Let’s say you’re a contestant on Jeopardy! When Alex Trebek reveals the six categories for the first round of play, what topic would make you think “YES! I bet I know more than the other contestants when it comes to that particular subject!”? When I’ve posed this question to friends and colleagues, the responses I’ve received have ranged from “19th Century American Literature” to “Second Tier Supermodels” to “Anne Murray, The Honey-Throated Canadian Songbird.” I doubt that those last two will ever make it to the long running game show, but one never knows. The point is, everyone has some sort of expertise.
My dream category would be “1970s Story Songs.” I figure I’m smarter than the average bear when it comes to gems like “Billy Don’t Be a Hero,” “Copacabana” and “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves.” I don’t know that this is anything to be proud of, it merely means I spent a lot of time as a kid listening to “The Night Chicago Died,” “Delta Dawn” and “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” on my Panasonic ball radio.
Due to my enthusiastic consumption of such fare, over time I earned a bit of a reputation among my friends as the go-to guy for ’70s entertainment trivia. Who sang “Wildfire?” Michael Murphy! What were David Geddes’ two hits? “Run Joey Run” and “Last Game of the Season (Blind Man in the Bleachers)”! As I got older, my obsession with the 70s took on a life of its own. In fact, it went global.
Hear me out…
In the early ’90s, before the interweb and iTunes changed everything, late night TV was teeming with commercials for compilation CDs one could order by mail. One such ad was for a CD called The ’70s Preservation Society Presents Those Fabulous ’70s. Sure, the name was a little redundant, but the CD included “Seasons in the Sun,” “The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia,” and “Brandy.” Sold!
Once I was part of their database, I received mailings for additional compilations I could order (More Fabulous ’70s, Those Funky ’70s, Sweet ’70s Soul… you get the picture.) I gobbled them up with enthusiasm. One of their catalogs included the following contest: Tell us in 25 words or less what you miss most about the ’70s. The winner will receive a lava lamp and his or her winning essay will appear in the next mailing.
I entered and forgot all about it.
Several months later I received a call at work telling me I won the contest. I asked if I was the only one who entered; they claimed that they had received lots of submissions. True to their word, they sent me the lava lamp and asked me to send them back a photo of me holding my percolating prize to be published along with my award winning sentence in their next newsletter. Here’s what I wrote:
“I miss the days when tubes were tops and bells were bottoms because the days were always Sonny and everyone would Cher.”
22 words, a couple of puns, and victory was mine.
Several months after that, I received a call from a New York Times reporter who was writing a piece about the resurgence in popularity of 70s pop culture. He had received my name and number from the ’70s Preservation Society. My quote — “We call it the decade of shame. We’re making fun of the ’70s but we really secretly enjoy it” — made it into the venerable paper, along with my name, age and hometown. The article was picked up by the International Herald Tribune. Traveling in Kathmandu, my friend Jessica was sipping herbal tea, eating yak cheese and contemplating the future of the Hindu culture while catching up on international news. She was reading the article about 70s pop culture and thinking “oh, I should cut this out and…” when she came across my name and quote and spit out her yak cheese across a Nepalese cafe. My 70s bravado had made it to another hemisphere.
I never thought that listening to mind-numbing amounts of pop music as a kid would lead to such a specific expertise that would ultimately land me a quote in the New York Times. But I do know this: if I ever get a chance to appear on Jeopardy! and one of the categories turns out to be “1970s Story Songs,” you’d better watch out.
Copacabana (Barry Manilow)
Gypsies Tramps and Thieves (Cher)
The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia (Vicki Lawrence)
Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree (Tony Orlando and Dawn)