That 70s flow.

Categories:  Favorite Songs & Artists, Life, Memories

When I think back on my childhood in the 1970s and early 1980s, I am sometimes overwhelmed with synaesthetic memories of music, recalling not just a specific song or lyric or instrumental riff, but along with those elements, a whole embodiment of vibe and emotion, an endless loop of colors and lights sliding by like the reflections on the inside of a windshield, car in motion, heading back up Garden State Parkway from the shore. I hear the sweet piano and harmonica opening of Bruce Springfield’s “Thunder Road” and I am there again, in the back seat of some girlfriend’s vehicle (American-made, two long heavy doors, sticky vinyl seats, borrowed from her mother who will spend the day holding her breath until we all get home in one piece). I am gritty from a day at the beach, comfortable in my heat-soaked skin as I smile and wave flirtatiously, along with the other backseat girls (two, three, four of us crammed in there), at some cute older guys in a Jeep driving next to us. Their smooth tanned hides shine like diamond dust in the slanted late-afternoon sunlight.

Inside my skinny little ribcage a chasm as big as the ocean has opened up. I feel like the whole world and everything I might want is right there in front of me, because it is.

David Bowie’s “Heroes” comes on the air, with that corkscrew of a synth intro. For years and years, anytime I was walking by myself down the sidewalks of Manhattan, I’d look down at my groovy retro boots and imagine my eyes were a movie camera and this was the title sequence, one foot in front of the other, firmly and ever moving forward, my steps synched to that song. We shall be heroes for ever and ever. I was as pure of heart as a hippie, imagining all good things. Back at home my parents railed, from fear and ignorance but mostly fear. You must you must you must. Major in pre-med or computers. Get a high-paying job. Marry a nice Christian Indian boy. Refrain from cursing. Refrain from drinking. Refrain from sex. Refrain even from friendship, because who needs friends when you have family? This is America!” was my retort, meant to be a one-line instant refutation of all their misguided beliefs. I will do whatever I want with my life, and then, if I’m bored, after ten years I’ll choose a new path and do that, instead!

In those years I hated Ronald Reagan, and largely still do, but now I can look back and see how I, too, was deeply invested in the hope-filled American narrative he peddled so expertly, the belief that we lived in the greatest and best and freest place on earth, where all our visions could come to fruition if only we dreamed big dreams and applied our talents wisely. In a way, my life up to this point is still a reflection of that wide-open feeling, a 70s-style self-confidence that clearly no longer exists in our post-9/11, post-financial-crash, fear-driven culture today. (I have proceeded exactly as I intended to: doing one kind of work for some number of years, then moving into another field altogether, and holding out the possibility that I might have a third or even fourth career switch by the time I’m done with living.)

But it’s ironic that the beliefs and values of my parents, as money- and security-focused immigrants, are now the beliefs and values of Americans in general. Everyone is anxious and nervous about the future, quietly fearful that our children won’t survive in the world we’ve botched for them. Pure-of-heart me, included.

Childhood in the 70s, soundtrack by FM radio. The bittersweetness of the music registered to me in only a very superficial way. I was savvy enough to know that Springsteen’s anthem and Bowie’s call to arms contained complications and ironies. “Waste your summer praying in vain/For a savior to rise from these streets./Well, I’m no hero, that’s understood./All the redemption I can offer, girl, is beneath this dirty hood.” But savvy isn’t the same as wise. At fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, I heard Clarence Clemmons’ wailing saxophone and took it as a call forward, an invitation to hope. Thirty years later I think back and the music floods back to me and I know there was always, always more to the story. I was just too young to hear it. “The door’s open, but the ride, it ain’t free.”

  • Beautiful!

    • Thanks, Steve. Been rattling around in my head a while, and I finally got a chance to pin it down on the “page.”