I seem to fixate on specific years and dive deeply into the history, the feel, the music, the vibe of that time. Lately, it's all about the 70s for me.
I can't get enough of Will Hermes' new book about New York City called Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in NYC That Changed Music Forever. It surveys the cultural landscape of the Big Apple from 1973 through 1977, bringing it so vividly to life that I can feel it, hear it, smell it, see it, taste it. The title is inspired by an early Talking Heads song that was itself inspired by the epidemic of insurance-related arson that swept the city's boroughs during the 70s.
[For a hair-raising history of that firey time see Joe Flood's fascinating book called The Fires: How a Computer Formula, Big Ideas, and the Best Intentions Burned Down New York City -- & Determined the Future of Cities.]
Hermes makes a strong case that as the metropolis crumbled and burned something new and electric rose in the night from smoking rubble. All kinds of New Yorkers danced together, turning the tables as it were, further pushing countercultures overground. The past isn't inherently better than the present, but times do have a quality whether shabby, opulent, fair, treacherous, indifferent. New York City in the 1970s was anything but indifferent, certainly, but only now has enough time passed to cast a fair eye back on those distant-enough times.
Love Goes to Buildings on Fire shows that underneath a tough, burnt-out city a hot forge burned and hammers struck out strange shapes for a new society. One that might change lives if only for a dark night; might light your fire; might leave you but a stoned and glowing cinder.