By Ed Pierce
The 1970s seem to be everywhere these days, as nostalgia for that decade has grown in popularity through television shows such as “That 70s Show” and films like “The Tender Bar.” As someone who lived through that era in America though, I’m kind of ambivalent about longing for the “good old days” of long lines at the gas station, the Watergate Scandal, the rise of disco music, tube socks, Pop Rocks, Vinny Barbarino, and platform shoes.
As a college student paying for my own education in the early
1970s, I embraced my lifestyle of poverty, existing on a miniscule budget that
afforded few luxuries. I recall trips to the grocery store to purchase a week’s
worth of meals that typically included a Kraft Spaghetti Dinner box (came with
spaghetti, sauce powder mix, and a small package of parmesan cheese all for 37
cents); two packages of hamburger (one for making porcupine meatballs with rice
and the other to go with a package of $1.29 Hamburger Helper); and several
Swanson Fried Chicken TV dinners at $1.54 each.
John Travolta got his big break as an actor by portraying
low-achieving high school student Vinny Barbarino on
the television series 'Welcome Back Kotter' in the 1970s.
One of the finer aspects of living in a college town in the 1970s was being able to plunk down $2 and attend a double feature at the movie theater. I could spend all evening there and the little money I had left over from the grocery store went toward admission, popcorn, Junior Mints, and a Coca Cola.
The theater offered a balcony and I usually headed up there for the unobstructed views of the movie screen. The combination of films shown at this theater were eclectic. Once I watched a double feature starting at 6 p.m. of “M*A*S*H” with Donald “Sutherland” and “Patton” with George C. Scott and didn’t get home until well after midnight. On my birthday in 1972 I remember watching a double feature of “The Poseidon Adventure” with Gene Hackman and “The Cowboys” with John Wayne.
Music for me in the 1970s came from one of three sources. The first was my collection of vinyl records, while another was through my car’s AM radio. Later in the 1970s I replaced that radio with a tuner that included a FM radio and an 8-track tape player.
I remember purchasing the vinyl album “Honky Chateau” by Elton John in the summer in 1972 and taking great care not to scratch it while playing in on my turntable. I also had an assortment of 8-track tapes that included bands such as Three Dog Night, 10cc, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Grass Roots, Electric Light Orchestra, Heart, Steely Dan, and The Doobie Brothers. The pride and joy of my 8-track collection was “Hot Rocks 1964-1971” by The Rolling Stones. Unfortunately, that 8-track tape would always stop and make an annoying clicking sound before continuing on to the next refrain of Mick Jagger’s classic “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
Fashion-wise, I owned my fair share of bell-bottomed trousers and tie-dyed T-shirts. I once owned a sporty pair of light plum-colored bell bottoms that had to be relegated for garden work only after I accidentally plastered redwood stain all over them. My wardrobe also included a pair of brown plaid bell bottoms and gold corduroy pants that were so wide at the bottom they could be employed as the mainsail on a sailboat if needed. For some reason, my closet was always filled with chambray denim shirts along with an array of colorful polyester print, striped polos and knit shirts.
My bookshelf was filled with authors I found fascinating at the time, including Tommy Thompson’s true-crime novels “Blood and Money” and “Serpentine.” I also belonged to the Reader’s Digest Condensed “Book of the Month” Club and that’s how I read Taylor Caldwell’s “Captains and the Kings” long before it became a popular TV mini-series starring Richard Jordan and Patty Duke. That format also is how I was able to afford and read “Jaws” by Peter Benchley, Frederick Forsyth’s spy thriller “The Odessa File” and “The Stepford Wives” by Ira Levin.
For me the 1970s happened to be when I got my first job in journalism and learned dances such as “The Bump” and “The Hustle” and how to sign “YMCA.” In the 1970s I voted for president for the first time, chewed “Freshen-Up” gum, owned a lava lamp, and grew my hair down to the small of my back.
I watched “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “The Bionic Woman” every week on television and had the popular poster of Farrah Fawcett in a swimsuit hanging on the door of my clothes closet. I applauded every time Rick Barry made an underhand free throw for the Golden State Warriors and cheered every time Jim Plunkett threw a touchdown pass for the New England Patriots to Randy Vataha.
In hindsight, the 1970s were my formative years and ones where I learned a great deal about life, responsibility and what it means to be an adult.
It was indeed a much different time from the day and age we live in now. While I understand the nostalgia many people feel for the 1970s, I’m not sure I would want to go back there. <