Bit the big one.

I found this column via Romenesko, and if you can’t open it (I think Philly requires registration), here’s the relevant passage:

I was a year out of college and working as a copy editor at a lackluster little newspaper in western Michigan. Because the paper was published in the afternoon, my shift began at an ungodly 4:45 a.m. My job was to clean up the copy of others – the best I could often hope for was to nudge the truly awful up to merely mediocre – and then put a headline on it.

On Dec. 8, 1980, I went to bed early without turning on the television or radio, clueless about the seismic shock waves emanating from the west side of Central Park in New York. The next morning I walked into the newsroom unaware, and the other copy editors – older men who reveled in pushing my buttons – gleefully awaited me, Associated Press copy in hand.

“Your little hero Johnny Lennon bit the big one last night,” one of them, a washed-up back-bencher named Brandon, said.

I literally reeled backward. I stuttered and stumbled. “He what?” I asked, trying to process it. They all found this immensely amusing.

This is the second column I’ve read this month about a generational divide in newsrooms over Lennon’s death. I wasn’t working in Metro, nor in Entertainment, in 1980, so I can’t say what happened in my newsroom then.

But I do remember getting on the elevator at the paper with my friend Kirk, not long after another tragic rock-related event, this one in 1979. Eleven people had been crushed or trampled to death trying to get “festival seating” before a Who concert in Cincinnati. The doors opened, and we were joined by two old farts, both of whom were staring at us as though we had blood dripping from our hands. One of the OFs made some comment about the tragedy; I recall the words “killing their own kind, like animals.”

(Why do people always try to pin human crimes on animals? Most animals treat others of the same species pretty well.)

Anyway, I don’t know what I said; I’m sure it wasn’t profound or even interesting. But I remember how accusatory the OF was, as though I had to personally take responsibility for the actions of everyone closer to my age than his, and those looks — like we were a repulsive alien species that had somehow infiltrated the building.

Oh, well. Time is a great leveler. I’m sure at least one of those OFs, and perhaps both, have bit the big one by now. And who was it who chuckled over the hand-wringing over Kurt Cobain. Uh, that would be me.

OK, then. I hope I’m not blowing her cover, but Laura Lippman keeps a down-low blog called The Memory Project. She throws out a memory and asks for people to contribute their own. Sometimes I contribute, mostly I don’t, but today she set the hook deep: For research on her next book, contribute the smells of the ’70s. (If you were a teenage girl, that is.)

I hadn’t considered this in, like, forever, but since smell is the most evocative sense, it’s been hard to forget. (I had a colleague who wore the same cologne as an old boyfriend. I was always finding reasons to hang around his desk and sort of stick my nose near his neck.) Laura started the ball rolling with Noxema. It made me think of Herbal Essence, a smell I hadn’t even thought of in 20 years or more.

What’s your ’70s smell? Charlie? Emeraude? Or Ten-o-Six?

Posted at 9:45 pm in Uncategorized |

34 responses to “Bit the big one.”

  1. brian stouder said on December 12, 2005 at 10:04 pm

    that god-awful musk is all the girls wore when I was in junior high – back in 1974;

    that, and the smell of soggy salted sunflower seeds – which were clogging every drinking fountain drain at Weiser Park middle school, and Ben Geyer Junior High, back then.

    and the then-new smell of catalytic converters. our car wasn’t new enough to have one, but when I worled at a supermarket, that smell in the aprking lot was over powering. bleh!

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  2. hank said on December 12, 2005 at 10:56 pm

    smells of the 70s, mostly smells that came and went with my big sisters:

    Sun-In hair lightener with sweat.

    BonneBelle fruity lip gloss.

    Jean-Nate bath splash.

    Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific

    Agree shampoo

    Prell shampoo

    New tennis balls

    Hot candy: red-hots, Hot Tamales…

    Warm record players (ours got really hot after an hour or so), a velvety, vinyl, electric-tube smell. Also, the cardboard smell of LP covers.

    baby oil (spf zero, but oh that tan)


    Carpet Fresh (before potpourri-scented, etc., there used to be one flavor, in the yellow can)

    Arrid Extra-Day (spray, not roll-on)

    Fireworks — black cats, sparklers, bottle rockets

    Close-Up toothpaste (cinnamon)

    Canned peas

    Volkswagens (moldy, plasticky,also metal, and the rubberized seat upholstery)

    Popcorn in a Kmart

    Freon in a Slurpee machine

    and most of all, chlorine. (the 70s were the swimmingest decade … I’ve not since had the access to as many swimming pools as when I was a kid.)

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  3. Susan said on December 12, 2005 at 11:43 pm

    Dippity-Do, the smell and texture of it as I tamed my long and frizzy hair into some semblance of straightness, using rollers the size of juice cans and the aforementioned glop.

    That stuff you could “dry shampoo” your hair with, what was it? My mom made me use it a couple of times as she was convinced that washing my hair every day was going to make it fall out. What a nasty smell that was.

    Clearasil. Zits, yuck. Getting old has a few blessings.

    Pampers, which were a new invention when my brother was a baby in the early 70s, and I changed a lot of them. Mother’s Little Helper, that was me.

    Bali Hai, Boone’s Farm, Coors, menthol cigarettes, Swischer Sweets. (what I did when I wasn’t being Mother’s Little Helper)

    Frito chili pies and tater tots at Sonic–fast food was new and exciting back then. And we were all skinny.

    Clouds of marijuana smoke wafting out the dorm windows in 1973.

    Wind Song perfume. Grey Flannel men’s cologne. I loved cologne on men back then, now I hate it. What changed?

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  4. ashley said on December 12, 2005 at 11:44 pm

    All I can smell is mold, ’cause the fuckers ain’t helping us out, and the rest of the country forgot about us.

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  5. Mindy said on December 13, 2005 at 5:31 am

    Love’s Baby Soft.

    And Aramis cologne. So many guys used to marinate in that awful stuff. I once met a guy for coffee after he bathed in it, and we were seated next to another guy who had done likewise. My lungs ached and my head felt like it would explode. Ted Danson did an Aramis commercial when he was a nobody, and for years every time I saw Cheers I would remember that morning in the coffee shop and how much I wanted to breathe.

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  6. Connie said on December 13, 2005 at 7:21 am

    Jean Nate body splash, Boones Farm strawberry wine. Bacon for breakfast. And for those registration hassles try for a login and password.

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  7. Carmella said on December 13, 2005 at 7:37 am

    I think the dry shampoo was called “Psssssst”!!

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  8. Joe Kobiela said on December 13, 2005 at 7:51 am

    Peppermint schnapps.

    Canvas boat covers

    smell of a new correct craft ski boat

    Oil on a dirt road

    Fresh water lakes



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  9. Nancy said on December 13, 2005 at 7:58 am

    Love’s Baby Soft and cola-flavored lip balm

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  10. colleen said on December 13, 2005 at 8:08 am

    Lip Smackers

    Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific

    Love’s Baby Soft


    The smell of the hallway at the old Aboite elementary. I still get an anxious feeling if I ever get a whiff of “school smell”

    Speaking of which…the school lunch smell that wafted from the cafeteria.

    Pink Pearl erasers

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  11. kim said on December 13, 2005 at 8:12 am

    The mustiness of my favorite store: Ardmore Attic thrift

    A soup of old French perfume and time that those old clothes just soaked right up

    Sweet Honesty perfume

    Musk Oil and patchouli (early pheromones?)

    The heat coming off my dad’s CB radio room setup

    Boone’s Farm Tickle Pink or TJ Swann or Asti Spumante or whatever the desperate and dirty old man at Westmore Liquors would sell to us teens

    Bonne Bell bubblegum lip gloss

    Popcorn, polyester and candy at Sear’s (it still smells this way)

    A candle I bought just because of its purported scent: new-mown hay (it smelled like burning wax)

    Steamed hot dogs on steamed buns sold from the corner cart


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  12. Dorothy said on December 13, 2005 at 8:32 am

    The candy department at G.C. Murphy’s; fish and chicken cooking at the George Aiken’s Restaurant (Pittsburgh only, most likely); bread baking, donuts frying and pies baking at Sherman’s Bakery, where I had my first job; the lunchmeat counter at Isaly’s; baby powder and/or A&D ointment when changing diapers on the kids I babysat; my dad’s Old Spice while walking to church together; celery and onions cooking in butter (for the stuffing) on Thanksgiving morning – that is current and past history!

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  13. Laura said on December 13, 2005 at 8:46 am

    -Jovan Musk Oil

    -Love’s Rain Scent. There was Earth, Wind and Fire, too, but I wore Rain.

    -Cherry Lip Smackers

    -The exotic smell of warm bagels . Our HS sold warm bagels every Thursday. I was paid $2 and two bagels to pick them up from Block’s Hot Bagels way out on the east side. I had never even heard of bagels until then. Few of us Westerville teens had. It was quite the sensation.

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  14. Laura said on December 13, 2005 at 8:48 am

    Oh, and there was Mudd Mask, too.

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  15. Connie said on December 13, 2005 at 9:28 am

    Laura, I had my first ever bagel as a college freshman at Michigan State. And my first ever lasagna as a college junior. And my first ever winter squash in the Brody Halls cafeteria. We didn’t eat fancy food in Dutch country Michigan. 🙂 Actually I think that at my house we ate only foods my dad liked.

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  16. sg said on December 13, 2005 at 11:00 am

    Shalimar. I swear my best friend and sister swam in the stuff. They thought it made them slutty.

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  17. Lex said on December 13, 2005 at 1:38 pm

    Shalimar. It did. Well, OK, not THEM, maybe, but some other girls I knew ….

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  18. sue said on December 13, 2005 at 1:50 pm


    I, too, had my first bagel as a college freshman at MSU. And it was deep-fried! Remember the Bagel Fragel Shop on Grand River? I knew I wasn’t in the U.P. anymore.

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  19. mary said on December 13, 2005 at 5:17 pm

    Natural Wonder soap and Flex Balsam shampoo. Jeans that smell like campfire smoke. Definitely that old VW interior smell.

    And dope.

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  20. MarkH said on December 13, 2005 at 5:55 pm

    Dorothy, you said it. That wouldn’t have been CITY chicken at Aiken’s, would it? Also the old department stores, Horne’s, Kaufman’s and the inside of Eat ‘n’ Park…

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  21. Dorothy said on December 13, 2005 at 6:04 pm

    Mark did you by any chance call it “upstreet” when you went to the business section of your hometown? I grew up in Wilkinsburg and that’s what everyone called it!

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  22. Claire said on December 13, 2005 at 6:09 pm


    *Love’s Baby Soft

    *Love’s Rain

    *Jovan Musk

    *Leather, from Indian-style hair braids, leather bracelets w/name, leather-foot smell from ice skates and rollerskates

    *Mabelline lip potions (smelled good, no taste)

    *Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers (I think these had a bit o taste?)

    *fruit float-fruit float-fruit float (by libby’s libby’s libby’s)

    *franken berry, boo berry, and count chocula

    *geeyourhairsmellsterrific shampoo and body on tap shampoo

    *Wrigley’s fruit stripe gum

    *tic tacs (vanilla-minty smell)

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  23. MarkH said on December 13, 2005 at 7:02 pm

    No, Dorothy, it seems to me it was always “uptown”, for the local business district. We lived in Whitehall, and you had to go south to get there, so I thought it was odd to call it that. But then we had to go north to Pittsburgh, which was always “downtown”. My sister lived in Wilkinsburg for a time, maybe she heard it. Old Spice hits home, too. How about that special combination of snacks and beer that could only be a Pirates game at Forbes Field? That could be a ’60’s thing, though; wasn’t Forbes gone in the ’70’s? I was in Cincinnati by that time….

    And, yes, Nancy, I remember Ten-O-Six. My girlfriend in the ’70’s just about bathed in it. Must have been a Columbus thing (?). And Flex shampoo.

    Amazing how some of you can seperate obscure individual scents after all this time.

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  24. brian stouder said on December 13, 2005 at 7:06 pm

    >Old Spice hits home, too

    Brylcream (possibly mis-spelled); my dad always used that stuff

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  25. Dorothy said on December 13, 2005 at 7:42 pm

    Forbes Field was torn down in either ’69 or ’70. You and I have something else in common, Mark. I moved to Cincinnati from Pittsburgh – but that was in April 2002. Now I’m in South Carolina. I was a tour guide at Three Rivers Stadium for a season, in 1991.

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  26. MarkH said on December 14, 2005 at 3:15 am

    Small world, Dorothy!

    Amazing that both Three Rivers AND Riverfront stadiums are both gone and neither had a very long service life; about 30 years apiece, I believe.

    I was last in Pittsburgh in ’97 when we buried my mother; wonderful memories. It will always be my designated hometown, though I loved Cincinnati, too. I was last in Cincy in 2000 for the 30th high school reunion. No family left in either town, but still a lot of friends in Cincy.

    Any Skyline Chili Parlor: Now, there’s a ’70’s Cincinnati smell for ya!

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  27. Kevin KNuth said on December 14, 2005 at 9:59 am

    I remember Suave “Green Apple Essence” Shampoo- quite clearly!

    I was maybe 8 when Mom brought some home for us to use. (Hey, we had 6 kids, we used the cheap stuff).

    My brother (who would have been maybe 11) took it out of the shopping bag, opened it and smelled it.

    He said, “Kevin, you need to smell this” So I came closer, he held the bottle to my nose and just as I started to inhale, he began to lose his grip on the bottle. So he squeezed and I got a nose full of the stuff.

    To this day, he swears it was an accident.

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  28. chris said on December 14, 2005 at 1:37 pm

    Purple (grape really) perfume in a little round bottle from Spencer’s at the mall. The hot roasted nuts at Sears. The smell of hamburgers in my hair and clothing after working at Azar’s.

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  29. chris said on December 14, 2005 at 1:37 pm

    Purple (grape really) perfume in a little round bottle from Spencer’s at the mall. The hot roasted nuts at Sears. The smell of hamburgers in my hair and clothing after working at Azar’s.

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  30. Eric Zorn said on December 15, 2005 at 1:35 am

    Clairol’s Herbal Essence shampoo.

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  31. Denis said on December 15, 2005 at 2:55 pm

    My first grammar school crush (ca. 1972) wore a scent called “Love’s Fresh Lemon.” I can still smell it in my mind’s nose.

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  32. lefty said on December 15, 2005 at 3:12 pm

    the South Side steel mills after it rained

    my kindergarten teacher’s perfume–I smelled it once since then (1971) in a liquor store in Naperville in 1991 and have no idea what it is

    Aquanet hairspray

    the orange stuff janitors put on puke in schools

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  33. Sal said on December 15, 2005 at 3:36 pm

    Glue from freshly-copied school worksheets right off the mimeograph machine

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  34. Drew said on December 15, 2005 at 4:33 pm

    the sweet, powdery smell of the brittle stick of gum that came in every package of Topps baseball cards

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