There was a 10-year period that pretty much shaped my world, providing the cultural touchstones by which all things that came after would be measured. I suppose it’s that way for most people. For me, that time period would have been about 1975-1985; that would be from the ages of nine to 19. What makes that time period so awesome? I’m glad you asked.
Nothing from childhood did more to influence me than the band Kiss. Blood-spitting, fire-breathing, fist-pumping straight-up rock-and-roll music. The band was in their glory days when I became old enough to know about them. Sure, I didn’t understand all the sexual innuendo, but I understood the attitude and the message of being everything you can be, and that was enough for the time.
#2 Evel Knievel
His jumps over sharks, London buses, and the Snake River were bigger than the Super Bowl. I remember gathering around the TV with my friends to watch Evel Knievel attempt to pull off some of his biggest stunts. He failed more often than he succeeded, but he tried things nobody else would … although we certainly did what we could on our bicycles.
#3 Charlie’s Angels
Some of those Kiss lyrics started to make sense when these ladies showed up on the TV. The Ginger/Mary Ann debate was forgotten in favor of these three. Yes, I was a Farrah fan at the time. The hair, the smile, the Mustang Cobra her character Jill drove, and of course that famous red swimsuit poster! (I still suspect my dad bought me that just so he could see it on my wall when he passed by my bedroom.) Somewhere I still have all the trading cards from the first season of the show; each card has a puzzle piece on back that, when put together, makes a huge picture of the three angels.
#4 Happy Days
Who didn’t want to be The Fonz? The dude was so cool he didn’t need money to play a song on Arnold’s jukebox. And girls? Pfft. For several years Happy Days was one of those shows I always made sure I was home in time to watch. Opie Taylor grew up to be Ritchie Cunningham and was the perfect foil to Fonzi’s coolness. Until, you know, the Cunninghams and their friends went out to sunny California and Fonzi decided to jump the shark. I was shocked several years later to learn the show was still on TV.
#5 Bat Out of Hell
To be fair, I didn’t discover Meat Loaf until the early 1980s, but when I did I knew I’d found something special. Meat Loaf’s voice and Jim Steinman’s songs captured something that I would later read C.S. Lewis name as the “northness” in that it held the bombastic, epic appeal of Nordic mythology. There isn’t a single throwaway track on here and I would challenge anyone with a pulse to remain still when “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights” comes on the radio. As Kiss struggled through its disco phase, Meat Loaf came to be the epitome of rock music to me during this time when I also took up reading epic fantasy and playing D&D.
#6 Smokey and the Bandit
That car! The attitude! The totally incompetent cop! And hey, Sally Fields wasn’t ugly, either. Every guy I knew wanted a black Trans Am after this movie came out. We wanted to be as cool as the Bandit, drive as fast, and outwit a dumb Texas lawman with a real serious anger issue. If we got jumped by a Frog, that was okay, too, but we were really more interested in whether or not the car could jump the gap in that bridge.
You really thought a list about the ’70s would make it to the end without a nod to disco? Remember at the top I said this is a list of things that shaped my perspective. Well, there was no escaping the influence of disco. And yes, in the mid-1970s there were songs I liked. Hell, I still like The Sylvers’ “Boogie Fever.” This music was everywhere, and so it gets recognized as the soundtrack of the skating rink, the swimming pools, too many popular movies, restaurants with jukeboxes, and anything else. Today we can look back on it and laugh at the polyester and lighted dance floors, but it was serious stuff at the time.
#8 Planet of the Apes
This was my first exposure to a post-apocalyptic story, something that has drawn me in ever since. Plus, it was just so cool to see the apes riding horses and shooting guns while humans were on the run. Originally there were, what, five movies? It was the short-lived TV series that first hooked me, though. Unfortunately it came on at the same time as “Sanford and Son” so it was always a battle between me and my dad on which we were going to watch. He didn’t really appreciate the apes. The movies are of varying quality, the TV show was probably crap by any adult standards, but I loved it all. As with Charlie’s Angels, I even collected the trading cards for this show. The fact Hollywood is still makes Apes movies just goes to show I wasn’t the only one struck by its appeal.
#9 Star Wars
Next to Kiss there was nothing from the media that had as big an influence on me as Star Wars. It was the first movie I saw in the theater multiple times. No movie before it could match it for the way it looked. Those space ships looked so real! Darth Vader was the coolest villain ever. So cool we wanted him to be the hero, but we all identified with Luke, the kid who just wanted adventure. We all wanted an R2 unit, to disassemble C3PO so he’d shut up, and Han Solo made Fonzi look like a punk. And did you see when Princess Leia was running? Man, she’s not wearing a bra! Oh, the horror when Vader revealed he was Luke’s father in the first sequel! I was making Star Wars figures and sets with Legos 20 years before Lego started selling them that way.
Okay, one had to be sappy. Our friends shape who we are more than any movie, TV show, or rock band. Unlike so many kids today, I grew up in one neighborhood and most of my friends stayed there the whole time. We built ramps and tree houses, looked at nudie magazines, built haunted houses in garages and cellars, roamed the ‘hood on our bikes, played board games when it was too hot to be outside, rode motorcycles, and for a few glorious years we were all family. Thanks David, Tim, Ron, Angie, Kathy, Michelle, Terry, John, Chuck, Greg, and even JoAnne. Ash Avenue, The Trails, and Junior Jungle will always be our places.