In 1976, I kept a daybook, recording various bits of trivia along the trip through the year I turned 16. When I found it recently, I hoped it would help me figure out just why that year, more than any other year of my growing up, is the one I’ve never moved completely beyond. Parts 1 and 2 of the exploration are here and here.
In memory, July 1976 builds to a peak on July 31, which seems now like the hinge on which my whole life turns. On that day, my favorite summer slowly begins giving way to what will be the single most memorable season of my life.
I couldn’t possibly have perceived it that way back then, although in the daybook, it surely looks as if life is intensifying—each day’s entry is crowded with more and more stuff, most of it trivial now. I spent a few days at my grandparents’ house toward the end of July, and a few more days at the county fair, which ended on August 1. But the intensity I remember is something I have grafted on since. There’s nothing in the daybook that supports it. July ends, August begins, life simply continues. August 9 through 11 I spent with my cousin, which means that I am wrong to remember that my last vacation spent with him here in Madison was in 1975. Thursday of that week (August 12), our family went to Chicago; Friday we went to the State Fair in Milwaukee. After that, only one full week of summer remained—my note on Wednesday, August 25 says “school starts.” I would be a junior.
That year dawned with a shocker. My high school’s football team, which had won one and lost eight in each of my first two years, won its first two games of the season. We wouldn’t win again until the last game of the season, but that’s getting ahead of the story.
October 1976 began on Friday the 1st with the football team getting killed on homecoming, 28-to-6. I noted that American Top 40 had a special countdown that weekend, but didn’t say what it was. (Turns out it was the 40 biggest hits of the Beatle years.) But the rest of the month is, yet again, maddeningly unspecific about my own life. On Monday the 11th, the family went out for dinner to celebrate my parents’ 18th wedding anniversary, and the football team kept losing, but there’s precious little else recorded. On Friday the 22nd, I wrote down only the football score, even though what happened later that night was far more memorable. And as October turned to November turned to December, the daybook almost completely fails to note what was really important to me: I was in love, and nothing greater had ever happened to me.
Thursday November 11th: “Got letter jacket and 1st copy of Stereo Review.” Friday November 19th: “Bought WEKZ privilege for $6.25.” (I was determined to get on the radio even if I had to pay for it.) With the coming of the basketball and wrestling seasons, most of my notes become sports scores again. But not all. On Tuesday December 14, along with the trivia (which seems not merely pointless but incredibly stupid after looking at more than 11 months of it) is the single word “WOW.” Chivalry requires, even at a distance of 33 years, that the precise reason for the “WOW” be left to your imagination. (It works for me.)
And over the last two weeks of December, the year just sort of peters out. On New Year’s Eve I wrote, “Top 89, 6-Midnight” and “‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ is #1.” I don’t remember where I listened to the countdown, but I know I did. And on Sunday January 2, 1977, I put the completed book aside. I had no such book for the new year that I can remember; if I ever did, it’s long gone.
Coming in the next installment: A favorite topic of mine, then and now: What It All Means.
1. “Disco Duck”/Rick Dees (holding at 1) (the link is to a performance on The Midnight Special; how could we have believed this was funny?)
2. “Devil Woman”/Cliff Richard (holding at 2)
3. “I Only Want to Be With You”/Bay City Rollers (up from 4)
14. “Fernando”/ABBA (up from 15)
15. “Lowdown”/Boz Scaggs (down from 11) (the link is to a performance recorded on December 31, 1976)