The Year That Was (Part IV)

(Parts 1, 2 and 3 of this series are here and here and here.)

When I found my 1976 daybook again recently, I hoped it would be the Rosetta Stone that unlocked the mysteries of 1976, including the Big Why: why a part of me continues to live in that year despite all the other years that have passed since then.

The fact that it is no such thing is a great disappointment to me.

The daybook, 33 years on, feels like a piece of performance art for an audience of one. Back then, I fancied myself a master of trivia and a student of the arcane, and so I kept a daybook full of the sort of arcana that would impress someone like myself. I couldn’t repress entirely the more useful impulses I had, which accounts for the news headlines and family milestones, but I buried them under the trappings of the character I was trying to be. As a result, the 49-year-old me, who would like to see his former self clearly, is mighty frustrated with his former self.

But I’ve got to forgive him, too, because there’s a lot in him that’s admirable, and some in him that I wish I still had. I like. I used to say that I admired his confidence, but I don’t think you could rightly call what he had confidence. Rather, it was a willingness to accept who and what he was. He didn’t shop around for a personality like some 16-year-olds do. He wasn’t entirely satisfied with who he was—he hated being paralyzed in the presence of girls, and he wished he were a better athlete—but he knew there wasn’t much to be done about it, so he tried to proudly embrace his geekitude. He didn’t doubt that he had found his calling in life—radio—and he pursued it as best he could. His obsessions ran deep, but his interests were broad; he tried reading Milton and Proust, and he watched the news every night because he felt it was important to know what the world was about.

None of this is in the daybook. Traces of it are there amidst the fog, but I can barely see them. So I’m left to guess about 1976, like I’ve always done before. And here’s what I think I think:

When I got my driver’s license in the spring, I achieved freedom of mobility. Once you get that, you’ve crossed a bright line into fuller participation (and greater responsibility) in the wider world. But at the same time, I had yet to cut the cord that bound me to the childhood security that was the only life I could remember. So although I was out in the world more fully than before, that independence was measured in baby steps, and it came with a safety net. Also, what I remember of the ed psych I took tells me that adolescents often see themselves as players on a stage, and they believe the whole world is watching. They tend to dramatize themselves and their actions, and I was more self-dramatizing than most—everything seemed important because it was happening to me. And at the end of the year, I experienced the thrill of being chosen by a member of the opposite sex. Your family has to love you, or so you believe. But when another person chooses you? Mindblowing. So: I experienced 1976 as if the world were a giant stage I’d just stepped onto, with new roles to play. The audience was familiar—often it was only that perpetual audience of one—but the role-playing was exciting nevertheless.

As for the music of 1976, I can’t judge it apart from the experiences of the year. It’s not especially vivid because it’s empirically better than the music of any other year. It’s vivid because it’s the music I lived with 1976, and that makes all the difference.

I knew all of this before I found the daybook again. But absence of written evidence regarding the deeper meaning of 1976 might be evidence of something else. At our blog summit a few weeks back, whiteray said of his favorite years, “Some years are just magical.” So maybe I’ve been looking for something that’s not there—and doesn’t need to be.

That’s not a very satisfying ending. Believe me, I know.

From the WLS Big 89 of 1976:

2. “Silly Love Songs”/Paul McCartney and Wings
4. “If You Leave Me Now”/Chicago
21. “Shannon”/Henry Gross
38. “Love Rollercoaster”/Ohio Players (introduced by Wolfman Jack on The Midnight Special)
47. “Rubberband Man”/Spinners (also from The Midnight Special)

2 thoughts on “The Year That Was (Part IV)

  1. Musicradio

    1976 was a great year….I was also turning 16 then. The music was good, the world was out there waiting for us, we had no concept of what we would find as we got closer to becoming adults.

    That being said and now realizing what it was all about, I could use a time travel machine and drop back to 1976 for a week or so — just to see how really cool it was.

  2. Yah Shure

    Lucy should be asking for her 5¢ right about now.

    There’s one thing about the soundtracks of our lives: it’s like having the soundtrack album from a motion picture or an original cast production. We know and have the songs, but much of the rest of the film or show content (and context) eventually tends to fall into the mental recycling bin, right next to the 1976 disco stuff.

    Not too long ago, I came across some letters I’d written back home while on a 1967 church group trip to St. Louis. I had no idea my mother had kept them all those years. Three words came to mind after I’d read them:

    “I wrote that?”

    I couldn’t say that I really recognized the person who’d penned those notes. It’s tough to reacquaint yourself with your own teenage thought processes forty-two years after the fact. But I was satisfied that they represented one of those life-building experiences. All I needed to add was the KXOK pick hit from that week to complete the picture (Vikki Carr’s “It Must Be Him.”)

    These days, I can go back and read comments I’d left on your blog two months earlier, with the same “I wrote that?” result. My daybook is now a long trail of Post-it ® Notes.

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