Ask me what book i’m reading. Go ahead. Ask.
Hard Times: The Adult Musical in 1970s New York City by Elizabeth Wollman, as if the title of this post wasn’t a dead give away. It is awesome and you should go download it or order it from Amazon.
1970s New York was such a particular place in such a particular time. The city was going bankrupt and everyone predicted it would crash and burn any day. The wild 60s had transformed into the strange and decadent 70s. The sexual revolution was in full swing. Times Square was not the Disneyland it is today, it was the sleaziest sexland you’ve ever witnessed. Hookers, peeps shows, sex shows, adult book stores, adult movie places…little crappy booths whose seats were grimy and sticky where you could watch scenes from porno movies featuring ugly dudes with ridiculous mustaches and chicks with feathered hair and unshaved nether regions. It was before computers where everyone could just quietly enjoy titilation in the privacy of their home. It was before even video cassettes. You wanted sleaze, you had to go out there and get it. And Time Square was the world’s epicenter, the wonderland of sleaze.
Out of this feral mix arose a very specific genre of theater, the adult musical. Oh, Calcutta is the most famous. It would be the one you’ve heard of if you’re heard of any.
This book explores this genre that rose for a few years during the 70s. It’s kind of hysterical at times. At other times it’s quite interesting from a social point of view. Many productions attempted to be serious in many ways. They tried to frankly discuss the issues arising in the age of sexual revolution, feminism and gay rights. Some tried to be clever. Some tried to be cheap. Some were out for a fast buck and some had high minded aspirations. There was nakedness and lots of pelvic thrusting, but no actual sex.
There’s these delights such as the Musical ‘Let My People Come; complete with the cheesiest 70s soft rock score you’ve ever heard (which we’ll feature in a moment), but also gay musicals reflecting the sexual revolution from a gay standpoint post Stonewall riots.
It’s this lost, forgotten and needless to say fascinating genre which this book explores. I seriously can’t recommend this enough.
Here. Take a listen to this abomination:
That is…. that is so bad it’s…. it’s… it’s hysterical.
And yet, there’ much more. It was a sign of the times. Feminism, gay rights, sexual experimentation were all finding their footing and this genre of New York musical was a part of this moment, as well as a central target for the obscenity controversies that roared and backlashed, particularly as the 70s sputtered to an end the conservative 80s began to slouch towards Bethlehem to be born.
Plus it cannot be left unmentioned, this genre did give birth to a movie. Oh yes. One of the most WTF movies of all time: Alice In Wonderland, an X Rated Musical Fantasy.