November 4, 1986, is a Tuesday. It’s Election Day in the United States. The Democratic Party reclaims control of the United States Senate, picking up eight seats. New senators include John McCain of Arizona and Harry Reid of Nevada. Democrats retained control of the House of Representatives, so for the first time in his presidency, Ronald Reagan faces a Congress entirely controlled by the opposing party. Democrats lost eight governorships, however. In Illinois, Republican governor Jim Thompson is reelected, defeating former senator Adlai Stevenson III. Stevenson ran under the banner of the Illinois Solidarity Party; he had refused the Democratic nomination after several followers of Lyndon LaRouche won primaries for lieutenant governor and secretary of state. Voters in Massachusetts and Nebraska repeal their states’ mandatory seat-belt laws, and Florida voters amend the state constitution to institute a state lottery.
The Federal Trade Commission issues regulations for health warnings on cans of smokeless tobacco. The new Associated Press college football poll is out, and the top four teams are unchanged from the previous week: Miami, Penn State, Michigan, and Oklahoma. Future NFL player Brandon LaFell is born. On TV tonight, CBS fills primetime with election coverage, but ABC and NBC do not. Before its election coverage, ABC airs episodes of Who’s the Boss? and Moonlighting; NBC airs Matlock and Crime Story.
Journey concludes a two-night stand in Hartford, Connecticut. Whitney Houston’s first world tour as a headliner reaches Osaka, Japan. Iron Maiden plays London, Jackson Browne plays in Norway. and Neil Young plays Austin, Texas, with Crazy Horse. R.E.M. plays Portland, Maine. Bruce Springsteen’s Live 1975-1985 album is released. “True Colors” by Cyndi Lauper tops the current Cash Box singles chart, knocking last week’s #1, “Typical Male” by Tina Turner, to second place. Only one song is new in the Top 10: “True Blue” by Madonna. New to the top 20: “Next Time I Fall” by Peter Cetera with Amy Grant, “I’ll Be Over You” by Toto, “Word Up” by Cameo, and “The Rain” by Oran “Juice” Jones. The biggest mover within the top 40 is “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” by Wang Chung (38 to 29). In Macomb, Illinois, the local top 40 morning jock anchors election night coverage, fueled by Jolt Cola and baked goods. Coverage wraps in the wee hours of Wednesday, and he manages to grab maybe two hours of sleep before going back to play the hits at 5:15.
Perspective From the Present: This was the year the station’s former owner ran for the Illinois legislature as a Democrat. I produced his radio spots. He didn’t win, but he pulled a historically high number of votes in a district that hadn’t elected a Democrat since the 1930s. Anchoring on election night was something I enjoyed immensely, and I think I was good at it. It required a great deal of juggling, filling, ad libbing, and others skills jocks possess but reporters often do not. As for the music I was playing on my morning shows, the Top 40 was as weak as it had been since maybe 1981; I count only a bare handful of songs that still find their way onto the radio regularly today. I hated “True Colors” back then, although it sounds little better to me now. (My favorite song of the moment was probably “True Blue.”) I bought the live Springsteen album (on five vinyl discs) as soon as I could get it, but I’m pretty sure the only time I listened to it from start to finish was right after I got it home. Here’s a TV spot for the album.
One More Thing: FEMA and the FCC announced yesterday that the nationwide EAS test scheduled for Wednesday, November 9, will be shortened to between 30 and 60 seconds. The original plan was three minutes. No reason was given for the change, which strikes me as a wise one, if the goal is to test the system without freaking people out.
Back in May, I started a summer-long project involving One Day in Your Life posts, revisiting 1976 day by day. “We may never find the secret to time travel, but perhaps the meticulous recreation of ordinary days can generate something like virtual reality,” I wrote. “[W]e’ll see how it goes, see whether we can paint each week of the summer in sufficiently interesting detail. Because I’d like to believe that done right, such a project might hit the magical combination of keystrokes and toonage that opens up the wormhole.”
I didn’t really expect to be physically sucked back through the vortex of time, transformed again into the long-haired, chubby-cheeked, vaguely ridiculous figure I was. I hoped I might be able to recapture how it felt to live in those days via the things we did, the news we read, the songs we heard, and by recounting the incidents and accidents that touched our lives on otherwise mundane and forgettable days.
I knew I would be grasping at shadows, and wisps of smoke, and gossamer milkweed seeds of memory blown on the wind. And I probably should have known what I realize now: that’s not enough to build on. Shadows, smoke, and gossamer don’t add up to a narrative, a novel we can turn back in to refresh our recollection of the story. At best, they might yield a fragment of flickering film, something that’s there and gone before we’ve fully recognized what it is.
TV producer David Milch has said that all storytelling involves the weight of the past on the present. But the weight is all we have. We cannot be there again, on the softball field or on the tractor, or in whatever other memory we might choose, cherished or otherwise. We can only glimpse ourselves there through the haze of years, with the eyes we have now. How it felt to us then, what it was really, really like in the moment—we can guess, but we can’t know.
Two years ago, I wrote about my 1976 daybook, and I found that it didn’t reveal the reason for the weight the summer of 1976 impresses on me at such great distance. Neither did this summer’s project. Back there, in never-ending 1976, the days unspool, mundane events come and go, the radio plays, but what’s really going on—what makes that summer into That Summer—happens somewhere else, beyond the sunsets and the softball scores and the family vacations, in a place unrecorded in the 16-year-old heart, and inaccessible to a much older one.
“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every minute?”
“The saints and poets maybe . . . maybe some.”
But not me.
August 25, 1976, is a Wednesday. In Monroe, Wisconsin, it’s the first day of school. In France, premier Jacques Chirac resigns in a dispute over political strategy with president Valery Giscard d’Estaing and is replaced by foreign minister Raymond Barre. President Ford is on vacation in Colorado. Among his activities today: attending a picnic hosted by prominent Vail restauranteur/hotelier Pepi Gramshammer. The Russian space mission Soyuz 21 returns to Earth early; a crew member has begun displaying psychotic behavior possibly linked to toxic gases in the ship’s cabin. The Lincoln Park Carousel, which has stood in an East Los Angeles park since 1914, is burned by vandals. In Allentown, Pennsylvania, Earl F. Hunsicker Bicentennial Park opens. Future actor Alexander Skarsgard, NBA journeyman Damon Jones, and New York Yankees pitcher Pedro Feliciano are born. The Yankees beat the Minnesota Twins 5-4 in a 19-inning game that takes five hours, 26 minutes to play. Yankee Dick Tidrow enters the game in the 7th inning and pitches through the 17th.
On daytime TV, Dinah Shore welcomes Chuck Berry and M*A*S*H star Mike Farrell. Merv Griffin’s guests on his daytime show include singers Mel Torme and Cyndi Grecco and the group Silver. In primetime, a pair of half-hour, four-week summer variety shows premiere back-to-back on CBS: Easy Does It, starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, and The Late Summer Early Fall Bert Convy Show, which stars the erstwhile game show host. Also in the cast is comedian Lenny Schultz, who performs as Lenny the Bionic Chicken.
Jethro Tull’s Too Old to Rock and Roll tour continues in Calgary, Canada, while Lynryd Skynyrd’s tour moves on to Lewiston, Maine. Frank Sinatra plays Holmdel, New Jersey, Tom Waits plays Cleveland, and the Band plays Los Angeles. The Electric Light Orchestra plays St. Louis, with opening acts Mahogany Rush and Pure Prairie League. The self-titled debut album by a new group, Boston, is released. At WLS in Chicago, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” by Elton John and Kiki Dee is at the top for a second week. New in the Top Ten are “Let ‘Em In” by Paul McCartney and Wings, “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” by England Dan and John Ford Coley, and “Say You Love Me” by Fleetwood Mac. The biggest movers on the chart are “Baby I Love Your Way” by Peter Frampton (up 10 to #27) and “With Your Love” by Jefferson Starship (up 14 to #29). The Beatles compilation Rock and Roll Music spends its fifth and final week at the top of the album chart. Next week, it will be knocked out by Heart’s Dreamboat Annie, currently at #2.
Back in Wisconsin, a newly minted high-school junior knows he is ready to return to school, because anything is better than driving a tractor in the heat. But the things he does not know are legion: He doesn’t know that he’s just passed the summer he will cherish the most as the years go by. Neither does he know that the coming fall will be a season he will never leave behind. He also doesn’t know that 35 years in the future, his 51-year-old self, on something called a blog in a place called the Internet, will try to recreate the summer of 1976 —and fail.
More about that in tomorrow’s post.
(The series continues. Other posts here.)
August 15, 1976, is a Sunday. The death toll in the outbreak of what is now being called “legionnaire’s disease” reaches 25. The Republican National Convention opens this week; the campaign of former California governor Ronald Reagan is seeking a rule that would force Gerald Ford to name his running mate before the balloting begins. Reagan has already chosen Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania. In Washington, Ford attends church, gets a haircut, and spends a leisurely afternoon before departing for the convention in Kansas City. In Wenatchee, Washington, the Wenatchee Valley Humane Society dedicates its new building. Future Playboy centerfold and actress Priscilla Taylor is born. With six weeks to go in the major-league baseball season, there are no hot pennant races. The Philadelphia Phillies and Cincinnati Reds lead their divisions in the National League by 11 1/2 and 12 1/2 games respectively; in the American League, the leaders are New York and Kansas City, by 9 1/2 and 7. The Green Bay Packers continue the NFL preseason at New England, beating the Patriots 16 to 14. In golf, Dave Stockton wins the PGA Championship.
On TV tonight, CBS airs The Sonny and Cher Show, Kojak, and the private-eye drama Cannon starring William Conrad. On NBC, it’s The Wonderful World of Disney and McMillan and Wife. ABC counters with The Six Million Dollar Man and the theatrical movie Paint Your Wagon. In addition, all three networks air primetime previews of the Republican convention. In Los Angeles, Jethro Tull plays the Coliseum, Boz Scaggs plays the Greek Theater, and Barry Manilow plays the Universal Amphitheater. In Minot, North Dakota, it’s the second night of the Rush All the World’s a Stage tour, with opening act Blue Oyster Cult. Eric Clapton plays Blackpool, England. KISS plays El Paso, Texas, and Elton John plays Madison Square Garden in New York. Lynryd Skynryd plays Chicago with opening acts the Outlaws and Montrose.
At WLS in Chicago, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” by Elton John and Kiki Dee makes a mighty leap from 11 to 1 on the station’s latest survey, knocking “Afternoon Delight” to #2. “Get Closer” by Seals and Crofts moves to #3. “I’m Easy” by Keith Carradine and “Crazy on You” by Heart round out the top five. Other strong movers on the survey include “You Should Be Dancing” by the Bee Gees, up to 17 from 27, and “Summer” by War, up to 21 from 31. “Play That Funky Music” by Wild Cherry makes the biggest move of the week, up 12 from 42 to 30. The Beatles compilation Rock and Roll Music holds the top spot on the WLS album chart for a fourth week. On a farm some 120 highway miles from Chicago, a family relaxes after its busiest week of the summer.
Perspective From the Present: We went to Chicago for a day and to the State Fair in Milwaukee for a day during the middle of August 1976, and we may have stayed overnight somewhere as a family in between. Picture us packed into the bright yellow 1973 Mercury Montego my brother and I christened “the banana boat,” three boys aged 16, 14, and 9 crammed into the back seat, and five to a motel room. That’s getting closer, although it was often closer than we boys liked it.
August 5, 1976, is a Thursday. In Wisconsin, it’s a pleasant summer day with cooler weather on the way tonight. Governor Patrick Lucey announces that he will appoint University of Wisconsin law professor Shirley Abrahamson as the first woman on the state Supreme Court. In 2011, she will still be serving, as chief justice. President Ford welcomes Olympic hero Jesse Owens and his wife to the White House. Ford presents Owens with the Medal of Freedom. Ford also meets with members of the Pennsylvania delegation to the upcoming Republican National Convention, hoping to keep the support of the state’s delegates despite rival Ronald Reagan’s selection of Pennsylvania Republican senator Richard Schweiker as his potential running mate. A lube, oil, and filter for most American cars at Firestone stores in Madison costs $5.88; Goodyear shops will do it for $4.88. Officials are still trying to figure out what mysterious disease has sickened and killed attendees at the American Legion convention in Philadelphia. Today, they’ve ruled out swine flu.
Ohio State’s athletic director decries recent reports of recruiting violations in its football program as “the worst kind of character assassination.” The merger between the National Basketball Association and the rival American Basketball Association, announced in June, becomes official today. Four ABA franchises join the NBA; players from the remaining three teams are dispersed among the existing NBA clubs. Future major-league outfielder Bobby Kielty is born. On TV tonight, What’s Happening!! premieres on ABC, right after a Welcome Back Kotter rerun. NBC counterprograms with It’s OK, a special starring the Beach Boys with special guests Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi.
Elvis Presley wraps up a three-night stand in Fayetteville, North Carolina, before taking a three-week break on his current tour. Jean-Luc Ponty plays Austin, Texas, and the Eagles play Portland, Oregon. The Doobie Brothers play Norfolk, Virginia, and Jethro Tull opens a two-night stand in Chicago. At WLS in Chicago, “Afternoon Delight” ascends to the Number-One spot, just ahead of “Rock and Roll Music” by the Beach Boys and last week’s Number One song, “Got to Get You Into My Life” by the Beatles, which falls to Number Three. “Get Closer” by Seals and Crofts is new in the Top 10 at Number 10. “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” by Lou Rawls takes a mighty leap from 23 to 12; moving from 27 to 19 is “Teddy Bear” by Red Sovine, a spoken-word weeper that currently tops the nation’s country chart. There’s little movement on the WLS album chart: nine of last week’s Top 10 albums are still in the top 10, although they’ve shuffled around a bit; the Beatles’ Rock and Roll Music is still at the top. New at Number 10 is Spitfire by the Jefferson Starship, up from 31. The Beach Boys’ 15 Big Ones soars to 13 from 33.
A reluctant 16-year-old farmer and radio addict has been clocking a few hours on a tractor every day this week, but not on this day. He looks forward to tomorrow night’s softball game, and once the hay is made, to spending a few days in Madison next week with his cousin. A family trip to Chicago and to the Wisconsin State Fair in Milwaukee are also coming up. The family has to squeeze as much into August as possible, because summer is fleeting.
The first-ever One Day in Your Life post appeared at this blog on October 7, 2004, just short of three months after we went “on the air.” It took awhile for the style to evolve, but it quickly became my favorite thing to write. Over the years, I’ve written maybe 130 of them between this blog and Popdose, where the feature appeared monthly in late 2008 and 2009. Five years ago today, I wrote about July 31, 1976. Since we’re trying to recreate that summer here in 2011, it makes sense to repost the post in its entirety rather than simply linking to it. I’ve added a few hyperlinks and some perspective from the present, too.
July 31, 1976, is a Saturday. Elvis Presley, on his last tour, plays Hampton Roads, Virginia. Eric Clapton plays London. Jethro Tull plays Tampa, Florida. Barry Manilow plays Philadelphia, where health officials are struggling to figure out what mysterious disease sickened over 200 people and killed 34 during an American Legion bicentennial gathering a few days earlier. It’s been nicknamed “legionnaire’s disease.” The Montreal Olympics are coming to an end, as an East German marathoner wins the gold in the final event of the games, and six athletes, five Romanians and a Russian, defect to Canada. The Green Bay Packers play the earliest preseason game in their history, losing to the Cincinnati Bengals, 23-16. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the first game in their history, losing to the Los Angeles Rams, 26-3. Future pro football player Marty Booker is born. In Colorado, a foot of rain falls in the mountains, causing a flood in Big Thompson Canyon that kills 150 people. NBC airs the first-season finale of its new weekend late-night show, NBC’s Saturday Night, hosted by Kris Kristofferson. (His wife, Rita Coolidge, is the musical guest.) Sketches include “Samurai General Practitioner” and “Gynecologist Blind Date,” with Kristofferson and Jane Curtin. Other TV programs on the air that night include the syndicated soap Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and The Invasion of Johnson County, a western starring Bill Bixby. NASA releases a photo taken by the Viking Mars probe before it landed on July 20. It seems to show a face on the Martian surface, but NASA says it’s merely a rock formation and nothing mysterious. A UFO is sighted in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Louisiana adopts petrified palm wood as its official state fossil.
On the Billboard singles chart dated July 31, “Kiss and Say Goodbye” by the Manhattans is spending its second week at Number One; “Love Is Alive” by Gary Wright is Number Two; Starbuck’s “Moonlight Feels Right” is at Number Three; Number Four is “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band. The Beatles and the Beach Boys are back-to-back at Numbers 7 and 8, with “Got to Get You Into My Life” and “Rock and Roll Music,” the first time both bands have been in the Top 10 at the same time since . New in the Top 40 are “Say You Love Me” by Fleetwood Mac, “Play That Funky Music” by Wild Cherry, “Who’d She Coo” by the Ohio Players, “Shake Your Booty” by KC and the Sunshine Band, and War’s “Summer.” Two versions of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” are bubbling under the Top 40—one is the 1967 original, the other is a new recording from the hit movie of the same name. New on the Hot 100 that week: “Still the One” by Orleans and “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult. George Benson’s Breezin’ tops the album chart.
And I probably drove my 1974 AMC Hornet somewhere that night, with the radio on, of course. It was a Saturday, after all.
There’s more on the flip, including a bit of American Top 40.