Monday, February 10, 2014

HAPPY 40th BIRTHDAY 1974

HAPPY 40th
BIRTHDAY 1974
__________________________

As a 50-pluser
struggling to
navigate through
today's high-
tech iWorld,
I never will
forget my dear
old friend,1974.
__________________________

Numerous people have inquired over the years about the significance of the "74" found in so many of my email addresses and Internet usernames. Although it is a reference to 1974, it wasn't the year in which I was born. Truth be told, I remain obsessed with 1974 simply because it was THE greatest year ever!

I exited the 5th grade, entered the 6th grade and turned 12, all during 1974. And for my generation, I believe that the year marked the end of our innocence — the final days before facing our all too certain future teenage challenges.

Yes, it was a magical time — a simpler time. If a parent takes away his or her son or daughter's iGadget in today's world, that kid will go instantly into nuclear meltdown mode — screaming in agony — I'M BORED! But back in 1974, we had no Internet. Heck, we only had three television channels to choose from and they all typically went off the air at midnight. In fact, the only "gadget" I had in 1974 was the little AM radio that I'd zip-tied to the steering wheel of my customized bicycle. Yet I don't recall  ever being "bored."  We played — outside — all day — with other humans. We also listened to records, collected trading cards and walked to and from school, uphill, both ways — safely.

My 5th grade class photo at 
Horace Mann Elementary in 1974.
(Can you spot me?)
In 1974, the vast majority of my friends in Springfield, Missouri still lived in their first houses. For the most part, we all still had our first pets, and our parents were still living and still married. Additionally, our parents spent time doing stuff with us — family vacations, boating and fishing expeditions and camping trips.

But even parents in 1974 needed a little occasional down time, and for me and many of my elementary school peeps, that meant frequently getting dropped off on the weekends at the local  skating rink. I recall countless Friday nights, rollin' with my crew — Joe Deskin, Kerry Middleton and Brad Pitt. (Yes, that Brad Pitt!) And it was during one of those infamous Friday nights at Skateland when I first faced female rejection.

Sis was a "bad girl" who hung out with a pack of other notorious 6th grade "bad girls" — and they may or may not have smoked cigarettes. I, on the other hand, was a naïve church boy — okay, I was a nerd with a bowl haircut and horn-rimmed glasses. Sis had long, sandy blond hair and seductive green eyes. She always wore sneakers, faded bell-bottom blue jeans and a dirty-looking denim jacket. Simply put, Sis was a 12-year-old goddess. One Friday night in 1974, I got up the nerve to approach Sis and ask her to join me in a couple's skate. As a distinct look of contempt crossed her face, Sis pulled back her head, honked up a loogie, and spit it in my face. I took that to mean "no." I suddenly became less interested in Sis after that night.


I spent a lot of time going to the movies in those days. Released late in 1973, The Sting, Papillon and American Graffiti were among my favorites in 1974. Gee, no zombies or children killing each other? What was Hollywood thinking?

1974 also brought a bumper crop of soon-to-be classics to the small screen. Iconic sitcoms such as Happy Days and Good Times, as well as the much-loved dramatic series Little House on the Prairie and The Rockford Files all made network debuts that year. However, for my money, the pick of the litter was the short-lived TV version of the popular Planet of the Apes film franchise. Although General Urko was a badass who frightened me, he still was darn cool.

And speaking of darn cool, my hero Evel Knievel's mega-hyped and ill-fated  Snake River Canyon rocket jump took place on September 8th.

1974 also was the year when the Ralston Corporation introduced the greatest breakfast cereal of all time — Freakies. (Imagine Cap'n Crunch shaped like Cheerios.) Indescribably delicious, Joe Deskin and I devoured the  crunchy-sweet delicacy, cases at a time! and I can still sing the catchy Freakies theme song. Wanna hear it?


Then there was the craze known as Wacky Packages. From Peter Pain Peanut Butter to Mrs. Klean kitchen cleaner to Crust Toothpaste, the hilarious sticker / trading cards spoofed an endless slew of American products. By 1974, "Wackys" had become such a bona fide obsession that we named our baseball team, The Wacky Packers. Given our economically challenged  backgrounds, the Packers couldn't afford authentic Little League uniforms. Hence, our makeshift uniforms consisted simply of blue jeans and plain white T-shirts with popular Wacky Packages spoofs emblazoned on the fronts. Mine was, rather appropriately, AJERX.

And speaking of crazes, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention the "Streaking" sensation that swept the nation in the spring of 1974. Don't look, Ethyl! 

But it wasn't all fun and games in 1974. It also was a time of healing for our country. Faced with the disgrace from the Watergate scandal, Richard M. Nixon was the first U.S. president to resign from office. Having been sworn in (mid-term) as Vice President just eight months earlier, Gerald Ford succeeded Nixon on August 9th. And for the first time in American history, a man occupied the White House who'd never been elected to our nation's highest office.

Todd Rundgren live, circa 1974.
But despite all of the social and cultural hoo-ha, what I remember most fondly about 1974 was the incredible music. And from the high-energy rock of Grand Funk Railroad and Black Oak Arkansas to early disco hits by The Hues Corporation and Barry White to singer / songwriter classics from Cat Stevens and Carly Simon, I loved it all.

But one song in particular stood out in the crowded Class of '74. The local radio stations in Springfield typically were a few months behind national programming trends. As a result, Todd Rundgren's Top Five smash "Hello It's Me" didn't enter my radar until early 1974. This heart-felt, mid-tempo song addressing an impending break-up was, and still is, pure magic. Simply put, it's the greatest pop song of all time — case closed. And when I think back on the year 1974, the first thing that always comes to my mind is "Hello It's Me." Bravo, Todd!

So thanks for the memories, 1974, and congrats on reaching the big 4-0. You may have achieved a milestone, but to me, you'll always be that beautiful and carefree little girl in pigtails who sat next to me in Mrs. Rephlo's class. And I'll never forget you, baby!

-Christopher Long
(February 2014)


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