Bryan noted in a post the other day that I was out of town: I’d been in Amsterdam and London on NYU Abu Dhabi business. I got back at the end of last week, but I didn’t stay in New York for long. At least, not present-day New York. My family was going to the Midwest for a week to visit grandma, so it seemed like a golden opportunity to step into my mental time machine and beam myself back to the summer of 1977, when the Rolling Stones were on the verge of recording the album Some Girls, which I’ve been contracted to write about for Continuum’s 33 1/3 series.
The summer of ’77, of course, is famous for the blackout that occurred in mid-July, setting off an orgy of looting and arson in all five boroughs.
I missed it; I happened to be in summer camp in Rhinebeck, NY that July, and I don’t think that the fact of the blackout made much of an impression on me when my parents told me about it on the phone.
So I decided to live it (I can’t very well say “re-live it”) by taking another look at Jonathan Mahler’s account of that year, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City, which interweaves the story of the ’77 Yankees (who went on to win the World Series) and the story of the city in which they played. In New York City, 1977 was notable not only for the blackout but also for the arrest of the “Son of Sam” serial killer, David Berkowitz, the opening of Studio 54, the beginning of Mick Jagger’s affair with Jerry Hall, Keith Richards’s arrest in Toronto for cocaine possession, and the ascension of one Ed Koch.
The title of Mahler’s book refers to a line that the legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell was reputed to have said during the World Series when an aerial shot of Yankee Stadium captured the view of an abandoned elementary school burning nearby. New York, like many cities in the nation, suffered an epidemic of arson in the 1970s, as landlords essentially liquidated unprofitable buildings by selling them to their insurance companies. The South Bronx was hit particularly hard, resulting in the burned-out landscape for which it would become infamous. Mario Merola, then Bronx District Attorney and a navigator in World War II, told Time magazine that