RIP 1970s

The 1970s were the decade of my childhood. It was a different time. No worldwide web and no cable TV. People consumed less mass media back then and if they did, it was probably around a Zenith TV with goofy knobs and an antenna. Very few folks had remotes. Attention spans were longer because it took genuine effort (getting up) to change a channel.

Now, I’m not trying to candy coat anything. The 1970s were a vapid era. No doubt about it. They were also a very innocent era which may seem counterintuitive when you think that we are talking about the age of swinging and radical chic. But just the fact that people considered engaging in those kinds of activities, conveys a certain innocence. Today we are all too damaged and cynical to get caught up in much. Back then folks were more naive.

As a kid, when I would go on trips with my family, we would all stay in one room, usually at a Holiday Inn. My mom and dad would stay up late watching Johnny Carson. I remember lying in my hotel bed watching that show and thinking, “this is grown-up entertainment”. My dad was a World War Two Vet. Johnny and Ed were his peers. Ed McMahon was a marine in World War Two and a hard drinking foil for Johnny Carson. My dad felt he was talentless. His sympathies were with Johnny.

Me? I always liked Ed McMahon. He looked a lot like my dad. I even liked Ed on Star Search. The thing about Ed was that he was just earning a pay check. He didn’t have much talent besides being an OK announcer. But he represented a kind of old school American guy that has disappeared. He died this week. I wish him well.

Farah Fawcett died this week too. How about the Farah Fawcett poster that literally launched a thousand boners? I was too young to appreciate Farah’s hotness but I remember that older brothers had that poster in their rooms and again, when I was at friends’ houses and saw it, it symbolized something about being older.

In fact, if you were cool in suburban 1978 era Saint Louis, you probably dug Corvette Stingrays, Ted Nugent and Farah Fawcett. You talked about which chick on Charlie’s Angels was the hottest (clue…it was never Sabrina) as if you ever, in a million years, had a chance with any of them. Farah was, for me, a pre-adolescent ideal of sexuality. Thrown into a mixing pot of 1970′s iconography along with Chewbacca, The Hamburgler, KISS, John Travolta and Olivia Newton John, she represented in a way, the pre-adolescent innocence of my childhood.

And Michael Jackson, who in many ways was as much an icon of the 1980s as the 1970s, passed away this week as well. Now, I am not going to fool myself into believing that Michael was some kind of musical genius. He wasn’t. He had a few good songs, Don’t Stop til you Get Enough being my favourite. As a kid, I remember him as an animated Hannah Barbera cartoon figure singing ABC and I remember finding the whole thing shrill and annoying. As a teen, I remember wanting to smash the TV every time I had to sit through all 15 minutes of that goddam Thriller video. Seriously. That thing was banal. And tedious. But Americans can be pretty banal and tedious as a whole and that thing had profound cultural relevance there. It was everywhere. Michael then followed this with 20 plus years of being an absolute freakshow. His death this week was a post-script. It’s amazing he lasted this long.

The public outcry that we are now witnessing, has more to do with a generation losing a piece of its identity and childhood than it does with the lyrics to Beat It. Generation X does not know how to handle its grief without going to a TV, a computer, a wireless device. Mass media will provide it with closure. After all, we were the first generation to come of age bathed in its digital light. We feel lost and adrift right now because in reality, we are. We can’t ever go back to that Holiday Inn with our parents, staying up late and watching Ed and Johnny. The moment is long gone.

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10 Responses to RIP 1970s

  1. Scott says:

    Well said. There was a lot to dislike about the 70′s – disco, Nixon, pet rocks, leisure suits… But I also have a lot of fond memories of the decade (punk, the ’79 Pirates, the ’78 Firebird Trans Am).

  2. ian says:

    Joe, erudite & observational as ever! You hit it spot on in yr line about Generation X not knowing how to handle its grief. The techno-age we are in blows me away with its desperate immediacy ala twitter, facebook, the net etc – there is no time lag, no space, really no opportunity to be unaware of ‘major’ happenings. That weird thing about being rushing itunes to but up Michael Jackson tracks – a piece of the Jackson legacy for $1.25; the no doubt endless debate on blogs etc, & no doubt the many conspiracy theories bouncing around…sheesh – all so damn exhausting in its NOW-ness. Oh for the days of snail mail, vinyl & my life size Blondie poster on my cupboard door!

  3. OTTO says:

    Joe, with you totally on big Ed and the Tonight show. Being allowed to stay up after the 11:00 local news to watch the Tonight Show monologue was almost a right of passage (son, you are a man now). And I, like you and many others, really didn’t get it at first… This is funny? This is entertaining? But I eventually became a big Johnny fan, and my appreciation of his humor and smooth style was like a barometer of my own maturity. These guys were just a different breed… pre cultural revolution, pre sexual revolution, pre political correctness.

    Farrah caught my eye pre-Angels during some episodes of Harry O (w David Jansen). She was a seriously gorgeous woman.

    Michael Jackson, genius? No, but ‘Off The Wall’ is one fine Disco/R&B record. Whatever….

  4. OTTO says:

    and now Fred Travelena is gone…. HE was a fucking genius.

  5. MRow says:

    All the MJ nonsense aside, it’s a been a terrible week in terms of icons (Farah) and heros (Sky) and just plain reassuring celebs (Ed that’s you) passing. All of us from a certain generation are noting it, in our own ways. One day they’ll all be gone. Thanks for the post, Joe.

  6. Jeff H. says:

    Well…yeah. I agree with/relate to this whole piece, and being © 1970 I can’t help but think of the ’70s as the Childhood Decade (as opposed to the Teenage Decade, the Irresponsible Semi-Adult Decade, and the Weighty Responsibility Decade).

    Re: the generational thing, I think everybody wants to feel a certain allegiance or unity with people their age (particularly when they reach a certain age, and see the next wave of humanity catching up behind them). It’s just a little harder when you belong to the original pack of Latchkey Kids.

  7. Joe says:

    I was born © 1970 and like you, I can easily cut my life into a “Childhood Decade”, “Teenage Decade”, “the Irresponsible Semi-Adult Decade” and “the Weighty Responsibility Decade” as well. I love that description by the way.

    The generational allegiances seems more important as your security blanket slips away..i.e. parents die, icons die, physical places you inhabited die. Plus there is truth in the fact that people of the same generation shared the same mutual experiences. That photo of Farah is going to mean something to anyone who came of age in the 1970s for instance.

    Like MROW says, “one day, they will all be gone” and there will come a time shortly where they will be passing away daily because there are so many of them. And as the original latchkey kids, celebrities and public figures were more important to us. Are we ready as a generation to publicly deal with the loss of our identity and childhood? This is what we were getting a taste of last week.

    Like Otto, I remember Johnny and Ed being a barometer of my own growing maturity. Now their both dead. What does that say about me?

    Generation X deals with its grief with 24/7 “news coverage”. Its like at an Irish wake when everyone says something about the departed except now everyone actually is “everyone” and it goes on for weeks, months…until we feel OK about it. Until we’ve desensitized ourselves. The immediacy of it IS exhausting.

    But we don’t really know how to talk to each other person to person, console each other person to person, support each other person to person…not like generations before us at least. So it is only fitting that we rely on “information channels” to make us feel better. As the original latchkey kids we were weaned on it.

    The irony that we are discussing this on a blog cannot be overlooked. We should all be having a beer somewhere and thinking this thing out!

  8. chris g says:

    for me, the death of Michael Jackson, King of Frivolity, will forever be overshadowed by Lux Interior, King of Bargain Bin Frivolity

  9. Bob Hopeless says:

    That was a beautiful post. It’s amazing sometimes how the mundane
    and trivial pop culture stuff can have the most powerful resonance in
    later years.

    Great blog by the way,and thanks for all the tunes.

  10. Ron Hotpad says:

    Well said. There was a lot to dislike about the 70’s – disco, Nixon, pet rocks, leisure suits…

    The best critics always talk about what is good…how easy to say something sucks. Putting joy into words…much harder.

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