Time Machine: 1977

Blame this post, aka “wallow in nostalgia,” on John Scalzi. As a time/space filler today, he asked his readers to document their favorite piece of media at age 12.

I had an instant answer to that: “Star Wars”. As I mentioned in the first post on this blog, I was part of the horde of obsessed Star Wars fanboys. And when I say “obsessed”, I mean seriously – to the point where I demanded visits to Burger King in order to get the series of Star Wars posters they had as giveaways. (Mine has never been a fast food oriented family, so going to Burger King was a significant deviation.) I’m pretty sure I’ve still got at least some of them, tucked away in one of the boxes of wall decorations that I don’t have wall space for.

But having answered the question, I started to think that there was probably more going on that year. Obsession or no, I couldn’t imagine I spent all of my free time on Star Wars. I started taking a walk around the Web looking at what else was going on in 1977, and there was a heck of a lot. Join me in a ramble through my memories please.

One of my ongoing media obsessions was the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. For several years, I listened to it most nights, and recorded a number of shows on a cheap cassette recorder sitting next to my radio. CBSRMT ran from 1974 until 1982 – just shy of 1400 episodes. Shows varied wildly in subject and quality, but had such wide appeal that there is still a core of fans devoted to locating and digitizing the episodes. I didn’t follow the full run, having come to it late, but since my favorite episode, “The Forgetful Ghost” aired in January of 1978, it’s virtually certain that I was listening to the show in 1977.

The first part of the year was marked by a couple of space-related items. The prototype Space Shuttle (named “Enterprise” in homage to Star Trek) was unveiled in late 1976 and I followed the progress of testing eagerly. In March, the rings of Uranus were discovered. Finding out that Saturn’s rings were unique only in their size and complexity was a huge shock to the world (or at least that part of it that paid any attention to astronomy). Lots of beautiful pictures.

1977 was the Seattle Mariners’ first season. I probably didn’t go to as many games as my memory suggests, but I know I went to several. I suspect that some of those Burger King visits were on the way to or from ball games. I do know the Mariners took a lot of my attention through April and May (Star Wars was released at the end of May).

August brought the so-called “Wow! Signal”. The SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project monitors radio signals from space looking for intelligent transmissions. The Wow! signal met many of the criteria SETI was watching for, and the initial reports, at least in the popular press, was that it was a signal from aliens. The fact that it was of short duration and has never been seen again casts significant doubt on that belief, but at the time it was a big deal to the space-obsessed, especially coming as it did against the background of the ongoing Enterprise Shuttle tests and just before the launch of Voyager 1 on its way to study the outer reaches of the Solar System. The Voyager probes, by the way, carry a message to any aliens who might stumble across them in the form of special gold-plated copper phonograph records with nature sounds, speeches, and music.

A rather more popular record was the soundtrack from “Saturday Night Fever”, which was released in November. Popular culture “Religious Wars” didn’t begin with Mac vs PC, Emacs vs vi, or even Star Wars vs Star Trek; the rock vs disco struggle was probably the most vicious during my teenage years. Disco fans were thrilled with the SNF. Rock fans were horrified. I was largely neutral, as I listened to more Swing-era music than anything else at the time; massive overexposure of SNF and the Bee Gees however, inclined me towards the rock side of the battle lines.

If memory serves, the first LPs I owned were Christmas gifts in 1978: Jeff Wayne’s musical version of “War of the Worlds” and – wait for it – the “Star Wars” soundtrack.

1977 clearly shaped a large part of my life with major baseball, space, and science fiction influences. Thanks for the reminder, John!

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