Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Reggie, Ed, Steve, Rupert, the Blackout, and Son of Sam: New York City in 1977

New York is a forward-thinking city, but in 2007 many a New Yorker's mind is turning backwards. Nostalgia is taking hold for the year 1977 - perhaps the most seminal year in the city's almost 400 year history. In life, sometimes everything happens at once: in 1977, so many things were happening, so many social, cultural and political events were occurring - that the city is still catching its breath today. Even those not yet alive or (like yours truly) not old enough to remember, will recognize what the New York of 1977 wrought. If you want the full, in-depth story, I highly recommend the excellent 2005 book Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning by Jonathan Mahler (now showing as a mini-series on ESPN called "The Bronx is Burning"). Here at Mr NYC, we'll give you a thumbnail of that remarkable year:
  • Long before he created the Fox network, and three decades before he tried to buy The Wall Street Journal, Rupert Murdoch bought The New York Post. The Aussie enfant terrible acquired the old liberal broadsheet from long-time owner Dorothy Schiff and turned the paper founded by Alexander Hamilton into a conservative tabloid. The Murdoch effect still resonates today: he went on to create Fox News and helped to make American journalism more sensationalistic and openly partisan.
  • In 1977, little known Congressman Ed Koch stunned the city's political establishment by defeating Mayor Abe Beame and future New York State Governor Mario Cuomo in the Democratic primary. Koch would then serve as Mayor for the next twelve years.
  • Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager emerged from the outer boroughs to create the now legendary Studio 54 in April, 1977. The nightclub became synonymous with 1970s club culture and disco decadence - it was the place to be seen, the place no one could get into, the place where anything and everything was permitted. Today, every hot club in New York or anywhere else exists in the shadow of "54."
  • In 2003, New York and the entire eastern United States suffered a blackout. But it was mild in duration and chaos compared to the blackout of '77. In the broiling July of that year, riots and lootings and mayhem raged, and it looked like the world's greatest city was literally and figuratively melting. It stands in stark contrast to the relatively peaceful New York of today.
  • If New York City is remembered for one thing in 1977, it's the Son of Sam murders. The deranged David Berkowitz stalked women and couples at night and senselessly murdered them. He taunted the police with notes he left behind and he became the city's first serial killer in decades. Columnist Jimmy Breslin made his reputation with his breathless coverage of the Son of Sam case, and like the blackout riots, it became symbolic of a city literally destroying itself.
  • Two classic New York City movies were released in 1977. Woody Allen's "Annie Hall" transformed and defined the urban romantic comedy for the rest of the 20th century and also managed to win a few Oscars (including Best Picture). Also, "Saturday Night Fever" came out, capping the zenith of the disco craze, and making John Travolta a movie star and the Bee Gees chart-toppers.
  • Finally, in 1977, slugger Reggie Jackson joined the Yankees and gave the city its first World Series win since the Mets in 1969.

    It marked a glorious end to a rough but historic year in NYC. And the city hasn't been the same since.

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