Take Two

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

LA in the '70s: More than just disco and dystopia

by Alex Cohen and Lori Galarreta | Take Two

148674 full
Mexican immigrants in the country illegally, among them a woman carrying a baby, are boarding a plane in Los Angeles, Calif., as they are being deported back to their native Mexico, July 27, 1976. AP Photo

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... Nope, not talking about France during the Revolution. We're talking about Los Angeles...in the 1970s. 

Looking back at that era of disco and dystopia, writer David Kukoff remembers a remarkable sense of freedom:

"I was a kid with a bike and an abundant curiosity for how I could explore the city. What strikes me as incredibly different is that back then that was doable. You actually could ride around your bike, take the bus to...I would take the bus to my best friend's house in Encino, I lived in Westwood at the time. And just we would ride around and make our own fun which..I can't fathom any 11 or 12-year-old kids doing now."

Kukoff is the editor of a new anthology titled "Los Angeles in the 1970s." He recently dropped by along with one of the book's contributors, Chip Jacobs. Kukoff told Alex Cohen about the genesis of this compilation. He said there were plenty of anthologies focused on the black and white heyday of noir, but few that looked at a decade defined by gas lines and glitter:

Kukoff: "I don't think we've actually stopped and thought about the '70s as bonafide history. It still in some ways feels like pop culture but not history yet and we said 'what if we just did a historical take on it and didn't do it necessarily...academically and observe but inhabited?'..."

Kukoff had the idea to reach out to L.A. born and bred locals for stories, and the project grew and grew until it "took off like wildfire."

Book cover of the anthology book "Los Angeles in the 1970's."
Book cover of the anthology book "Los Angeles in the 1970's." Via Rare Bird Books

"The Snake and Wolf"

Chip Jacobs was one of the many contributing authors to add his story to the anthology. His tale centered around Synanon and the growing appeal of cults in the 1970s.

Jacobs: "Synanon was started by a recovered alcoholic who didn't think AA was the most effective means of curing addiction. What started off as a shabby group of people listening to him preach in a Santa Monica apartment, later became a alternative lifestyle cult mainly based up in Northern California area but with also with a huge presence down here. He was sort of that classic guy that began as a reformer and ended up as a demagogue projecting his demons onto his flock.

Xenophobia is the straw that turns the drink of cults and he set his target on a lawyer down here who'd had a very charmed life in many ways who was trying to get kids and other people out of this group that looked at the outside world as very flawed and dangerous and so it seems like these two men were just destined to collide at some point in their lives and that's what I found interesting." 

Why do cults end up in Southern California?

Alex Cohen noted the similarities between the appeal of Synanon in the '70s and Scientology today. Those aren't the only examples of religions described as 'cults' finding a place in Southern California, so she asked, what is it about these types of 'religions' forming in SoCal?

Jacobs: " I think because people come here seeking a different way where there's not institutions or old money...there is more integration here and you're applauded for striking out on your own and having new ways of thinking about old problems and you know in the '70s for all its problems, there was a lot of choice in American life: there was drugs, there was sex, there was a million different types of art...it seemed like it was just an escape from complexity."

Kukoff and Jacobs also spoke about wacky radio DJ Dr. Demento, the value of preserving the '70s and more.

To hear the full segment, click the blue play button above.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Enjoy Take Two? Try KPCC’s other programs.

What's popular now on KPCC