Tag Archives: 1970s

Flower Power

Born in 1968, a very tumultuous year that saw Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated, My Lai, and Vietnam War protests worldwide, I’m drawn to memoirs and novels set during the 1960s and 1970s, my own formative years.

Here are a bunch that I loved.

space Space: A Memoir by Jesse Lee Kercheval

Novelist Kercheval was ten when her father accepted a job in Cocoa Beach, Florida in 1966, home of Cape Canaveral. Amid the excitement of the space launches, the story of how her family fell apart and her beloved sister’s attempt to hold them all together is moving and poignant.


Paper Wings by Marly Swick

Suzanne Keller grows up watching helplessly as her beautiful mother’s fragile happiness is fractured by JFK’s assassination and her own unresolved ghosts from the past, while the Beatles rose to stardom and the Vietnam war raged on. Her anxious and fervent belief that she can somehow save her mother is both heart wrenching and powerful.


An Egg on Three Sticks by Jackie Fischer

In the early 1970s, in San Francisco, Abby is thirteen and just wants to be a teenager. But her life spirals out of control as her mother’s nervous breakdown shatters her family.


The Summer of Naked Swim Parties by Jessica Anya Blau

In 1976 California, fourteen year old Jamie gets her first boyfriend, hangs out with her two best friends smoking cigarettes and tanning, while her free-wheeling parents throw naked swim parties, much to her eternal embarrassment.


The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

In a tony Detroit, Michigan suburb in the early 1970s, the local teenage boys become obsessed with the five beautiful Lisbon sisters, whose claim to fame is that they all committed suicide.


A Ticket to Ride by Paula McLain

Before her phenomenal novel, The Paris Wife, McLain penned this provocative novel. Awkward and shy fifteen year old Jamie lives with her uncle in 1973 Illinois when her older, mysterious cousin, Fawn, comes for a summer visit. Fawn’s risky behavior and dangerous influence lead to tragedy. See also McLain’s painful memoir of growing up in foster homes in the 1970s, Like Family: Growing Up in Other People’s Houses.


A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne

During the summer of 1972, in Spring Hill, Maryland, nine year old Marsha breaks her leg and, with time on her hands, chronicles her parents’ divorce, her teenaged siblings’ shoplifting adventures, and the murder of a boy in her class in her notebook (shades of Harriet the Spy?). When a quiet, unassuming man moves into the house next door, her imagination runs wild as she comes to believe he is the murderer. The repercussions of her actions and that summer resonate long into adulthood.


The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

In 1973, fourteen year old Susie Salmon is murdered by a neighbor; the entire novel is her point of view about her murder and the effects on those she left behind. Very creepy.

~Maria, who once owned a mood ring, crushed on Shaun Cassidy, and saw all the Star Wars movies first run.


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A Sense of Place

There are certain films that are dear to me, not due to plot or characterization, but more because they so effortlessly capture a sense of place—the way a particular landscape or cityscape looks in a given time and place. There are many fine films capturing New York in the seedy 1970s, including Taxi Driver, Saturday Night Fever, Annie Hall, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Warriors. For a glimpse at the Bronx and other parts of New York circa 1981, the great documentary Style Wars can’t be beat.


Just last weekend I ran across an odd and fascinating film called On the Bowery that reaches even further back into New York’s checkered history. Filmed in 1956, the director spent months on the Bowery (known as New  York’s skid row at the time) drinking with its inhabitants, and then writing a screenplay with said inhabitants that would reflect their day-to-day life. For this reason, the film plays like a fictionalized documentary, and is largely without plot or character arc. For most of the film’s 65 minutes, men wake up in some hazy late-afternoon time, head to the bar, and then drink until they fall asleep on the street—or if they’re lucky, in a flop house. There are maybe only one or two women glimpsed in the film’s entirety, and only one scene I can think of where people eat actual food (as opposed to drink). It’s a rarely screened film that has just made its way to DVD after being restored, and is touted by none other than Martin Scorsese as, “a milestone in American cinema… On the Bowery is very special to me… Rogosin’s film is so true to my memories of that place and that time. He accomplished his goal, of portraying the lives of the people who wound up on the Bowery, as simply and honestly and compassionately as possible. It’s a rare achievement.” I imagine Mr. Scorsese is probably right, and this probably is one of the most honest portrayals of what life was like in down-and-out New York around this time; for this reason I would recommend giving the film a try, even if it can be hard to watch at times.

Another favorite “place movie” of mine is Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train, but I’ll save that film for a future post. How ’bout you? Do you have a favorite film about a specific place or city?



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Disco Sucks!

I grew up on Long Island in the late 70s/early 80s, when one could see that slogan in graffiti everywhere. My friends and I were firmly in the “rock” camp, although this did not preclude me from surreptitiously seeing Prince’s Purple Rain or purchasing an Adam Ant record. One friend was a Rolling Stones fan, another, a Jimi Hendrix aficianad0, and still another was constantly blasting the Doors from her HUGE boom box. My favorites at first were Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, and later Frank Zappa and King Crimson, which I listened to through my headphones on my stereo system in my room.

Ah, those were the days of the vinyl record, when you could lie on the floor and study the relatively large album covers. I use the adjective “vinyl” before the word “record” so that you, the reader, would know what I mean; in those days we just said “record” and knew what that referred to. We were all so righteously against anything “pop.” We deplored the Studio 54 club scene and its clothing style. Yes, I felt this way too, even though one of my very first record purchases was the seminal Saturday Night Fever, when I was twelve.

Then the music video revolution came along. I still remember the very first videos I ever saw. I slept over at a friend’s house to watch the movie Woodstock on HBO.  Right afterwards two videos from Devo aired: “Satisfaction” and “Jocko Homo” (Are we not men?).  We were dumbfounded. Not only did we not have the words “music video” in our vocabulary, but we had never heard music like that before; we talked about how weird it was for weeks. MTV exploded all over America, even making its way to a TV installed in our local deli/hangout, “Eat Joe’s Hogie” [sic]. A clever friend dubbed it “MTVoid” and thought up alternate lyrics to songs we were subjected to over and over, such as “We got big feet!” for the Go-Gos’  “We Got the Beat,” and other less blog-friendly quips.

While disco evolved into MTV new wave, we anti-pop-rock kids were developing a taste for hardcore punk or prog rock. Your high school years are often the ones in which the music you listen to defines you as a person. While I enjoyed going to CBGBs in the city with my punk rock boyfriend to see his band play with bands like The Cro-Mags and Agnostic Front, I retained my own musical identity by keeping my hair extremely long, wearing deliberately unfashionable clothes (hip-hugger elephant bell bottoms), and listening to jazz fusion and prog rock bands like Return to Forever, Gentle Giant, and Gong. I was always amused that a group of people so adamant about saying how non-conformist they were actually conformed just as much to their punk style as any other adherent of any other musical style. The girls in the bathroom didn’t talk to me until I let my friend’s sister’s boyfriend give me a mullet.

A good twenty or thirty years later, I am nostalgic to hear any disco, new wave or classic rock song that comes my way, regardless of the genre, and I happily sing along to old songs to which I mysteriously know every word.



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