Monday, April 19, 2010

The magazine rack: March 1975

I can't take much credit for this entry, really. It's my reaction to finding coverbrowser.com, a site that's not overly attractive in appearance but is an amazing inventory of comic and magazine covers. They claim to have almost half a million covers. I looked at some of the comics, but it seems that comics don't tend to put dates on the covers. Months, maybe, but not years. So I scrapped the comics.

Anyway, I decided to use the website as a kind of time capsule. To go back to a certain time and recreate what a magazine rack might have looked like then. I chose March 1975, for the rather selfish reason that that's the month I was born. So as my mother was rushing to the hospital, had she taken a step inside the nearest 7/11 (or wherever people bought magazines way back then), this is what she'd have possibly seen on the magazine rack:

ESQUIRE



Seems like there was some gloom in the air when I was born. I hope it wasn't my fault. Esquire has a dark picture of a man holding his jail bars so tightly he's bleeing. The title reads, 'Attica: a Time to Die'. I have no idea what the article is about, but it can't be peaches and cream.

THE ECONOMIST




Furthering the doom and gloom, here's a sombre portrait of Gerald Ford and Henry Kissinger taken through a window (early papparazzi work?) on the cover of the British newsmagazine The Economist. This was just months after Nixon's resignation, and I'm sure American politics were not exactly filled with hope and idealism. The title reads 'Republican Twilight', a title Sarah Palin might giggle at (unless it referred to social conservative vampires who twinkle in sunlight).

TIME


No idea what was going on regarding Israel at this time, but Time was in a shouting mood, declaiming 'American Jews and Israel' in a font big enough to be seen from across the street. The Israeli and American flags are conflated, and some guy smiles, happy to be wearing Henry Kissinger's glasses. Not sad like the Economist, not at all.

BRAVO


But what could be sadder than a cover featuring Donny Osmond? This seems to be a German magazine, taken from an online source (note the web address obscuring the flagrant nudity down there). On the one hand, Donny is wearing a bike helmet and a tablecloth around his neck. On the other hand, how cool is that keyboard he's got slung around his neck? For coolness, he might as well be the fifth member of this austere combo:

ROLLING STONE



I've been going for the nearest issues dated before March 12th (my actual birth date). I think this might be the one after my birthday, but I can't be sure. Anyway, Led Zeppelin. Hammer of the Gods, yada yada yada. They're not my taste in music, really, but I can certainly see the iconic nature of this album cover. I mean, that's some billowing hair, really. And quite the tambourine Robert Plant is shaking. More Nixon/Republican talk on the cover, too. As for cool, though, I look to this gentleman:

JET


Who in the world is cooler than Muhammad Ali? Nobody, obviously. Ali is so cool he can even wear that tie, which he seems to have borrowed from Donny Osmond, and not look like a ninny. This is the cover of Jet, a magazine for Black people. The article seems to concern Ali using his money to help the needy.

EBONY


The other main African American magazine has Barbara Jordan, a Democratic congresswoman, on its cover. As charismatic photos go, poor Ms. Jordan unfortunately can't hold a candle to Ali. But that smile on her face probably has something to do with her not being a Republican.

THE NEW YORKER



There was a real pastoral theme in the week of my birth. Almost creepy, really. For the 2500th issue of the New Yorker, a man in a suit in a greenhouse holds a little plant. No words, no context. No idea. Let's get used to it.

NEW YORK




This magazine with the same name less a definite article and an '-er' has plants on its mind too - rather too literally so. 'Secrets of the plant people', it calls out, with four well-dressed plants calling out for a rather horrible horror film to be made. Oh, and more Republican doom-and-gloom too.

GOURMET



'The magazine for good living'... er, yeah. Trees in winter. That's the life. A careful examination shows that these trees are being tapped, perhaps for maple syrup, which might explain the 'gourmet' connection. But it seems like everyone's got trees and plants on their covers. Strange.

POPULAR MECHANICS



Even Popular Mechanics! Now you figure this one out for me, because I'm lost... Here's a couple gone camping - or hiking, rather, with huge backpacks. 'Better Camping in '75!', the headline shouts. Trees everywhere. Rustic, charming, lovely. But... but... but... This is Popular Mechanics! Could someone please explain to me what on earth camping has to do with mechanics?

POPULAR SCIENCE



This is mechanics, right? Solar heating... hm. How forward-thinking for 1975. Perhaps the only cover so far that doesn't seem shockingly dated. I mean, don't get me wrong: those fonts and that concrete are very seventies. But solar heating and flat-screen TVs? How prescient. And, er, a vacuum gauge for your car, whatever that is.

MOTOR TREND



Speaking of cars, three car magazines here. The least interesting one first: this is all text, all ugly. A piggy bank, possibly something on 'electric cars' and 'Chevy's new notchback', whatever that might happen to be. I don't know from cars. This one is white and boxy. Shrug.

CAR AND DRIVER



This is an AMC Pacer. Red, slightly less boxy, and stuck in a field somewhere. It's a 'son of sedan', apparently. It's probably still in that field, 35 years later. Still the same colour too. Oh, and apparently the 55 mph speed limit won't work. Has it?

ROAD & TRACK



Green this time. And angular. Kazoo-shaped, you might say. This is a Maserati, a car that gets car-folks all excited. R&T calls it 'exotic', and asks whether exotic cars would survive. Yeah, since 35 years later the major car companies are so healthy. It's certainly parked in front of a pretty palace. Oh, and the AMC Pacer gets a shoutout here too, as does a $16,000 Lotus, which seems impressive, except for all the inflation that's gone on since then.

GQ



Even Gentlemen's Quarterly is on about cars. Or 'wheels' rather, which are frequently found underneath cars. Like this silver car driven by the smiling man with the plastic hair. The square jaw behind him is riding a Honda motorcycle, and both of them are clearly on their way from starring in some action drama TV show where they carry huge guns and infiltrate drug cartels.

MAD



Good old dependable MAD Magazine has Alfred E. Neuman, from behind so we don't see his gap-toothed face, about to ski into a rapidly-dissipating crowd. I must confess I don't get the joke. His skis are crossed. I guess the point is he's not a good skier, but the most expert of skiers would still cause panic if about to launch themselves into a crowd, right?

NATIONAL LAMPOON



MAD's 1970s competitor in the 'comedy magazine' category, National Lampoon tended to be a bit more adult-oriented. But it leaves me just as confused this time out. We've got the caption, 'Good-Bye to All That' accompanied by five little illustrations. The centre picture is a portrait that reminds me of Jackie Kennedy, though I have no idea why. Each of the other pictures might feature her too, I can't really tell. In one she's accompanied by two men in tradiational Indian headdress. None of it makes any sense. There are two tiny trees too, because, well, March 1975 is the Month of the Tree.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC



Another 'national' magazine, another source of confusion. I thought this was more trees: some autumn illustration of tree leaves turned red (after all, here's a magazine you might expect to actually be discussing trees). But it might equally be a man walking in front of a huge eruption of lava from a volcano. I'm confused. 'Which Way Now for Argentina?', the main caption, tells me nothing. Does Argentina have volcanoes? Perhaps. Trees? It's likely.

PLAYBOY



I got this cover from pbcovers.com. And yes, it was important enough for me to include Playboy that I went hunting around for it. Sigh. I'm just a leery old man. When you look at Playboy international covers, you're immediately taken by how many countries' editions show nudity on the front cover. Not the main American edition, however. But it turns out that in 1975, that wasn't the case. Several of the covers that year showed nipple. Surprising. This one doesn't, but it's a clever visual illustration of the magazine's contents, with a fully clothed woman 'ripping' the magazine cover to reveal her naked self underneath. Cute.

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN



And let's finish with the bizarre... Scientific American pushes the cutting-edge of trail-blazing journalism with its, certainly Pulitzer-tempting, pictorial on 'Deadly Mushrooms'. Yes, the cover of this issue features an illustration of four mushrooms. This must have flown off the shelves the month I was born.

THE SATURDAY EVENING POST



The Post, famous for its covers by Norman Rockwell, which are in turn famous for, I think, evoking some foggy nostalgic sense of a long-dead America that some people seem to miss, went a rather different route this month. Here we get... a cocker spaniel. Or rather, what I think is a needlepoint of a cocker spaniel. I have no idea why. From what I can read of the headlines, there's weightier stuff inside: 'Thou shalt not kill', 'Transcendental meditation', 'Indira Gandhi', 'Sex, power and politics in Washington'. But none of these, it would seem, were as worthy of being the cover subject as... a knit picture of a dog.

FATE



But weird is nowhere best illustrated (or not, literally) like Fate: 'true stories of the strange and unknown'. Like Reader's Digest, it uses its front cover as its table of contents, and the wonders to be held include 'Doomsday for 10,000 People', 'Skier Goes Voodoo', 'Salt Will Calm a Hostile Spirit' and 'Parrot Plays Watchdog'. If only the Republicans had some salt with them back in March 1975... all those years ago.
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