Biographies & Memoirs


This book has its roots in that most devastating of traditions, classroom humiliation. One Christmas long ago, my parents asked me for a list of possible gifts, so I gave them the names of a few records. Only months before, for my twelfth birthday, I’d received my first LP, making the momentous transition from singles to albums—a twerp-to-cool-kid rite of passage that’s since gone the way of the turntable. Since my older sister Linda had already introduced me to the music of Simon and Garfunkel, I asked for one of their albums for my own.

Our first day back after winter break, my classmates and I at our elementary school in Hazlet, New Jersey, filled each other in on our presents. When my turn arrived, I proudly announced I’d been gifted with an album. What one, they asked? Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence , I replied. Their aghast looks—the way they pulled back from me as if I’d admitted I couldn’t wait to get home to start homework every day—was the first sign something had changed. Then one of them said, in a tone equally puzzled and contemptuous, “Why do you want that old music?” All my surrounding classmates then turned, en masse, away from me.

Yes, the album was six years old, an eternity for a teenager. But from my friends’ reactions, you’d have thought I’d been given a collection of Stephen Foster parlor songs from the middle of the previous century. Hadn’t the ’60s just ended?

I had to admit those years already felt farther away than they were. Repeatedly, those of us who came of age in the ’70s were reminded we’d missed out on the most astounding era in history, a flowering of culture, society, and mankind like none before (and with girls in mini skirts to boot). Compared to that, our era was an even darker Dark Ages: Welcome to a world of Watergate, KC and the Sunshine Band, ’50s nostalgia, and gas rationing, we were told. Personally, I loved hearing early disco songs on the radio and happily watched Fonzie say “Aaayyy,” yet I still wondered: What happened, and how did it happen? When did the hopeful sensibility of one era give way to the dimmer one of another?

The question has tugged at me ever since. If friends my age are drawn to the ’70s, it’s generally the second half—the momentous years of punk, Studio 54 disco, the original cast of Saturday Night Live, the films of Lucas and Spielberg. But the messy conflicting signals of the first half of the decade have always haunted me: utopian music like prog rock alongside post-utopian movies like Deliverance, men-pushed-too-far action films like Billy Jack and Walking Tall next to an antiestablishment, pacifist-central TV series like M*A*S*H. And everywhere was the fragmentation of so many of the classic bands of the ’60s, replaced by flaxen-haired troubadours sweetly serenading the ladies (the “Frisbee Guys,” as my friend Tom and I call them). After Sounds of Silence, some of the first LPs I ever owned were all the other Simon and Garfunkel albums (Bridge Over Troubled Water spun regularly on the close-and-play stereo in my bedroom), the Beatles’ Let It Be, and everything recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, together, separately, or in duo form. I didn’t have to buy James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James; I always seemed to hear its low-maintenance melodies drifting out of my sister Colette’s bedroom.

Many years later, during a brainstorming session for my next book, my wife suggested I write about the music I loved in my childhood, meaning not just Simon and Garfunkel but Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Beatles, James Taylor, and so on. As she rightly pointed out, I was still giving cursory listens to those musicians’ new releases, attending their reunion concerts, even interviewing them for one outlet or another. When we wondered aloud whether they had anything in common, one thing came to my mind: 1970. Here was the year in which two of those groups fell apart, one achieved critical cultural mass and also collapsed, and another broke through to a new level of mass acceptance. Further researching those twelve months, I was reminded what a turbulent year 1970 truly was. I’d remembered Kent State and Charles Manson’s trial, but I’d nearly forgotten about the Southern Strategy or the brownstone that exploded in New York’s Greenwich Village, right down the street from an NYU dorm where I would later live. It was a year—a strangely overlooked one, in some regards—of upheaval and collapse, tension and release, endings and beginnings.

Combined with the music and musicians who provided the soundtrack to those events, a story—the one I’d been wondering about since those grade-school years—started to take shape. Many have rightly argued that the dawn of the ’70s began in 1972 or 1973, just as the ’60s didn’t genuinely launch until JFK’s inauguration in 1961. Yet the more I thought about it, the more 1970 felt like the lost year: the moment at which the remaining slivers of the idealism of the ’60s began surrendering to the buzz-kill comedown of the decade ahead; each subsequent year built on its foundations. I don’t pine for my childhood, especially moments of mortification, but I couldn’t resist revisiting a moment when sweetly sung music and ugly times coexisted, even fed off each other, in a world gone off course.



If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!