by a few years, so you end up with lots of lone widows. Women who have finished raising a family encounter the Empty Nest Syndrome and decide to adopt their community as activist grannies rather than quietly filling out their lives in bingo parlors. Middle-class and wealthy people tend to retire to the sunbelt of the US, especially if they were born and bred up north.

Pasadena City Hall, CaliforniaPasadena City Hall, California
And widows often inherit their husband's belongings, including the guy toys. In the 1950s and 1960s, a racy car was the ultimate status symbol, especially for retired men having their midlife crisis. Picture the granny who inherits this huge shark of a Packard 250 Convertible that's been chop-shopped into a drag race machine straight out of American Graffiti, with a little more power than she can confidently direct, and she's so short she can just barely see over the dashboard.

The sum total effect: If you spent a lot of time driving in the northeast Los Angeles County area, particularly in the aging communities like Glendale, Altadena, or even Pasadena, odds were good that you'd be rear-ended at a stop-light at least once, only to turn around and see this Buick Roadmaster smashed into your back end and a wrinkled little dear in a color-coordinated skirt-suit gingerly disembarking and muttering, "This is my husband's car, see. My foot could barely reach the brake pedal." Oh, and every year a float in the Tournament of Roses Parade gets held up by a granny who couldn't read the detour signs and just blunders right into a marching band. Fun times.

That's the moment which Jan and Dean chose to parody with The Little Old Lady from Pasadena in 1964, right at the tail end of the time when doo-wop surf music was on its way out. It's just as well; Jan and Dean and the Beach Boys tended to be blended together so much that nobody could tell one from the other. Today, all surf-era music is made by the Beach Boys as far as the public mind is concerned, and bands like The Sunrays, The Rivieras, and Jan and Dean are forever consigned to their shadow, even though Jan and Dean predate the Beach Boys and the same guy (Roger Christian) wrote many songs for both.

In case you can't tell, there was huge cross-over between '50s car culture and '60s surf culture. The two blended together into surfing ballads on the sea and drag-racing ballads on land, typically involving a lot of driving back and forth between Los Angeles and Huntington Beach on Beach Boulevard in a woody, cherry kind of car with surfboards sticking out of the back. And be sure to bring your Beach Blanket Bingo.

It may seem a little too white-washed now, but it was better to base a music genre then on cars and surfing than on drugs and gangs, like we do now.

Pete Trbovich
July 17, 2010

Comments: 4

  • Johnna from KansasI was born in Pasadena. I love California
  • Daniel Lopez from SeattleWhen I was in 1st grade(1963-64) I read a story about a little old lady who drove a Model T like car in the daytime. But at night some maniac in a hot sports car would speed around town. No one knew it was the same little old lady. One day a young couple were on the way to the hospital to have a baby. I dont remember why but they ended up stranded by the side of the road, then the sports car pulled up and the driver wearing a helmet and goggles motioned them to get in and got the couple to the hospital in record time. The sports car roared off before they could thank the driver. Later the couple were walking with the baby when the little old lady came puttering by in her old car and waved at the young couple. They were puzzled because as far as they knew they'd never met her. The song always reminds me of that children's book nearly 6 decades later
  • Mike from Kansas CityI had heard (I believe from Jan and Dean) that the phrase was a cliché used by the area's used car salesmen of the day; that a car was barely used because it used to belong to a little old lady from Pasadena.
  • Marcm from South PasadenaMy stomping grounds! I remember seeing them around when I was growing up. They are still around, too, but the cars are not as cool.
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