Scarp: '70s retrospective opens nostalgia floodgates - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Scarp: '70s retrospective opens nostalgia floodgates

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Posted: Saturday, May 31, 2008 8:52 pm | Updated: 11:13 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Nostalgia comes in waves, not drizzles, and the 1970s nearly drowned me last week. On Wednesday, I watched my godson graduate from Chaparral High School. At least that's what he thinks I was doing, and I was, mostly.

Read Mark Scarp's blog, 'Scarpsdale'

But I spent much of the ceremonies looking in the dusky late-May evening sky - and daydreamed about a blurry vision of me graduating from high school in Scottsdale 32 years ago.

Earlier last week, the Carpenters' "Top of the World" came on the radio. Even though I owned none of her albums back then, I strangely find myself today shedding a tear every time I hear Karen Carpenter's voice.

Friday morning had me casually flipping channels to the "Today" show to find one-time disco diva Donna Summer performing. On Thursday, I learned of the death of Harvey Korman, the hilarious second banana on the iconic '70s comedy-variety program, CBS' "The Carol Burnett Show."

So I couldn't help but try to keep my head above water as I went to the Scottsdale Civic Center Library on Thursday to attend a screening of KAET-TV's (Channel 8) "Arizona Memories From the '70s."

It's the latest in the station's series of hourlong spotlights on life in this state and Valley in decade-long chunks. It premieres at 7 p.m. Monday with an encore showing at 3:30 p.m. June 8.

(Full disclosure: I teach journalism part time at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The Arizona Board of Regents, which governs ASU, has Channel 8's broadcast license.)

The program touches on many of the news events, trends and cultural phenomena of a decade that producer John Booth (Tempe's Marcos de Niza High School, Class of 1978) told the screening audience has finally became cool.

Well, to many of us, anyway. I went from age 11 to age 21 during this decade.


To me, the '70s were always cool, even though it's nearly impossible today to explain the Village People to those in their 20s, unless you include that they're the guys who recorded that wedding reception staple, "YMCA."

As I grew up, so did the Valley, at times in a contradicting way.

As the program notes, people were amazed that via U.S. 60 you could travel out as far as Dobson Road (we had only 32 miles of freeways in this county then), but Phoenix voters smacked down a design for an elevated Interstate 10 through downtown that delayed it for 15 more years.

The show contains several interviews with residents of the period.

Kay Butler said that at the time she couldn't imagine anyone but retirees living in Ahwatukee Foothills. "Fountain Hills?" she asked. "Nobody would go there."

Concert promoter Danny Zelisko said that "Scottsdale stopped north of Camelback Road. It was out in the boondocks. If you traveled north of Camelback, you were entering the Forbidden Zone."

Actually, by the early '70s you could go as far as Indian Bend Road. (But north Scottsdale residents, take note of the term "Forbidden Zone.")

The program tells of how it was during the 1970s that man-made lakes sprouted up in places such as McCormick Ranch in Scottsdale and The Lakes in Tempe.

These were also Big Surf's first years, a time before the words "water park" were invented.

My friends from California derided it as "the wave machine," but we Arizona kids didn't care. It may still have been 105 degrees, but to us it was San Diego without the seven-hour drive.

"The culture was genuine," one of the program's interviewees, David Manning, said of fellow Big Surfers. "The waves were artificial."

A lot of things were artificial during the '70s, from the polyester threads to the disco moves, even the catch phrases: Things you liked were "righteous" and "boss." Things you didn't were "gross."

The program documents many genuine moments. For example, shock rocker Alice Cooper's remarks are revelations.

Cooper, who grew up here, said his very scary band of the era was influenced by the "dark and subversive" humor of ... Wallace & Ladmo?

Apparently, somehow, the long-running Phoenix TV kids' show - which did appeal on different levels to youngsters (slapstick) and adults (political humor) - made its mark on the performer of "Welcome to My Nightmare."

Cooper also commented on the 1976 car-bombing death of journalist Don Bolles, saying he couldn't believe it happened in this "little" city.

"Who would murder anybody in Phoenix?" he asked.

I can vouch for that feeling. It was a simpler, less-frightening time, even for Alice Cooper.


There's only so much able to be put into an hour, though, so here are a few more recollections of the 1970s from my nostalgia-prone mind:

The Scottsdale Six Drive-In had its heyday then, charging $2.50 per person. There also was a drive-in whose name I can't recall, on Elliot Road near Rural Road, a place we teenagers knew as way out there where you could see spicy "B" movies, whose cashiers charged by the carload and seldom asked for ID.

The El Camino Theater, one of the last one-screen movie houses, went up on Scottsdale Road. (I was 11 in 1970 when my parents let me see the R-rated "Patton" in there when it was released.) After it closed in the late 1980s, it went through several incarnations on its way to being a classic-car showroom today. Ah, the circle of life: One of its "lives" was as the local branch of the Polly Ester's/Culture Club '70s/'80s nostalgic nightclub chain.

Sometime in the 1970s, somebody with I'm sure an engineering degree from a respected university decided after, oh, 137 or so floodings of the Indian Bend Wash, that simply repaving McDowell, Thomas, Indian School and Camelback roads across it again wasn't going to work. Construction on today's bridges over the wash began.

Everybody has his or her own decade, and I'm sure there are some of you who feel sorry for me because mine is the '70s. Watergate, Vietnam, Arcosanti, clackers. Not that endearing. But I don't feel that way at all.

It's hard to feel cheated by a decade when you kissed your first girl, drove your first car, drank your first beer that wasn't a sip from your father's, got your first "feathered" haircut from a "unisex" salon - and wore your first three-piece suit with flared cuffs and matching platform shoes.

Besides, I'll never get tired of the misty feeling I get whenever I hear Karen Carpenter on the radio, especially when she's singing "For All We Know."

You ought to try listening to it sometime. It's actually quite righteous.

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