There’s a credible argument to be made that 1973 was the peak of civilization, the high point of three thousand years of Human progress, and the evidence can be perused in the charts from that year. Some of the radio miracles, for me, of ’73, were as follows:
“Killing Me Softly with His Song”… “Let’s Get It On” … “My Love” … “You’re So Vain” … “Brother Louie” …”Frankenstein” … “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” … “Half-Breed” … “That Lady” … “We’re an American Band” … “Right Place Wrong Time” … “Superstition” … “Loves Me Like a Rock” … “Rocky Mountain High” … “Stuck in the Middle with You” … “Shambala” … “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” … “If You Want Me to Stay” … “Daniel” … “Midnight Train to Georgia” …”Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” … “The Cisco Kid” … “Live and Let Die” … “Oh, Babe, What Would You Say?” … “Higher Ground” … “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)” … “Superfly” … “Reelin’ in the Years” … “Hocus Pocus” … “Do It Again” … “Kodachrome” … “Angie” … “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)” … “Money” … “The World Is a Ghetto” … “Free Ride” … “Space Oddity” … “It Never Rains in Southern California” … “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” ….
Each of these tunes is a little Parthenon on the cultural Acropolis in the floating city/state of Homo Ludens and 1973 was the peak and the end. From out of the scalding primordial tar of The Blues and through the acrid chemical mists of the psychotically whitebread Hit Parade (its ghastly avatars Pattie Page, Bing Crosby, The Andrews Sisters) and through lugubrious smackhabit Holocausts of Jazz… and even through the savage twang of Rockabilly and the Formica Necropolis of Muzak… 1973 rose up to irradiate us. One brave year in which Homo Sapiens embodied Homo Ludens before devolving into Homo Hal. Hal, of course, being the homicidal Ai Cyclops star of the Arthouse screen. The flick 2001: A Space Odyssey premiered in 1968 but pegged the year of the beginning of the era of Homo Hal with oracular accuracy. Five years after the premier of that movie, and 28 years before the beginning of the end, it was as though the Lost Continent of Atlantis rose and blared its music at us for a miraculous year yet immediately, thereafter, began again to sink.
Or so it seemed, to me, in 1973. I was fourteen years old and living in ‘Vegas with my Black Militant Hippie-Vegetarian father and his busty, slit-eyed, much-younger, Yoruba-sculpture-looking wife. She was getting her PhD at UNLV and father was painting his post-psychedelic canvasses (in the evening he’d sip Sake in a big old colonial La-Z Boy, delectating his paintings under a black light while listening to space jazz and if I ventured into the living room for an irresistible Dixie cup of water from the water-cooler all I’d see were Dad’s teeth on the cosmic rim of his Sake glass). In the mornings we were forced to drink “health food beverages” like for example orange juice made from the entire orange, bulk-purchased oranges tossed like neon tennis balls into the wide open stainless steel maw of a massive blender and coming out bitter and pithy and tough for a kid to swallow. If one had managed, instead, to put all of the songs, which I list in the intro of this piece, into a blender, the incomprehensibly nutritive (seductively warm and viscous and sweet) beverage that one could then poor in a tall glass, for breakfast, would have been not caustic and orange but smooth and TAUPE. Taupe is the color of 1973 to me. Taupe as far as the eye could see. Smush every race together in a ball of clay and what would you get…?
But it was the caustic orange I had to down for breakfast so I’d bottoms-up that bitter Hippie potion with ten vitamin pills and out the door to wait for the desert school bus. Junior High School was a phantasmagoria of halter tops and feathered, center-parted, blow-dried hair plus strawberry lip gloss. Brother Louie, Half-Breed, We’re An American Band, Superstition, Shambala and Oh Babe, What Would You Say? sound tracked my self-conscious forays across the road, from school to the 7/11, for the voluptuous corporate tongue-porn I just couldn’t get at home. I had to fortify the relentless boner tent-poling my striped flares with Sarah Lee orange cakes I’d smuggle home after school, walking across the desert, like Kwai Chang Caine, rather than take the school bus, skinny as a rail nevertheless. A changeling in the making and a blessed citizen of 1973.
Whoever’s ThinkTank idea it was to wallpaper public Life with nonstop Chart Hits deserved a bonus and a slap in the face and alligator clips on his gonads. What I mean by that is this: filling the airwaves with simple plastic thoughts is as good a form of low-tech mind control as any, but if the Chart Hits are unfiltered… it defeats the purpose, no? And what I mean by that is this: somewhere in the wild jumble of Chart Hits with which we were bombarded in 1973 was the aural equivalent of Bruce Banner’s gamma rays and though it was no particular song that did it, somehow the Gestalt of the Chart Hits that year very much did, in my opinion: quite a few of us adolescent Serfs of that year stopped, on some level, thinking of ourselves as Serfs. Something is day-glo “Wrong” with quite a few guys my age. The evidence is everywhere. 80% of the non-wacko, un-Christian, non-bunkered, anti-Racist, Womyn-respecting and relatively worldly RESISTANCE consists of us.
We are GEN TAUPE.
We audio-mutated into snickering little subversives and the irony is that even Frank Zappa’s music couldn’t have done that to us. Frank’s music wasn’t hooky enough to penetrate the Libido and rewire the Id, the Ego and the Super Ego too. It was some alchemical combination of Cher, Three Dog Night, Stevie Wonder, Carly Simon and Stealer’s Wheel (et al) that rewired me into a subversive visionary of fourteen years old capable of seeing the Sacred Mirage of the Risen Atlantis of 1973. I suspect that TFIC realized the mistake inherent in allowing free range radio dreams to electrify and potentialize the aggregate Mule Brain of Duh Masses and so they diluted the mix; rooted out the X-Vector. They ramped up the Null Pop Quotient and doused the Sara Lee orange cakes with saltpeter. They strangled-off the transformative gamma-rays of the freaky Gestalt and got serious about mass-producing Normies.
Even already the very next year, 1974, the Charts betrayed a notable diminishing of the depth and sweep… a timid contraction of the intellectual, cultural and tonal range…that was so fearlessly manifested in the crowning year before it. Already, in ’74, despite the presence of gems, one detects the creeping advance of kitsch and schlock and novelty; the rise of the tasteless cash-in; the waning of god-like ambition. Billy Joel was getting a foothold. Hall and Oates were coming. Annie Murray, Olivia Newton John, Jim Stafford, Terry Jacks… Barbara Streisand… the (strawberry lip gloss) writing was on the wall. Even Marvin Gaye rendered unto us feebly the forgettable (or make that “execrable”: it sounds like the mutant compositional offspring of George Benson and Paul McCartney) “You Sure Love to Ball,” in the blah-meh-ugh year of AD 1974, on the very doorstep of the foyer to the darker Dark Ages in which we are now most clearly stranded and sinking and shitting our pants and the pants aren’t even pinstriped flares. Our pants are fucking dungarees. Our pants are Gulag pants.
This is how Duh Masses judge Music (and, by extension, Life Itself) NOW:
If the singer can’t sing, at least the melody can be good; if the melody isn’t good, at least the words can be interesting; if the words aren’t interesting, at least the arrangement might be engaging; if the arrangement isn’t engaging, perhaps the instrumental performances are inspired; if the instrumental performances aren’t inspired, perhaps the EQs and mix are appealing; if the EQs and mix aren’t appealing, maybe he looks good in a goddamn dress…?
But. BUT. BUT. In 1973 Marvin Gaye gave us… (and mygod look at the women in the audience, many of them grandmothers, concentrating as they study the music!)… THIS:
Watch that treasured member of the Homo Ludens species sing so Homo Ludensically! And dig the Heroic Ludens Bass! Neither could have known that Marvin that night had just eleven (by the grace of his cross-dressing father) years to live. And after that eleven went: merely seven before the beginning of the Beginning of the Many Ends. Take a number and wait ’til it’s called…
Ye of the awful era of HOMO HAL are sorta Fucked and it’s ironic, isn’t it, that so many of you are, increasingly, despite being so hugely fucked, virgins?
But you do have the records and films and wild accounts and chronic hereditary injuries and lingering cultural longings, of 1973, to console you and them and us, as well, and that’s not nothing.