Perhaps the only way to truly capture Los Angeles in the 1970s is through the personal accounts of those who lived through this forgotten decade. Luis Rodriguez, an L.A. born Poet Laureate and author, went through his teenage years in the seventies. He wrote that “to truly love L.A., you have to see it through different eyes, askew, perhaps, beyond the fantasy-induced Hollywood spectacles.”
David Kukoff, the L.A. native and editor of Los Angeles in the 1970s: Weird Scenes Inside the Goldmine, set the tone of his anthology with this description of the city in the Poet’s Corner of Wardman Library last Thursday night. Visiting Professor of English Joe Donnelly hosted a panel of three writers to discuss their contributions to the book.
Released last November and a finalist for the Foreword INDIES award for Best Anthology of 2016, the book is made up of 29 original essays, all of which capture a vivid image of Los Angeles in the 1970s.
Donnelly began the night by introducing the panel, which included himself, L.A. based journalist and essayist Lynell George, (who has previously written for both the L.A. Times and L.A. Weekly), veteran actor Del Zemora, (who guest starred in T.V. and film from True Blood to Born in East L.A. and Repo Man), and Kukoff, an L.A. native screenwriter and reporter.
Kukoff said that he wrote his book because he always felt that the seventies was the last decade where the city still felt like the ‘wild west.’, “I really wanted to explore what was so crazy and interesting about the city before it evolved into its current place,” Kukoff said. “Before it became this major metropolis that's very much becoming America's most important and interesting city... there was a lot more going on under the surface that meets the eye.”
Donnelly brought together the panel to match the multiple narratives that are necessary to tell L.A.’s 1970s story in its totality. “L.A. is a city of neighborhoods and a city of stories, and they’re often geographically and psychically entwined,” Donnelly said, before thanking the guests and introducing Kukoff to the crowd of 30.
The writers each took a turn reading small portions of their contributed chapters in the book. Each chapter was distinct, having a clear individual voice and highlighting specific moments of the 1970s. For instance, Del Zemora recounted the tumultuous scene of the 1970 Chicano Moratorium, an East Los Angeles demonstration attended by more than a thousand people at Laguna Park. The Moratorium gathered to protest the racial targeting of police brutality and the Vietnam War draft, among other things.
The park is now named Salazar Park after Ruben Salazar, a bilingual journalist and reporter who was killed by a sheriff on that day, along with two other moratorium participants. “It’s a history that’s been swept under the carpet because the society doesn’t like to revisit history that makes them feel guilty, or bad, or that they were doing anything that was untoward towards the communities,” Zemora said. Telling the story of L.A. in the seventies, would be incomplete without this history.
After the panelists’ recitals, Kukoff asked the three writers a series of questions in order to place the book’s significance in a modern context. Soon after, the panel opened up for a quick question-and-answer session. An ongoing theme running through the talk was the “brutal and demoralizing sameness of gentrification,” said Donnelly, who wrote about surfing counterculture in Venice, a beach which is now “a playground, like Manhattan, for the rich.”
George wrote about the physical and emotional boundaries that run through different racially diverse and often segregated regions of Los Angeles. Her experience included moving houses and learning to understand how to safely navigate these regions in her adolescence. While she said those spaces still exist in Los Angeles today, she also mentioned the new factor that spaces face today: gentrification.
“I’m writing a lot about gentrification today… that and homelessness seem to be the topic of our region,” said George. “This displacement, and the history that goes with it, and these stories about how it was once this and it is now this... that’s going away too, and those stories are very important.”
The night rounded off with a raffling-off of three copies of the book and an invitation to indulge in the assortment of donuts placed off to the side of the panel, as students spread to mingle with each other and the panelists themselves. Although these incidents occurred, they still continue to mold the City of Angels that we know today.