The Way We Weren't
It was called the lost decade, the un-decade, or the decade that got away. Fittingly, some of its greatest moments never happened. They are history, nonetheless.
The cosmic pattern was set in late 1973, when the comet Kohoutek was to light our night skies, portend the Second Coming, cause rains for frogs and who knows what all. It never really showed.
The same year, the Guru Maharaji Ji rented the Houston Astrodome for a rally, setting aside parking-lot space for flying saucers. They didn't show. So didn't 80,000 of the up-to-100,000 people the 15-year-old Perfect Master had expected.
In 1974, Richard Nixon didn't finish his term as president, one of the reasons being 18 minutes of silence on subpoenaed tapes of Oval Office converstions. Then Gerald Ford checked into the White House to give us WIN buttons (for Whip Inflation Now). Nobody wore them. Inflation sailed along merrily.
In 1976 we had the great swine flu non-epidemic. Civilization did not crumble before a menace called Eurocommunism (though it did tremble at the shutdown of the last assembly line for Cadillac convertibles).
The decade rang with predictions that California would slide into the ocean for its sins. But the San Andreas fault -- which came to be discussed as if it were a tragic flaw rather than a bit of geology -- continued to slumber. Granted, a 1972 quake killed 62 in Los Angeles, but it was so much less than the cataclysm that was predicted that it's been virtually forgotten.
Other great non-events of the 1970s: Billy Beer, mood rings, pet rocks, Perrier water, the toilet-paper shortage, and the reuniting of the Beatles. Lest We Forget
Let's not forget amusements such as a pie in the face of Jerry Brown; Fanne Foxe in the Tidal Basin and Wilbur Mills up the creek; two uncommonly honest presidents in the White House; Sugar Ray Leonard in the ring; record crowds at the King Tutexhibit; women at Annapolis; everybody in the habit of saying "Have a nice day," which became "Have a good one," by decade's end; commuters on the Washington subway at last; Liz Ray on the congressional payroll; Wayne Hays off it. Everybody
Not just Harry S Truman, Janis Joplin, Charles Linbergh, Duke Ellington, Pablo Picasso, Margaret Mead, Mao Tse-tung and John Wayne.
You remember Everybody. You used to read about Everybody in Life magazine and the Saturday Evening Post. Everybody thought the president was honest, knew the dollar would never be devalued, swiveled around inside hula hoops, admired J. Edgar Hoover and thought a woman's place was in the home.
Everybody didn't like something, but nobody didn't like Sara Lee.
Everybody was a media confection, of course, but Everybody had also become an article of faith.
By the mid-'70s, Everybody was brain dead, a gork, as they say in hospitals right before they pull the plug.
Nevertheless, Nixon looked for retinal contractions in the Silent Majority, and the media monitored fibrillations such as roller-skating disco and vans.
If you listened to all the voices telling you about Everybody, you got the idea that the male of the species was a gay macho urban cowboy ecologist dangling from a hang glider and talking about impotence on a CB radio.
Everybody was nobody, in short.
Everybody may have wanted happyending movies like "Rocky" and "Breading Away," but Everybody also wanted horror and disaster as in "the Excorcist," "Alien," Jaws," and "The Towering Inferno." How could Everybody listen to both the funky brooding of the Eagles, and the nastiness of punk rock?
Social critics such as Christopher Lasch finally pulled the plug by insisting that we were a nation of narcissists who cared about nobody but ourselves. But in our darkest hour of mourning, a savior appear, and seems to be reincarnating Everybody. At last, Everybody doesn't like something -- and it's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The Beat Goes On
In December 1969, we had Altamont, where the Rolling Stones, the Hell's Angeles and a fatal stabbing combined to ensmog rock in bad
But when we got James Taylor playing soft rock, Deep Purple playing heavy metal, David Bowie playing from somewhere in Space, Leon Redbone, Randy Newman, Dr. Hook and Kiss playing around.We got disco. We got tequila sunrises with the Eagles, sweet and sour with Fleetwood Mac.
But then, precisely 10 years after Altamont, we got 11 people crushed to death at a Who concert in Cincinnati. Lest We Forget
Gold chains and medallions nested in rugs of chest hair exposed by Qiana shirts peeled open nearly to the waists of burgundy double-knit polyester slacks framed by matching white plastic belts and shoes; plus Martin Mull asking the most significant menswear question of the decade: "Do leisure suits cause cancer?" Fashion
Forget about fashion, as in clothing. The big fashion story of the '70s was bodies, especially men's bodies.
Early in the decade, women leaped out of the closets of modesty to proclaim an interest in -- yea, obsession with -- male anatomy.
The low-rent way of flaunting one's liberation was to buy Playgirl or Viva magazine and admire the frontal male nudes. Far more chic, however, was to grit one's teeth with lust while admiring the ne-plus-ultra curvature of a tushie belonging to Rudolf Nureyey, generally agreed to be the greatest male ballet dancer in the world.
Tushies! Previously, the ideal male was the football mesomorph, with about as much curvilinear difinition as a refrigerator. Suddenly, jogging hit, and the ideal male was supposed to have legs knotted up like shilelaghs, a chest like a sweating xylophone and a face appropriate for modeling one of the latter stations of the cross.
(This trend is not to be confused with the strange clamor from early-decade feminists that men should cry more, that we'd all be happier if men wept behind the wheels of their semis, sobbed at stockholders' meetings.)
On the other hand, Arnold "The Austrian Oak" Schwarzenegger made body building so respectable that by 1979, women too were basting themselves with Mazola and flexing in spotlights with muscles of the size of baseballs ripping under the skin.
Feminine body-styles followed Laver's Laws, as put forth in "Modesty and Dress," by the late British historian James Laver.
"There is curious fact of social history . . . that the disppearance of corsets is always accompanied by two related phenomena -- promiscuity and an inflated currency."
Morals could hardly have been looser, nor inflation higher. and sure enough, as conservatism hit at the end of the '70s -- with feminists demonstrating against pornography and the government actually getting serious about inflation -- women were climbing back into girdles.
The other applicable Laver Law is: "It is one of the rules of an epoch of emancipation to have the waist in the wrong place, either very high as in 1800, or low as in 1925." Or low as in 1970, when well-cut jeans rose no higher on the hips than a tee on a golf ball. By 1979, the Waist was restored to . . . the waist.
And women, who were supposed to have tushies as tidy as Nureyev's in 1970, were buying padded panties -- fanny falsies -- in 1979. Lest We Forget
Red dye No. 2, the snail darter, the furbish lousewort, saccharin, all those cancerous laboratory rats, laetrile, "If you've seen one redwood you've seen them all," Smokenders, the ozone sheild, vinyl chloride, Three Mile Island, Save the Whales, "I Brake for Small Animals," bean sprouts, megavitamins. Happiness
A lot of Americans seemed to have a burr under the psychic saddle. In the '70s they took a cue from the burgeoning abortion lobby and began to talk as if happiness-on-demand were a Good-given right.
Like most Americans they thought it was a question of tools and technique. They turned to: tai chi, Rolfing, assertiveness training, encounter groups, primal screaming, Transcendental Meditation. Buddhist chanting and neo-revivalist organizations such as est, run by a former encyclopedia salesman who will no doubt be the only person in history ever to change his name to Werner Erhard.
It all seemed to start on the West Coast, where people even invented a jargon to talk about it all: "getting it" and "sharing space" and so on. Get it? I hear you.
The American Psychiatric Associaton did its part. It announced that homosexuality was not an illness, and it jettisoned the concept of "neurosis," as abruptly as Volkswagen dropped the Beetle from from its production line.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi held a flower and giggled on the Merv Griffin show. His way to bliss involved sitting with eyes closed 40 minutes a day and thinking a mantra.
Charismatic ministries won converts to Jesus.
The bliss game turned ugly, as it always does. Parents charged the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and a host of others with brainwashing their children. Then there was Rev. Jim Jones, Jonestown and Kool-Aid mixed with cyanide.
By 1979, a lot of people who'd looked for The Answer to unhappiness decided they'd been asking The Wrong Question. The Marketplace
Conspicuous consumption took strange turns in the hands of the ruling classes. Instead of flaunting their wealth with jewels and swimming pools, they created poverty chic.
They went berserk tearing the plaster off their walls to expose the beams, threw away worsted for riveted cotton denims, tore up front lawns to plant corn and spent thousands on what had hitherto been the badge of grinding poverty: the wood stove.
One no longer took out the garbage. One composted it. Raccoons loved poverty chic. Farmers stopped burning their tumble-down barns when they found that poverty sheiks would pay twice as much for old, weathered lumber as for new.
One no longer bought a little summer place. One bought a whole farm, preferably in some leached-out county in Maine. Pickup trucks had highest prestige, followed by the Volvo station wagon or an old Mercedes diesel, the older the better.
One read "Small Is Beautiful," by E.F. Schumacher and tried to take it in stride when Schumacher's advance men, shortly before his death, hired the entire Cow Palace in San Francisco so all his fans could hear him speak. Nobody could tell which was worse -- the Cow Palace, or the fact that the crowd was ridicuylously small. But beautiful. Lest We Forget
Masters and Johnson, drive-in porno flicks, Plato's Retreat, Larry Flynt, the hit Report, swinging, singles bars . . . that whole grimy, boring plus-cachange array of theories, hyperbole and excuses known as the new sexual freedom. Fun Couples
Fun couples were everywhere. Most conspicuous were gay males, who after early insistance on holding hands whenever the media were around, settled into domesticity as bland as anyone else's.
Fashionable straights lived together -- it was the '70s equivalent of going steady in the '50s except that it was not supposed to lead to marriage -- marriage being a cramp in one's life style, a stunting of personal growth and a narrowing of options.
It made sense. the '70s were a psychic holding pattern. At the end of the decade, it's hard to understand that we're 10 years older than when we started.
On the night of Nov. 17, Sam Brown, former antiwar activist and now lead of ACTION, married Allison Teal.
Except for their predisposition to heterosexuality, Brown/Teal embodied all of the best fun couple aspects of the decade.
For 11 years they'd kept their options open, ever since they met while Sam was helping lead Gene McCarthy's Children's Crusade in 1968. Then the antiwar movement. When the steam stopped rising off that, Brown repaired to Colorado, to become fluent in Eco-speak and small-is -beautiful-ese. He befriended Hunter Thompson, and got elected state treasurer. The right place, the right time -- Sam and Allison were always there.
In 1976, that strange national cult based on the worship of four-wheel-drive vehicles, John Denver and the Colorado shtick began losing membership. Sam's phone rang: the job at ACTION. Allison got a desk at Housing and Urban Development. Washington was proud to have them -- regarding them, rightly, as bellwethers.
So when word spread that they were getting married, we knew that the decade had come to that, at last. After all, Sam was 36, Allison 35.
One expected a small and private ceremony, of course, at their age and state of acquaintance.
There were five bridesmaids, a maid of honor, a ringbearer and a flower girl who strewed rose petals down the aisle. The couple even registered for patterns and department stores (the china was Haviland Vieux Paris, at $130 a place setting).
At the end of the ceremony, someone yelled "Bravo!" and the congregtion applauded, as well they might have. Age could not wither them, nor custom stale their infinit variety. With one stroke, they'd ended the '70s.
They honeymooned not in mountain tent, van or Buddhist monastery, but in Las Vegas. Watch out for the '80s, America. Lest We Forget
Redneck chick, cowboy boots, Willie Nelson, the apotheosis of truck drivers into the last American heroes, the explosion of country music into middle-class consciousness, the catastrophic and eerily cult-like mourning that followed the death of Elvis Presley, the election of a Georgia peanut farmer to the presidency, the Dallas Cowgirls and everybody using good-old-boy expressions, such as "I'm caught between the rock and the hard place," or, for that matter, "good old boy." Clasical Music
Mozart didn't write anything new. Neither did Verdi, Beethoven or Schoenberg. But then, nobody complained about shortages, especially when it came to Schoenberg. It was 50 years since Schoenberg invented the 12-tone scale and it still sounded avant garde.
That was the problem with the avant garde, we found out. It sounded (looked, read) so . . . avant garde. Nobody wanted to listen to John Cage beating a piano with a fish anymore. The avant garde was old fashioned. Only the most conservative of composers -- i.e. college professors -- persisted in zooming ever further beyond the ken of audiences. The audiences, meanswhile, demanded and got the neo-romantic revival.
New heroes: Gustav Mahler and Charles Ives, who didn't write anything new, either -- but nobody'd paid much attention to their old till now. a Literature
Except for best-sellers which nobody read all of -- Styron's "Sophie's Choice," or "The Best and the Brightest" by David Halberstam -- the decade belonged to the women.
One woman, it seemed. Weak after week, book review sections vied in a kind of literary tulip madness, touting yet another diary, biography, criticism or collection of letters of Virginia Woolf, usually accompanied by a new pen-and-ink drawing which made her face even more neurasthenically thin, her lips more drastically pendulous.
By 1979, there were 58 books in print about her, read, one suspected by female creative writing students enthralled with Woolf's dictum that all one needed to write was "a room of one's own."
Erica Jong added a grant of her own from the National Endowment, and celebrated anonymous sexual encounters in "Fear of Flying," only to be out-porned by a restaurant critic named Gael Greene in "Blue Skies, No Candy."
Anais Nin, the diarist, turned out to have turned out a bit of smut herself, and she published it as "Delta of Venus."
By decade's end, women in New York were demonstrating against pornography. Very confusing. It apparently had nothing to do with Virinia Woolf, who is not known to have written any.
Nor did she write any Gothic novels. That was Barbara Cartland, there, cranking out 20 a year with titles such as "The Heart Triumphant," and no dirty parts. Lillian Helman's memoirs inspired the Lillian Hellman Standing Ovation phenomenon. At the Academy Awards, for instance, crowds leapt to their feet, cheering her. No one has explained what they were seeking at that altitude.
No man could stand up to this gang.
Hunter Thompson, a male journalist evoked fear, loathing and laughter, wroter no porn, and got no standing ovations. Laid Back
We roared into the decade with opinions and libidos snapping like flags, flogging ourselves toward madness and other states of being appropriate for the drawing of the age of Aquarious. (Remember?) The idea, then, was to be an irrestistible force, to be completely "out front."
Now we're supposed to be immovable objects. This is known as being "laid back." It is like cool or apathy in the '50s. The only difference between apathy and laid back is that now we don't think it's a vice. J.D. Salinger
J.D Salinger, poet laureate of adolescent angst, turned 60.