There is a photograph on my desk at home of a group of 17- and
18-year-olds which embodies the spirit of camaraderie and a time which
seems ever so distant.
With each passing year that photograph gets older, and like a fine wine, the memories associated with that picture become sweeter with age. Time is frozen here, and this image of carefree youth and the good times it employed are forever preserved.
The photograph shows a few kindred souls whose harmonious fellowship is revealed in their smiles. It is a moment which captures the essence of a common bond, a togetherness unlike anything they will ever experience in adulthood.
The big-belled, Levis bluejeans, T-shirts, headbands and Converse sneakers are but vestiges of youth in the 1970s. It was a time of laughter, yet at times, one of sorrow. A generation of confusion, we held ourselves and our times loosely together, hoping for whatever good times our friends could bring.
We were '70s teen-agers, always bold and sometimes silly. We didn't know why and we really didn't care. Our generation was but a hangover from the '60s. We felt a burning desire within our hearts to protest. But an unpopular war was lost in 1975 and our predecessors claimed that protest for themselves. We didn't care. Our rebelliousness confused our parents, and their misunderstanding frustrated us. We were the "rebels without a cause," but we didn't realize it.
When we were young children, my generation grew up watching riots and war and assassinations on television. By the time we were in junior high Paul McCartney and Wings replaced the Beatles, the space program was slowly dying and a thing called Watergate was infecting the nation. As kids we began the assemblage of stereos, peace sign posters and orange, mushroom-shaped lamps.
Teen-age life for us presented more than the natural confusion inherent in hormonal development. Fostered by the images of TV and of untruths (for our own good) spoon-fed to us by our elders, the perplexities of life around us became even greater when we began to notice what was going on. It was no surprise when the Eagles, during a July 24, 1974, concert in Evansville, introduced their second hit "Already Gone" by saying, "this one's for President Nixon."
Ours was a time of mindless fun, a time in which we and Todd Rundgren looked for Something/Anything to do, a time when teen-aged boys sought "Sister Golden Hair" but got Farrah Fawcett posters. We wanted to "Listen To What The Man Said," but "Sweet Emotion" told us that "Young Americans" were "Born To Run." The Who gave us Tommy, the "Pinball Wizard," Jefferson Starship (Airplane was a stupid name, anyway) gave us "Miracles," and Kiss helped us "Rock and Roll All Night."
How could we not get lost in ourselves and our times when our parents were preening in polyester? How could we take anything seriously?
So we cruised the southern Indiana countryside after school and watched the sun fade from the hood of a 1972 Monte Carlo while Pink Floyd took us to the Dark Side of the Moon. We wore our painter's pants and platform shoes, kept wedging matchbooks under the eight-track tape deck so it would play Led Zepplin's Physical Graffiti and dreamed of girls in feathered-back hair.
Good-looking girls were "chicks," not "babes," and it always was "Hey, man!" not "Hey, dude." In the middle '70s we were awash with red, white and blue. The Bicentennial was cool, man, but what were we supposed to do? Most of us couldn't wait until we were old enough to escape parental authority; we longed to be, as Alice Cooper sang, "Eighteen." We were preoccupied with being together, being oursleves and altering our state of minds.
Steve Miller provided our graduation theme song, "Fly Like An Eagle." But his spaced out version of "Serenade" was a more accurate description of our dazed and confused times:
"Did you see the light as they fell all around you? Did you hear the
music of serenade from the stars?
Steve Miller also was right about something else: "Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin', into the future..."
Bernie Schmitt was kind enough to send us this swell personal essay after getting in touch with us through our email address: email@example.com. He's the editor of Currents, a Sunday newspaper supplement in the Vincennes, Indiana, Sun-Commercial, where this article first appeared three years ago.
We at Cosmic Slop felt like we knew those guys in the high-school classes of the late '70s (though they were many years older than us), because we saw images of them everywhere - tacked to bulletin boards in the Industrial Arts area (those peasant shirts and flares were probably pretty hazardous around belt sanders and reciprocating saws), hanging in the trophy cases (fro'd and moustachioed basketball players, feathered and tube-socked tennis players), or on the big 16mm screen, getting killed in driver's ed films.
Heck, in Spring Lake Park, where Joel grew up, the late '70s never really went away. The class of '84 was just as packed with El Camino-driving, Nuge-blasting Jackie Earle Haleys as the class of '74, and no doubt the class of '94 was much the same. Lost In Space indeed!
And we can't neglect to mention that "Serenade" is a really boss song! Right on, Bernie!
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