Seventies Nostalgia

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Frantic Early Seventies


People usually associate the Seventies with punk and disco. But, the early part of that decade was so revolutionary, that survivors of that fast-changing period in time can only look back in retrospect, and marvel how unpredictible the new decade turned out to be.

At first, the early Seventies seemed to be a hangover from the late Sixties, but it soon became obvious that the times were a changing, not only in politics, but also in the arts, specifically in popular music. Woodstock, the 1969 definitive music festival summed up the late Sixties. At the time of that legendary rock festival, which spawned pale imitations for years to come, no-one seemed to realise it was the end of an era, especially when three major rock stars died from unnatural causes soon afterwards. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix died from drug overdoses in 1970, and last but not least was Jim Morrison of “The Doors”, who followed them to an early grave in 1971. It was definitely out with the old and in with the new. Although, the Vietnam war was still a losing battle for the United States, the prevailing ‘make love not war’ styled politics were generally no longer as idealistic as they had been in the previous decade. Times were harder now, although the youth culture hadn’t begun to realise it yet.

"Frantic", my nostalgic novel about the early Seventies partly illustrates the start of the burgeoning change of that revolutionary decade. For a start, Gay Liberation, the ‘radical lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered movement’ of the late 1960s was exploding in San Francisco. The city was no longer full of 'free-love' Haight Ashbury hippies, but was suddenly populated by politically active homosexuals, who were coming 'out of their closets' without guilt about their sexuality. In those days, AIDS was an unheard of disease, and the city was full of indiscriminate gay clubs, baths and bars, where gays could congregate without public recrimination from the city’s law enforcers.

The Cockettes, a new theatre group, formed mainly of left-over Haight-Ashbury hippies, were indicative of those sexually revolutionary times. The sprawling group consisted of drag queens: long haired hippies with glitter in their beards, women, heterosexual men and even babies. They were the first of their kind: a ‘gender-bender’ group, who quickly became fashionable, due to their flamboyant uniqueness. Their original shows with innovative titles like “Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma”, “Pearls over Shanghai” and “Tropical Heatwave/Hot Voodoo” were ‘staged’ at the Palace Theatre in North Beach. The futuristic shows were sell-outs, patronised by the likes of Truman Capote and Rex Reed, who promoted them in his nationally syndicated column.

Admittedly, the new fashion of glitter, sequins and feathers, which the Cockettes theatre group inadvertently inspired, was a bastardised adaptation from the Sixties. But, the sartorial new look was far more blatant and sophisticated than its innocent 'flower power' incarnation, sported by the likes of the late Janis Joplin. The Cockettes not only influenced fashion in the West, but were also the undisputed inspiration for the glam rock era, of which David Bowie, the most famous rock star personality of that glitter pop era, flamboyantly projected the new decade’s bisexual politics in those sexually ambiguous times.

Although, the Cockettes’ shows were undeniably innovative and unique, they broke up in 1972 after an unsuccessful short season in New York. Drugs were partly blamed for their abrupt demise. “They were the first hip drag queens; insane hippie drag queens on and off the stage,” says John Waters, the uncrowned arbiter of bad taste. But, in those days, it wasn’t just the Cockettes who were accused of being insane. Their loyal audience seemed to be too. Psychedelic drugs had been replaced by harder drugs like heroin, proving that the hedonistic climate of the early Seventies was definitely harsher than the infamous 'Summer of Love'. In retrospect, this more brutal regime of hedonism was the instigator for the next revolutionary wave of the Seventies: punk.

Copyright: Frances Lynn 2006

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