Friday, December 7, 2012

In Our Time

1980, first edition, from Farrar Straus Giroux
Tom Wolfe
In Our Time
Original price $12.95, purchase price $1.00
Good condition hardcover

I used to confuse this Wolfe with the novelist Thomas.  This is the Wolfe who wrote The Right Stuff and The Bonfire of the Vanities, but I haven't even seen the movies.  So why did I buy this?  Was it because it was only a dollar?  In any case, in words and pictures, Wolfe captures aspects of what he had earlier named The Me Decade.  In contrast to Pichaske's "sober, circumspect, temperate seventies," Wolfe writes, "I keep hearing the 1970s described as a lull, a rest period, following the uproars of the 1960s.  I couldn't disagree more.  With the single exception of the student New Left movement-- which evaporated mysteriously in 1970-- the uproars did not subside in the least."  What's funny is Wolfe sees the '70s as hedonistic and yet, as he tells it, the casualness of the sex and drugs was in fact more notable than the outrageousness.  If Yuppies were smoking dope on their coffee breaks, then maybe this wasn't hedonism as such.  Were the '70s quietly, modestly loud and brazen?

Some of the art here actually goes back the early 1960s, but I still think of this book as a good encapsulation of the '70s.  The chapter "Entr'actes and Canapes" specifically, with it's paragraph-long descriptions of Disco, Punk, Upstairs, Downstairs, George McGovern, Gatsby, Elvis, Jonestown, Designer Jeans, Mondo Brando (and the high-price cameos he and a few others made), the Digital Calculator, Roots, Perrier, Light Beer, Muhammad Ali, Short Haircuts, the Fall of South Vietnam, Woody Allen, Brain Physiology, People, the Fall of Nixon, Sidewalk Stereo, and the Year the New Left Left, covers a wide array of topics any student of the 1970s should know about.  And the artwork, much of it caricatures, covers more.  Sometimes Wolfe is cruel, as with Carter, but he didn't seem terribly off-base from what I recall and what I learned of the '70s after my childhood.

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