Making Peace With the ’70s

I turn 60 in April. I didn’t think it would mean much (turning 50 certainly didn’t), but I’m finding it’s playing with my head in strange ways.  For example, it’s brought me face to face with the ’70s decade, my least favorite, and forcing me to confront my feelings about it.

I truly HATE the ’70s. This is incomprehensible to my sister, Diamondqueen, who was born in 1970 and relishes the decade, especially what to me are the worst aspects: burnt orange, avocado, and antique gold in any combination; hideous fashion styles; disco and any crappy novelty-type song (“The Night Chicago Died” to cite one that gives me the pip); “The Brady Bunch” and “The Partridge Family”; those damned big daisy-type flowers in hideous colors, especially when combined with the peace symbol or the aforementioned shades of avocado green, burnt orange, and antique gold.

It also doesn’t help that I was, mentally and emotionally, a wreck for most of the decade. That’s a whole story in itself, but often what I’m recoiling from when I think of any given month in the ’70s is how I was responding to life at that moment. It colors everything, and it tricks me into thinking the entire 10 years are too painful to recall.

That blocks the truth: That some of my best and most life-changing experiences happened during the ’70s; some of my favorite movies and television shows were products of the ’70s; a lot of the music I did love, especially that of singer-songwriters such as Gordon Lightfoot, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, and Cat Stevens. I also loved such groups as Queen and Electric Light Orchestra; and when I review the musical output on a song-by-song basis, there’s a lot I still cherish.

And there were good times. Lots of good times. Sometimes it takes some digging through angst and dark recollections to find them, but they’re worth the trouble.

So, as I approach my 60th birthday, I’m dedicated to remembering and responding to the 1970s, the good and the bad of them. I’m actually listening to ’70s music stations online, an experience that ricochets from delight to horror to distinct discomfort, but it’s my best memory trigger. I plan to do the same for the ’60s, although my recollections probably don’t dovetail that well with the homogenized “peace and love” characterization of that decade; and I’ll probably revisit the ’80s as well. (As I said, turning 60 has made me more retrospective than usual, which is saying a lot.) The ’90s are too recent; I didn’t like the ’50s that much, what I remember of them, although I remember a startling amount, considering I was just short of six when the ’60s arrived.

Working with the music, I plan to post immediate impressions in list form, the memories a particular song inspires, and throw in some “elbows” as well. (If this term makes no sense to you, see this post for an explanation.)

What started me down this road regarding the ’70s? I really think it goes back to the final episode of “Breaking Bad” at the end of September. The final moments of Walter White’s life were set to Badfinger’s “Baby Blue.” I was haunted by it–not just how well the song worked with the details of Heisenberg’s demise but the feelings it stirred up for me personally. I re-watched that final scene on YouTube a lot (see the clip below), but each time I was puzzled anew why the song moved me as a memory piece. I could not remember ever having heard it before. According to Wikipedia, “Baby Blue” wasn’t released until March of 1972. In no way do I associate such a song with that spring, the final months of my senior year of high school. I’ve never seen “The Departed,” where apparently it was also used long before “Breaking Bad,” and I’d never heard Aimee Mann’s version. I certainly knew all the rest of Badfinger’s hits, and “Day After Day” certainly resonates. The line “looking out of my lonely gloom” (I thought there was also the line “looking out of my lonely room”; I’m always screwing up song lyrics) seemed to describe my life and mindset that November and throughout the winter as I battled severe depression and suicide “attempts” (pretty lame ones). I always picture my green-walled room dimly lit by a typical ’70s plastic lamp with a green shade, with me at the drafty window staring into the darkness swirling with a light, blowing snow. (Never mind that in latter years I thought The Grassroots had recorded the song. My mind is a strange place to live.)

Anyhow, I think “Baby Blue” must echo some of the chords and guitar work of “Day after Day” and that’s why, for a song I can’t recall hearing until a few months ago, it brings back 1971-1972 for me in a potent way that’s hard to explain.

Here’s a video of Badfinger performing “Baby Blue”:

And if you’re curious about the “Breaking Bad” finale, here’s how the song was used:


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