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Monthly Archives: August 2017

The last boat off the island.

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Just ’cause I haven’t written about Seventies yearbooks in a week or two doesn’t mean the jag has subsided.

In all those words I’ve spent writing about the trove of Seventies high school yearbooks on archive.org, I never got around to writing about my favorite.

(It wasn’t the one with “Stairway to Heaven” laboriously transcribed on its front cover … though that one is pretty classic.)

No, I think the most interesting is probably the 1975 annual from Thompson Academy in Boston. It’s a ticket to a distinct time and place, where a bunch of unique circumstances meet and collide.

First, the setting: Thompson Academy was a former vocational school turned college prep school for inner-city boys, built on an island in Boston Harbor and accessible only by boat. So, not your usual sprawling suburban school campus with rows of handed-down Chevys parked out front.

(It’s not every yearbook that, in reviewing the senior class’s four years, includes as a highlight “the yurt was built.”)

1974-75 also happened to be the school’s last year in operation after 160 years, which lends a certain poignancy to the proceedings. Everything shown or described in the book has happened for the last time.

The casual reader doesn’t have much chance to wallow in nostalgia, though, because contemporary time and place keep inserting themselves.

1974-75 was the school year when forced busing erupted in Boston, and South Boston in particular.

If you look through the profiles of Thompson Academy’s senior class, about half of them are white kids from Southie, while much of the other half are black kids from somewhere else.

Some of the Southie kids are loud and proud about it, or at least one gets that impression by the “SOUTH BOSTON” T-shirts and hockey jerseys they just happened to wear on school photo day. Not to mention the tam-o-shanters.

In their senior wills and testaments, several of the Southie kids cite “busing” among their dislikes, while several of the African-American kids cite “South Boston” or “ignorant South Boston freaks” as their pet peeves. Some of the kids specifically name their fellow students among their dislikes, too; they seem more likely to cite kids from the opposite group, though this is not absolute.

This lends a bit of a jagged edge to the yearbook — you wonder how often these conflicts flared up on a day-to-day basis.

Every high school yearbook has a couple of grumblebunnies and malcontents who make it clear they can’t wait to get out … but most yearbooks don’t make you question whether the senior class would have split into halves and pelted each other with rocks and bottles if given the chance.

(There’s one white senior — not from Southie, for what it’s worth — who openly lists “racism” among his likes. Either he was an unrepentant ass, or he was walking a very fine line of deadpan sarcasm understood in context by his peers. I can’t judge without having been there … but, at any rate, you don’t see that in every yearbook, either.)

And yet — lest we slide toward overdramatizing matters — there’s evidence that these kids liked each other. The farcical picture of the Weightlifting Club, for example, finds whites and blacks cheerfully flexing their underdeveloped guns together.

There’s a great sense of Seventies swagger in the individual senior bios, too.

There’s the kid who lists his future occupation as “Intellectual Player” … the kids with righteous nicknames like Seahawk, Superscore, and Segundo Diablo Abraxas … and the kids who list their likes as “big legit money,” “Superfly rides” and “rum and rootbeer.”

The yearbook suggests the possibility that these kids did what kids do in high-pressure situations: They found ways to coexist, and let out some of the pressure from social situations that tied their elders into knots. Thompson Academy¬†could have been a war zone … but it doesn’t appear that it was.

This is one of the rare yearbooks I’ve seen (not that I’m a connoisseur or anything, but I’ve seen a few) that really make you wonder what it would be like to spend a day or two there.

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Not really havin’ a great title for this post right here.

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People ask me what I miss about Twitter, and I tell them, “The insightful and well-informed discussions on a wide variety of important topics.”

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I’m kinda hoping against hope that the new Taylor Swift album was recorded on cassette in the middle of a bus station, and that it turns out to be 45 minutes of her reading the poetry of Rod McKuen while accompanying herself on a Major Morgan.

It would be delightful fun to see everyone, from the New York Times on down to the most enthusiastic teenage fan, all trying to parse that … clutching at hints and swapping suggestions … searching this oblique piece of nonsense for Major Statements about Fame, Feminism and the World Today … like picking through the trash outside McDonald’s hoping to find a pheasant under glass.

Yes, that would be a glorious rock through a great big window.

Instead, I find myself again confronting one of the big things that drove me off social media: I just don’t like enthusiasts.

I don’t like being around the kind of people who will go into a speculative froth when confronted with a title, an album cover and a list of song titles. (Or a 45-second movie trailer, or the “coming next week” ending to a TV show, or even just a couple of hints dropped by a Hollywood leading man or lady.)

Maybe it’s a flaw in my personality — a deep-down repellent coldness, or an innate fear of the bigger disappointment that comes as the risk of getting excited.

Or maybe it’s a preference for substance over style: Play me the songs, or show me all 110 minutes of the movie, before I decide whether it’s worth getting excited about.

(To be fair, the tweets pictured above are all related to Ms. Swift’s new single — which, at least, is actually available for the public to hear. I could have used sample tweets from any number of less substantive Not-So-Big Reveals instead, if I’d been inspired to go looking for them. The announcement of her next record, most of which still exists only in the ether, definitely inspired its own cavalcade of 140-character comment and analysis.)

In this case, a certain amount of backlash also is to blame. I concede that Taylor Swift has a fair degree of musical talent, and she definitely plays the fame machine as adroitly as Pablo Casals played the cello.

But I’m getting kinda tired of hearing about her, and I don’t need thinkpieces about her every public maneuvering … nor do I need to open the pseudonymous Twitter feed I keep on hand for work purposes and see several tweets in a row about her latest release.

Twitter is geek heaven. In between the Star Wars geeks, the pop-singer geeks (remember the Beliebers?), the superhero-movie geeks, the politics geeks, the “Game of Thrones” geeks and a hundred smaller geekdoms (like the ones that magically arise on the nights of awards shows or presidential debates), it’s a constant stream of freshly stoked enthusiasms, with the media glad to jump in alongside the fans to fuel the what-do-you-thinks when they seem at risk of dying down.

I guess it says something about me that I couldn’t take it any more.

Ten for the books.

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Ten for the books.

A jag doesn’t go away until it comes out through the fingertips. And so we continue …

The “Stairway to Heaven” yearbook I linked to the other day will probably always be the standard-bearer for Seventies high school yearbook covers. It’s just so thoroughly of its time.

But as I continue to browse the online collection at archive.org, I find so many more that deserve to be brought out and recognized.

Sure, if you search the archive for “yearbook,” you’ll find lots of obvious cover photos of changing leaves, seagulls and sunsets. (Or are they sunrises? We discussed that the other day.)

But you’ll also find plenty of schools willing to stretch the boundaries of imagination — sometimes good taste, too — to do something new and catch the spirit of the time and place.

And that’s really what it’s about, no? A yearbook isn’t supposed to be timeless; it’s supposed to be carved out of a moment, or a collection of them, and it’s supposed to take you there when you look at it.

Anyway, here are 10 classic Seventies high school yearbook covers you need to see, because they’ll take you there. Or they’ll take you someplace interesting, anyway.

I put numbers on ’em, but I wouldn’t really argue that No. 2 is better than No. 9. It’s all good:

10. Belmont High School “Reflections,” Belmont, Mass., 1973.

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You’ll find all sorts of freaky-deaky photo effects on Seventies yearbook covers. Fisheye lenses. Redscale film. Photos that have been given that posterized treatment — I think that’s what it’s called — when an image is boiled down to only two or three colors, producing a garish outline that hints at the real thing.

Choosing a “best” in this category is highly subjective. But if you know the kind of photo treatments I’m thinking of, I think you’ll agree the ’73 Belmont Reflections cover is a fine example. It waves the flag of the genre high and proud.

(“High” perhaps being the operative word. Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

9. Minnechaug Regional High School “Falcon,” Wilbraham, Mass., 1977.

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If you are of a certain age — too young to have received any of these yearbooks, certainly — you may remember the opening credits of The Electric Company. You’d see a clip of a character on the show doing something; then the actor who played that character would saunter into view and wave, or grimace, or curtsy, or something.

(Ringing no bells? Here you go:)

Anyway, I’m having a hard time putting a finger on why I like the Minnechaug High ’77 yearbook cover.

But I think it’s because the concept — separating the moments from the people behind them — subconsciously reminds me of these opening credits.

(Minnechaug also gets mention for its 1975 yearbook, which looks like Poor Richard laid it out, and its 1978 annual, which looks like Pedro Bell, of Funkadelic fame, laid it out.)

8. Johnston High School “Johnston High Fever,” Johnston, Iowa, 1979.

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Remember when I was waxing eloquent about how the “Stairway to Heaven” yearbook cover was the quintessential expression of its time and place?

Yeah, I mighta just been talking out the side of my neck on that.

7. Bishop Fenwick High School “Lance,” Peabody, Mass., 1975.

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Somebody’s grandma did this one, and don’t tell me otherwise.

(If you’re wondering why there are so many Massachusetts high schools in this post, it’s not because of my love for the Bay State; it’s just because Massachusetts is overrepresented in the archive.org collection. A year from now, perhaps fresh goodness from elsewhere will have been added.)

6. Highland High School “Shield,” Highland, Indiana, 1974.

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There’s really nothing identifiably Seventies about this shot. I just think it’s colorful and charming and whimsical and kicky and fresh.

Who would expect to see an old-fashioned gumball machine on a yearbook cover? And who could be crabby enough not to smile at the sight of it?

5. (tie) Port Huron High “Student,” Port Huron, Mich., 1976; and Longmeadow High School “Masacksic,” Longmeadow, Mass., 1976.

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As you can imagine, all kinds of schools went in on the Bicentennial for yearbook inspiration.

If you like Bicentennial designs — and, really, who doesn’t? — you could easily build a top 10 list just from those. I’ve chosen to bundle two together and count them as one.

Port Huron gets the nod for patriotic simplicity. Conversely, Longmeadow gets points for using distinctive art and not using the obvious red, white and blue.

A Bicentennial special mention goes to Fermi High School of Enfield, Conn. Their art wasn’t great, but the cover incorporates “76” in an unexpected way.

4. (tie) Warren Central High School “Wigwam,” Indianapolis, Ind., 1973; and Southeastern Regional Technical Vocational High School “Invictus,” South Easton, Mass., 1973.

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Blue jeans were a great Seventies look (just ask David Dundas) and several covers in the archive.org collection feature denim-themed riffs.

The Warren Central Wigwam shot brings to mind the kind of homespun, faded, super-patched jeans worn by Neil Young on the After the Gold Rush cover, while the much cleaner look of the Southeastern Invictus cover almost anticipates the coming trend for designer denim.

Wonder if anybody at Southeastern even realized they were putting a big closeup of an arse on their yearbook cover until it was too late?

3. Turners Falls High School “Peske-Tuk,” Montague, Mass., 1978.

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The Seventies may have been a time of wild excess, but a fortunate few still found genius in simplicity.

I love the typeface these western Massachusetts kids used for “1978.” And the exclamation point is perfect. Without belaboring the point (like the kids at Liberty High in Brentwood, Calif., did), it says: “Now, wasn’t that one hell of a year we just finished? And aren’t you glad to be in this moment?”

(White yearbook covers probably don’t wear well, but we’ll not get bogged down in practical concerns like that.)

Edit: After looking at this one for the tenth time, I discerned the outline of the words “HERE COMES” above the big blue “1978!” This kinda deflates, or at least redirects, my interpretation above … and I kinda liked it better when all I could see was the year. But I’m just gonna leave the post the way I wrote it.

2. Washington-Lee High School, Arlington, Va., 1977.

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Veering wildly one last time into fantasyland, we have … this design, which looks like an album cover Nektar rejected.

It’s so audacious that it’s won me over. It bears no connection or relevance at all to the day-to-day lives and dreams of teenagers, but whoever designed and approved it seems to have been fine with that. And I guess I am too.

1. Sutton High School “Exitus,” Sutton, Mass., 1973.

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What this one lacks in art it makes up for in pure high-school attitude. (Although the “handwritten” typeface is a nice artistic touch. Makes it look like a teenage girl’s journal or something. Starkly personal.)

In high school, you don’t realize that everyone has your problems, and that none of them really matter. Your passage through the grades, trials and tribulations seems like an epic journey to you.

And when the door slams behind you, you perceive it as the end of an era … because you don’t have the perspective to know it’s just one step along the way.

To be fair: When you open the ’73 Exitus and read a little bit, the “end of an era” mentioned on the cover turns out to be the end of six years of double sessions at Sutton High. The kids who came up with this cover phrase didn’t (entirely) do it because they were in love with their own personal journey-myth; they were referring to real-life events.

But my purpose does not require me to consider context. I’m just looking at covers. And this one, absent context, delivers loads of that sort of unique, endearing self-importance that comes as part of the high school experience.

Really, every one of these covers marks the end of an era for a certain collection of people.

Even the cover with the arse on it.

A few more honorable mentions I couldn’t find room for:

They too have their story.

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The yearbook I linked to in yesterday’s post is still the ne plus ultra of Seventies yearbook covers. (Go see it if you haven’t.)

But when I found this one, I thought it deserved sharing as well, for the way it evoked that uniquely Seventies collision of deep, profound thought (or what was perceived as deep, profound thought) with the mass market.

I give the Stoneham High Class of ’74 credit: Their reproduction of the work in question, inside the front cover, is accurately credited. None of that 1692 nonsense, or whatever canard it was that was going around back in the day.

It had been a few years since the recording of this work had been on Top 40 radio; the members of the Class of ’74 were mere wet-behind-the-ears sophomores when it was a hit. I guess it made a lasting impression in Stoneham.

Finally, while I’m thinking about it: I have always perceived the sun-photos on the covers of yearbooks (including this one) as sunsets. It has only hit me just now that they’re probably supposed to be sunrises — representative of the dawn of a new day, and like that.

I accept whatever that particular Rorschach test says about me.

(Beyond a wholesome discipline, I am being gentle with myself.)

The piper will lead us to reason.

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Seventies yearbooks are an intermittent jag of mine, and I’ve been cruising a bunch of them over at the Internet Archive — to the point where I’m starting to develop a Seventies Yearbook Bingo game based on my favorite themes.

(One favorite game: Guess how many pages you have to get into each yearbook before you find a picture of somebody playing a guitar. When you find one, it will almost certainly be an acoustic guitar, the tool of pained, earnest troubadors everywhere. Give yourself five extra points if it’s not.)

But this is a digression. The real kernel in tonight’s post:

If you like Seventies culture, you simply have to see the front cover of the Weymouth South High School 1979 yearbook, from Weymouth, Massachusetts.

I’m not gonna give you any hints as to what’s on it. But once you’ve seen it, you will not forget it, because a thing of beauty is a joy forever.

Seriously. I’m not trolling or rick-rolling you; I’m not linking to a Playboy centerfold or a gore-shot from some ungodly horror movie. I’m steering you to the distilled essence of Teenage Seventies, or part of it anyway.

Odds are, you won’t even notice the howling spelling error at top right.

Well, OK, now you will.

(If by chance you click the link and you get the inside cover of the yearbook, just click on the left-hand page to get to the front cover.)

Dude.