That 70s show

by Michele A'Court / 17 October, 2009
Shed and same and look anew at the decade taste forgot.

Most of us who grew up in the 70s prefer not to think about it too much. And we certainly don't like to look at the pictures. "Photos of mummy in Crimplene hot-pants with a Farrah-Fawcett do? Gosh, honey, I just have no idea where I've put them."

Not so Ian Chapman, University of Otago music lecturer and self-confessed "70s cultural fetishist". Chapman, along with his alter ego, Dr Glam - a familiar face and pair of platform shoes on Dunedin stages, I hear - invites readers to "get lost in the 70s with those who were there".

It's a ghastly thought at first, being invited to revisit those orange-and-brown years and take a closer look at our Kiwi selves in the decade taste forgot. Yet Glory Days: From Gumboots to Platforms manages to seduce by being loud, proud and unselfconsciously enthusiastic - much like the decade itself.

Chapman, only a smidgen older than me, was either paying a lot more attention during his adolescence than I was or I've managed to repress some of these memories. The book is built largely on his personal reminiscences of growing up in the Waikato, and observations about the social history of that period.

His major focus is the music - from glam to punk, with the Bay City Rollers and other embarrassments in between - but he also has comments on how we looked, what we drove, what we aspired to, fought for and protested against, what we read, heard and watched.

For those of us who have tried to pretend for the last 29 years that the 70s either didn't exist or didn't matter, there are revelations. We'd probably forgotten that, in 1972, New Zealanders stopped standing for the British national anthem at the movies - a sign a tide was turning. Chapman argues that our first proper "television decade" brought New Zealand closer to the world, gave us choices and a shot at being a little less conservative and locked down. It was our first decade of thinking about our own identity.

He also suggests the 70s mattered because everyone succumbed to it. Witness those hideous family photos where no one escaped with dignity. Your dad might have got through the 60s without love beads, but he was as much a victim of wide lapels and polyester pants as his kids. In the 70s, for the first time, the counter-culture was the culture.

Chapman's is not the only voice. There are contributions from well-known and lesser-known 70s survivors. Not all of these are great pieces of writing, and occasionally both narrator and contributors have the same things to say. The decision to credit some voices at the beginning of their piece and others at the end leaves you briefly confused about whose voice you're hearing.

But there are gems from Chris Knox, John Minto, Roi Colbert, Graeme Cairns, Grant Smithies and Marilyn Waring, with a particularly fine rollicking essay on New Zealand theatre from Jean Betts.

Chapman's own writing is very 70s - sometimes so flowery and overdressed he collapses with exhaustion and can only end the sentence with "etc". He can be heavy on the Kiwi references: "... with a shriek like a Canterbury norwester hitting the port hills". But there's an authenticity about the way he presents it like a 70s school project: "See? Here's what I'm talking about, here's a picture of it, here's what someone else said about it, and I cut this bit out of the newspaper."

What you end up with is the sense that, for many of us, this was a time when we thought anything was possible - and therefore sometimes it was. Some of the book's memories will mirror or intersect with yours, or inspire your own specific recollections. At the very least, it makes you feel less embarrassed about being there.

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