What We Were

One of the very best things about the Internet is the way it makes possible the preservation and celebration of the ephemera of our culture—the intended-to-be-disposable stuff that used to disappear into attics, landfills, and/or oblivion before there was a place to put it. One celebrant I’ve been enjoying recently is Retroland. This week’s posts span a spectrum from the original McDonaldland cookies to KISS hype, including a promotional film for their 1978 movie KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. And I have mentioned Plaid Stallions before—a site whose mission is to relive the 70s one catalog page at a time. I find myself perpetually enchanted by some of the clothes people wore back then. The pink bell-bottom number here is strangely awesome, and I actually owned a turtleneck like this.

Retroland’s tagline is “You Are What You Were.” I like that a lot, even though I know it isn’t true. I may claim that in my head it’s still 1976, but I know I am not the same person I was in 1976—and thank goodness for that. The kid who lived through the unforgettable seasons of that year had no idea how much he didn’t know about life, and wouldn’t have listened if you had tried to tell him so. And when I get nostalgic about those wild nights in college, I forget that the kid participating in those wild nights was, at the risk of putting too fine a point on it, quite an asshole.

I suspect that all of us have been people we are glad to no longer be, even as we cling to the memory of having been those people.

I have, from time to time, gotten reacquainted with people I’d known since childhood but had been out of touch with for years. Generally, we discovered that the adult versions of ourselves were far more likable than the younger versions had been. Time had sanded away our most maddening qualities, but it had left much of the good in us intact.

So we are not necessarily what we were, no. If we’re lucky, we might still retain the best of what we were.

Coming tomorrow, we will, predictably enough, visit 1976 yet again. As an appetizer, here’s a song that was on the radio 35 years ago this week. It hasn’t changed in that time, but I have—and the song sounds a lot better to me now than it ever did back then. This video is another matter: It looks like it was shot through a lens covered in Vaseline and directed by Randy Meisner’s mom, but it’s a relatively rare opportunity to see—well, OK, mostly hear—the Eagles performing live in their prime.

5 responses

  1. I still have a weird, slightly disconnected nostalgia for ’76. I was 14, in love with the radio (moving slowly from AM to FM) and no matter how much I want to hate the Eagles, I can’t help humming along when their songs come on. The bottom line is that they made great singles.

  2. A very thoughtful piece, even for an appetizer.

    I have definitely changed since I was 16 (or 21), but I’m not sure I’ve gotten any better … perhaps I have just exchanged one brand of mediocrity for another.

  3. “The kid who lived through the unforgettable seasons of that year had no idea how much he didn’t know about life, and wouldn’t have listened if you had tried to tell him so.”

    Change the year to 1987 (when I turned 15) or ’88, and that describes me to a T. And I have found that what you said about the passage of time is true…my own wife has said that if she knew me then — we met in college when I was 20 — she probably wouldn’t have liked me very much. And she’s probably right.

    Last thing to add: that bell-bottom suit in Plaid Stallions reminds me of a line from the movie A Christmas Story (itself a nostalgic look back at 35-40 years prior): “That thing looks like a pink nightmare.”

  4. In 1976, a great song by the Eagles would definately get tons of airplay on Top 40 radio. Today, a great song like “Take It To The Limit” would NEVER get on the radio, unless your name is JayZ, Ke$ha, or Gag Me (I mean, GaGa).

  5. Hi JB,

    As the Content Manager for wwww.retroland.com, I just want to extend my personal thanks for your kind mention of our website in your blog. It’s always nice to hear that our site has resonated with someone new, and even better news when they share it with their friends. Much appreciated!

    Best regards,
    Eric Gabriel
    eric@retroland.com

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