Summer of ’75

Everyone has a favorite summer. Mine was 1975.

The three months between high school and college were exciting ones; certainly for anyone getting ready for that next big step in their lives.

In 1975, war was over, Nixon was gone, and the biggest threat to American freedom was disco.

A few other world events:

Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco dies, Patty Hearst becomes a fugitive, Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft dock in space, the U.S. was in a recession 9.2% unemployment), New York City gets a federal loan to avoid bankruptcy, a 15 year civil war begins in Lebanon, Bill Gates and Paul Allen begin their computer work, Jimmy Hoffa disappears and Saturday Night Live premiers.

That summer, something new arrived in theaters, the blockbuster. This was a film that was booked into thousands of theaters and received wall-to-wall publicity. It wasn’t just a big film, it was the film of the season. Jaws. If the hope was to have everyone talking about it, and scaring people to stay out of the water, even swimming pools, it worked. It also made Steven Spielberg a rockstar director. Moviegoers walked out of the theater emotionally spent, but they often returned to see it again. Jaws, the phenomenon.

Movies were a great pastime. Here are a few more from that summer period.

Breakout – Charles Bronson breaks Robert Duvall out of a Mexican prison using a helicopter. Not great, but entertaining.
Love and Death – Woody Allen’s comedy about the Russian Revolution. Not as funny as his previous films, but a good time.
Rollerball – A futuristic film where sport is serious and deadly. Fascinating and exciting. Better than the eventual remake.

Music is the universal language of youth. Cars, bars, home stereo and concerts. It was everywhere. We could sit for hours talking and listening to music, those were good times. Learning to play the guitar was another summer activity. A few songs even emerged.

Rock music was our passion.  The lyrics were written for our generation and the music pumped through our beings like blood through our veins.

A few of the charting songs that were on the radio that summer.

“Jive Talking” – Bee Gees
“Fame” – David Bowie
“Philadelphia Freedom” – Elton John
“One of These Nights” – The Eagles
“Sister Golden Hair” – America
“Wildfire” – Michael Murphy
“Listen to What the Man Said” – Paul McCartney
“Only Women Bleed” – Alice Cooper
“Cut the Cake” – Average White Band
“Can’t Get it Out of My Head” – Electric Light Orchestra
“You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” – Bachman-Turner Overdrive

 

To earn some money for college, I got a job building a neighborhood park with a group of about a dozen other kids my age. We were working under a federal grant for the city. My first public service job, and not my last. Forty-five years later, I’m still a public employee.

Ironically, one of my colleagues from that summer, works for the same organization that I now do.  How’s that for a small world.

I was ready for college. That’s not uncommon at that age, the excitement to more on is there.  It certainly helped that it was in the same town where I lived. That certainly made the transition easier, I had only a mile to walk or bicycle to my first class.

I bought a ten-speed later that summer. Usually, I walked everywhere, but now I had wheels of a sort. From my park building job I walked home every day. My feet were better then (I miss those days!) and I enjoyed the solitude of walking.  I usually cut across the university campus on my way home. The campus was quiet and beautiful.  Soon, I would be walking those tree-lined streets and taking classes in those buildings.  I could barely wait for the knowledge to start flowing into my head.

During the summer, Tom and I signed up for the early college enrollment, so we spent a day there picking our classes to start the fall semester.  By doing this, we got to pick ahead of the upper classmen and other freshmen.  That didn’t stop me from having early classes and a night science lab, but it was all part of the experience.  At the end of that day, it felt one step closer to being a college student.

Making the transition from high school to college was also about attitude.  Being 18 years old made you an adult, legally, but there was much more to understand, and unfortunately, that would come with hard-earned experience.  Some kids that age are in a hurry to grow up, and they often make life-changing decisions based on that notion.

Thankfully, I have always been a slow decision-maker, and that included bad ones, so I tended to save myself from grief.  Looking back, I usually reached the outer marker of my comfort zone and stopped.  Plowing ahead with abandoned was not my mantra. In that unknown territory might have been experiences I needed, but they were chances not taken.  Many of us would love to borrow Mr. Peabody’s way-back machine and do something differently, but time-travel is still out of reach.  Instead of traveling backward, we need to face forward and apply the lessons of the trail already traveled.

In those three summer months some of the baby-fat of youth disappeared, more emotionally than physically.  The more I stepped out into the world, the bigger the world seemed.  It was exciting and also scary.

Much of the summer was spent doing what we did most: going to the bars on weekends, and listening to new music. Buying a new or used vinyl record album, reading the liner notes, and discovering new sounds by Pink Floyd, the Steely Dan, Led Zeppelin, Moody Blues or other musicians, and then spending an evening talking.  Simple but meaningful times.

When you survey your life sometimes you categorize and assign value based on what age you were, the significance of the event, how often you’ve thought about it since, what difference it made going forward, and the people involved.  Not every memory or event carries the same significance.

Of all the important times in my life, these months added meaning and were part of a profound growth period.  I didn’t hike across the country or tour Europe.  I didn’t have a massive religious experience.  I didn’t have love affair.  I was just a kid trying to figure out the mystery of life.  Forty-four years later, I’m still trying to figure out other mysteries.


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