As those who were there know, 1973 wasn’t just about platforms and the Bay City Rollers.
It was much weirder than all that, as Killen (History/City College of New York) chronicles, arguing that the year was a watershed during which the countercultural glories of the ’60s crashed into the autism of the ’70s, which would unfold in the reactionary ’80s. Killen eschews firsthand memories, so he may not have been around to observe the weirdness up close, but he gamely re-creates the time; his opening montage of the death of baseball great Roberto Clemente, the opening of DFW and the hijacking rage is lovely. Whether 1973 was really a watershed is debatable, and Killen wisely brackets events with glimpses of ’72 and ’74, but he makes interesting connections along the way. It’s not news that An American Family, starring Lance Loud and his unhappy kin, was the first reality show; it is news to learn that Loud, no mere documentary subject, was playing to the camera in ways that he had learned from Andy Warhol—and not just from studying The Factory from afar, but from having corresponded with Warhol directly. (Those precocious teenagers of teenage-centric 1973!) The birth of media addiction aside, Killen makes a winning case, too, for seeing 1973 as a harbinger of our times in the matter of belief, charting the rise not just of Me Decade cults such as est but also of fundamentalist Christianity and offshoots such as the Children of God and the Moonies. There are a few false notes along the way (for one, the New York Dolls were never really popular, even in New York), but the author does a good job overall of keeping his narrative on track with his thesis, which should make no one nostalgic for the time of the SLA and dawning disco.
A smart if somewhat disjointed blend of social history and cultural criticism, far truer to the time than David Frum’s tsk-tsking How We Got Here (2000).