Death comes for the smoocher
by Jon Worley
Don Cornelius. Levon Helm. Chuck Brown. Donna Summer. All these icons of the 70s (and late 60s) died recently, but the passing that has struck me the most is that of Richard Dawson.
While I was a child of the 70s (born in 1970), I missed out on most of the music. I've filled in here and there in the decades since, but I don't have a visceral link. On the other hand, I was a veritable "Feud" fanatic.
We didn't watch much TV in our house, but "Family Feud" was one thing that even my mom could get behind. The game itself was ancillary. I figured this out when playing the "home version" at someone else's house. Dawson was what made "The Feud."
When I heard that Dawson had died, I laughed. I laughed because that's what I did when I watched "The Feud." Dawson was the perfect host for that show, which formed the holy trinity of game shows along with "Match Game" and "Hollywood Squares." Don't believe me? You can watch those shows today and they're still great. Other than the clothes, there's nothing dated about those shows.
I've been thinking about the music of the 70s (and late 60s) for a while, and I've come to believe that the period of 1968-1977 is perhaps the most fertile and interesting period in the history of popular music. Looking at other popular art forms, I've come to realize that those years were simply great, artistically speaking.
Movies? Let's see. "Bonnie and Clyde." "Easy Rider." "Nashville." The two "Godfather"s. "Chinatown." "Star Wars." "2001." And that's just off the top of my head in 15 seconds. Andy Warhol was well into his partially-successful attempt to democratize the art world. And while the world of literature didn't exactly catch fire, this was the period when the likes of Elmore Leonard, Philip Roth and Hunter Thompson were rewriting the rules of their varied styles. Oh, and there was something about Fear of Flying. As far as TV past game shows, programs like "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "The Bill Cosby Show" (he was a P.E. teacher) rewrote how society saw people who didn't happen to be white men. And "The Bob Newhart Show" showed that a couple could be happy without kids (another revolutionary concept for the time). And don't forget Norman Lear's two great contributions, "All in the Family" and "The Jeffersons." All of these sitcoms used laughter to change societal attitudes. And all of them are still funny today, though the some of the issues they tackled seem dated.
Almost every day it seems like someone from this era is kicking. Lately, it has been almost every day (Brown and Summer went back-to-back). And since I actually have childhood memories of Richard Dawson, I guess that it is his death that is reminding me of the greatness that was the 70s.
In retrospect, it should have been a time of ferment and wonder. The baby boomers were growing up and becoming adults. And while most of the great artists of the 70s were too old to be boomers, they were responding to the needs of the increasingly youthful culture. A culture that demanded stability and change. And impossible order, which might be why a casual glance at the 70s might see it as a cultural wasteland.
Richard Dawson is the perfect emblem of that time. He was suave without being smarmy. He was sharp without being strident. He brought joy to a wide variety of people simply by the strength of his personality. To see Richard Dawson on "The Feud" was to see a man in his element, and that brought smiles to tens of millions of people. Me included.
The 70s are actually dying. The smoocher has smooched his last smoochee. Bummer.
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