That 70s Redux
“Sunshine day…everybody’s smiling…”
– The Brady Kids
Never a rainy day: doesn’t that sound unbelievable? But it’s true; I don’t remember a single cloudy or rainy day in the 70s. I remember after it rained, I even remember snow – but, always, it was sunny. Okay, maybe it seems ridiculous, but it’s true, and perhaps not so surprising, because I was very young…born in 1969, I had not yet reached my 11th birthday when this decade (currently & predictably glorified by pop culture) ended. Nonetheless – I will always remember the sun.
There is a veritable glut of 70s pages on the web today, a startling array of 70s fashions (I confess to an unhealthy obsession with platform shoes), 70s music, movies, memories – legions of thirty- and forty-somethings celebrating their experiences and dreams of two decades past. No less a trenchant cultural observer than Gore Vidal has noted the incessant tendency of the middle-aged (his phrase) to glorify their decade of youth. Why should I be any different? Try as anyone might, it’s difficult enough to recognize one’s cultural imperatives, let alone escape them.
So why do I remember the 70s as such the perfect, sunshiny, smiling decade? I have mulled over this question at my own instigation, at the instigation of my boyfriend (b. 1967, who sees no decade as having particular significance beyond any other), my mother (b. 1949, and thanks to whom I recognized the 60s as both more and less, better and worse, than portrayed in our nostalgia culture), my sister (b. 1973 and ceaseless yet subtly sarcastic cheerleader for the 80s) and anyone else who cares to hear my rants. So why am I not in thrall to the 80s, when I came of age? Why, in short, the 70s?
In a nutshell…purity. I am old enough to remember the 70s, but was not old enough at the time to analyze those years as they fluttered by. Certainly I can analyze in retrospect, but why bother? In those sunny years, I could experience multitudes, but I lacked the age, the knowledge, the desire, to examine such experience. So the decade remains for me very pure and untarnished…as, perhaps, everyone’s childhood should remain – or at least everyone whose childhood permits such innocent nostalgia. Everything, then, was a sun-warmed wash of data; I was a small recording device, and here is some of what I remember –
TV: the Krofft shows, of course – Sigmund & the Sea Monsters, Land of the Lost, Electra Woman & Dyna Girl; Sesame Street; The Electric Company; Zoom; the Banana Splits; Schoolhouse Rock; Ultraman; the Brady Bunch; Speed Racer; and to a lesser extent The Partridge Family; A Family Affair; The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman and Wonder Woman; The Love Boat and Fantasy Island; Hawaii Five-0; Little House on the Prairie; Saturday Night Live; Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys; the Donny & Marie Show. Some re-runs, some new programming, all integral. Speaking as one who knows me better than anybody, Alex thinks I spent way too many hours in front of the television as a child, but I have to say I don’t think that’s the case. Other than Saturday mornings, I think I was allowed to watch a few weekday evening shows and not much else. I just seem to have an intense memory of all the shows.
Music: how to explain the way a child hears (adult) music? I remember nights traveling between my beloved grandparents’ home in Maine and our abode in Maryland, lying in the back of our van, that wonderful boxy icon of the decade, immersed in the sounds on the radio: disco, the Alan Parsons Project, ELO, Stevie Wonder, the Steve Miller Band, Led Zeppelin, Pablo Cruise, Thelma Houston, Donna Summer, Earth Wind & Fire. I offer the following revelation: I owned a Shaun Cassidy 45 (does anyone born after my generation even know what a 45 is?). I knew all the words to the Schoolhouse Rock songs – and still remember most of them.
I wore bell-bottoms and thought it looked cool to have a comb in my back pocket, although combs proved to be a dangerous accessory in my white-afro hair. Disco music and movie ads made me wonder, vaguely, about the unbearable hipness of the adult world and how I would fit into it. “Stairway to Heaven” sent an odd yet perversely delicious chill down my spine. I gazed at Leif Garrett, and Ultraman’s human counterpart Hayata, and Harrison Ford’s dashing Han Solo, and re-runs featuring suave yet silly Desi Arnaz – I don’t remember now, but one of the four was my first crush.
So it was sunny…I watched my fair share of television…I listened to the radio in those halcyon pre-MTV days. And now I am an “adult” turned 30 (or was it my 2nd annual 29th birthday? I still haven’t decided), and I am utterly shocked by how much of my childhood has returned to stare levelly into my eyes. So maybe this essay, memoir, whatever it is, doesn’t have a point. Maybe I should let it remain a virtual warehouse of my past, with many doors to many rooms. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll keep updating & remembering, and remembering & updating, living in the present yet still tipping my hat to the sunshine days of the past…