In 1975, Gladys Knight and the Pips did their charming cover of “The Way We Were.”
Gladys thoughtfully built on its themes of nostalgia, pleasure and pain. Her recording starts with a spoken-word commentary:
“Everybody’s talking about ‘the good old days, the good old days…’ Well, let’s talk about the good old days.GLADYS KNIGHT AND THE PIPS – “The Way We Were/Try to Remember”
“Bad as we think they are, these will become ‘the good old days’ for our children.”
BILLBOARD HOT 100 #11, August 1975
Both Grouse’s recent TNOCS article regarding his magnificent obsession got me to thinking about my own.
Mine culminated in a wonderful weekend in New York City, months after Knight and the Pips hit the Top 20 with their remake.
I hadn’t been very interested in superheroes or comic books before the summer of 1972.
I remember watching Saturday-morning superhero cartoons in the ’60s and ’70s, B.S. (before “Superfriends”).
They didn’t make much of an impression.
What did were the after-school reruns of “The Avengers.”
No, not the Marvel supergroup, beloved now through a generation of big-screen adventures. Rather, the British exports of John Steed, Emma Peel and Tara King.
My brother and I lapped up this weekday treat. We soon found ourselves integrating umbrellas and “karate chops” into outdoor playtime with our neighborhood friends.
So, after school one day I walked into Mal’s Pharmacy on Devon Avenue in northwest Chicago and found my attention captured by a comic book cover.
Lois Lane #122, to be exact.
Technically, the title was “Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane,” but I didn’t pay attention to the lead-in.
The adult me understands the questionable themes that the cover artist used to get my attention. The 8-going-on-9-year-old me could only say “they worked.”
I bought it.
It wasn’t long before I picked up Justice League of America, Superman, Wonder Woman, Detective Comics, The Brave and the Bold, and so on.
I was becoming a DC fanboy. Even though that term wasn’t common then, and I wouldn’t have liked it.
The comics’ 20-to-25 cent cost helped.
I even remember buying JLA #107 from a cool vending machine in Schiller Park, Illinois.
Later, when you had to get more than a quarter to buy that book you wanted, it was more of a stretch.
In early 1975, our family was watching an episode of WMAQ’s newsmagazine “Sorting it Out” with Bob Smith and a pre-“Cheers” Shelley Long.
It took us on a tour of The Nostalgia Shop, a store on West Lawrence Avenue that featured hundreds of comic books, old and new. I realized, “Hey! That’s just a few miles from our house!”
I’ll always associate the Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ “Jackie Blue” with trips in my dad’s VW Beetle to the Nostalgia Shop. There we would pick up that week’s new books and, if I’d saved enough, a classic or two.
My brother and I gave passing notice to the X-rated movie theater a block away. As long as we had the latest adventures of Green Arrow, Hawkman, Black Canary and Aquaman, with a Quarter Pounder and chocolate shake from the McDonald’s across the street, we were more than satisfied.
By the summer 1975, house ads began to pop up in DC comics, touting a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: the chance to meet the folks who created the comics, at the Super DC Convention in New York City!
And since 1976 would be a leap year, we got the bonus day of Feb. 29 to spend at the show.
My 12-year-old brother and I, the worldly 13-year-old, badgered our parents to let us live the dream.
We figured out a plan. We could stay with my Uncle Russ and his family in White Plains and take public transportation into the city. From there, we could get to the convention hotel and spend three days soaking in the superheroes.
Our plan was that basic. And my parents went for it, on one condition:
We had to pay for it.
So, for six months, my brother and I pulled together every cent we could from babysitting, lawn mowing, a paper route and more. Birthday presents and Christmas presents were contributions to the fund.
Looking back, I’m pretty sure my dad kicked in a little “extra.” After all, we gave our money to him to be deposited – neither of us had bank accounts yet. And even in 1975, I’m pretty sure the cost of two round-trip airline tickets for children from Chicago to New York City would have topped $100.
I was in seventh grade, and my brother, sixth, in February 1976.
We traveled together to New York City, stayed with my uncle, aunt and cousins for three days, and walked the streets of Manhattan unchaperoned.
We went to the front of the United Nations building and marveled at the flags of the various countries. My Uncle Russ, an executive with NBC, took us on a tour of its Rockefeller Center studios and introduced us to John Chancellor.
And, at night, he, our Aunt Audrey and our cousins David and Lynn went with us to a fantastic restaurant in Little Italy whose name I don’t remember. (What I do remember is the mostaccioli – so good!)
All of this was an appetizer to Manhattan’s main course: the 1976 Super DC Convention.
Yes, we spent a little time listening to panel discussions.
And we were grateful to get some autographs (DC Super-editor Julius Schwartz being the biggest “name”).
We even made the acquaintance of Jenette Kahn who, unknown to us, had just become DC publisher a few weeks earlier. My brother and I remembered her as that cool lady we talked to a few times on the elevator.
But we were there for the comics – the Hotel Commodore was like the Nostalgia Shop on steroids! Thousands and thousands of comic books for display and sale. The only questions we had were:
How far would our savings go?
How much time did we have?
And could we carry everything home?
Being more of a fan than a collector, I never wrote down all my purchases, so I can’t tell you exactly how much we spent or what we bought. I recall it being about 100 comic books. (We put them in one suitcase and my brother’s and my clothes in the other, and did not check them.)
I do remember we spent $20 – a lot of money! – on a copy of Justice League #22, the second part of their initial team-up with the Justice Society. Most purchases were in the 25-cent to 1.50 range, and most involved titles and characters from the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Despite whatever was going on at the time: the seediness and bankruptcy of New York City; our growing up in two households and shifting homes and schools for the ’75-’76 school year…
…It’s impossible not to think of that time as “the good old days.”
Gladys Knight had it right.
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