I went grocery shopping last night after work. Exhausted though I was we were completely out of food and I’d gone to work in the morning with a stale croissant from Safeway and Starbucks (possibly the worst supermarket and worst coffee franchise ever) so I was resolute in my desire to fill a shopping cart with a basket of good food from a different food chain. Taking my time I was drawn to the magazine rack as I strolled by leaning heavily on the handle of the cart. People Magazine had put out one of its glossy special editions “Celebrate the 70’s“. The cover features the Bee Gees, Farah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Marlon Brando in The Godfather, Bo Derek, and Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in Grease. The back cover is: Mary Tyler Moore, Richard Nixon, Mark Spitz, Star Wars, Patty Hearst, Donna Summers, David Cassidy, Burt Reynolds, and the Village People. I mention the cover images in detail because with the exception of Mark Spitz I could, without hesitation, name very single celebrity on the cover and the movie or show they were famous for or being featured in. This is particularly a feat considering Bo Derek was pretty much solely a phenomena of the 70’s – known for one bouncing boob moment and a, at the time, unusual hair style. It’s also amazing because if you gave me a cover of the 80’s, 90’s, or the 00’s I would be lucky if I got 25%.
Much as I thought I hated the 70’s at the time it is clear from this example that I am a child of the 70’s. While I was born in the 60’s and have always sort of revered that particular decade and felt the one that followed was really a pallid and sometimes laughable shadow of the previous epoch shattering decade, it is the 70’s that stand out in my mind with a clarity that no other set of years will ever achieve – no matter how important personally to me. It’s truly the nature of the beast that is called human. When we come of age is, for the majority of us, marked permanently in our brains in a way that no other time of our life ever really can match. We are marked forever by the intensity of our youth. We are moving from childhood to adulthood on a cresting wave of hormones and adventure. The life in front of us is full of the unknown and of promise. We are actualized hope and we soak up life like a sponge.
As artists, whether writers, painters, poets, musicians, or sculptors, we need to soak up the world around us with the same intensity all the time. For those of us mature in years enough to have gotten some distance from the decade of our awakening the line might seem quite clear from when we were almost entirely alert (though maybe not terribly self-aware) to the years that followed when, no matter how we tried, the lights became less bright, and the world started rushing past us so fast we couldn’t hope to catch every image, every emotion. We all get tired out from so many hours spent washing the same dishes, going to the same supermarket, working the same job, but as artists we have to recapture the wide-eyed all-encompassing gaze of our youth. Your mind should be like a camera recording snapshots of life that you can paste into the album of your work. Age is what makes the selection of the images more discriminating.
I bought the special edition of People Magazine only to find that what I had once found to be banal and boring (oh the irony that when we are most awake we are also at our most opinionated and jaded!) to be bright, full of hope, and yes, even innocence. The 70’s now seem to me to be halcyon compared to the decades that followed and I challenge anyone to disagree. I won’t be watching reruns of Charlie’s Angels anytime soon, but I can remember watching them the first time around far more clearly than I remember what I watched last night.