by James Wallace Harris, 1/5/22
[The photo above was probably taken in 1972-1973. It should do to show what I looked like in 1973. Jim Connell is on the left. I’m on the right. Connell was 6’4″ so I look tall and skinny. I’m much lower to the ground and wider today.]
How many memories can our brains hold? Is there a limit, like a hard drive? I know from experience there are limitations on accessing memories, so I assume there are storage limits. However, countless random forgotten experiences burble to the surface of my mind daily. And at night I have an apparently limitless supply of visual settings and characters to film my dreams.
I’ve always been obsessed with wanting perfect recall. Aren’t the things we obsessed over what we want and can’t have? 2023 is the 50th anniversary of 1973. I shall use that year for testing my memory in this essay.
This is not another nostalgic look back in time. In fact, I feel the golden glow of nostalgia is finally starting to wear off. 1973 is one of the least remembered years in my mind. At this moment I can’t recall anything specific I did in 1973. I know I was doing stuff, and some of my vaguer memories might have taken place that year, but for now, I just don’t remember what I was doing. I’m not even sure where I was living at the time.
Think of this essay as a cold case. I’m going to go through old drawers and paperwork looking for clues and use the internet to find out what was happening in the world at large to see if that triggers any memories of 1973.
Unfortunately, around 1975-77 I went into a Buddhist phase and gave away or threw away a lot of my possessions. I intentionally tossed most of my personal mementos because I didn’t want to be attached to them or be hung up on the past. I regret that now because I destroyed all my letters, photos, slides, 8mm films, and copies of my APAzines. When my mother died in 2007 I inherited all her photos and mementos. She kept a lot of my report cards. And over the years people have given me photos and old letters. Plus I have my college transcripts — if I can find them. Physical clues are theoretically slim, but I shall look for them.
I shall use full names in case some of my lost friends are Googling their own names. Who knows, maybe it might cause a reconnection.
Sadly, many of my close friends from the 1970s have died. My old roommate Greg Bridges has moved away and I’ve lost contact with him. 1973 was well before I met my wife in 1977. I’m still in contact with my old high school buddy Connell, and my sister Becky is still alive. Becky married in 1971 and moved to Dallas, so she won’t remember much of my 1973. Most of my relatives have also died, at least the ones I saw the most in 1973.
I did not remember a visit to Dallas in 1973 with Carol Suter and Jim Connell until after writing the first draft of this essay. The act of writing has caused memories to float to the surface. Sometimes it took hours, sometimes days to recall. I shall note these delayed experiences in italics.
I’ve written an essay like this before, in 2019, for the 50th anniversary of when I graduated high school. This time I want to go deeper into reconstructing the past. One of the best books I’ve read about being a historian is Jesus Before the Gospels by Bart D. Ehrman.
Ehrman covers all the sources of evidence a historian uses to reconstruct the past and discusses the effectiveness of each. Ehrman shows how memory is unreliable. He also shows how unreliable eyewitnesses are too. Even if I had lots of memories of 1973 I couldn’t trust them. Not everything I write here will be truly reliable. One of the most damning pieces of evidence Ehrman reviewed in his book was about a professor who had his students write down where they were and what they saw and felt the day after 9/11. Then a decade later he tracked down many of those students and asked them to write down what they remembered about 9/11. Several wrote something entirely different. But here’s the kicker. Some of those students who were shown their original essay written the day afterward claimed they didn’t believe what they had written. They believed their memory!
The first piece of evidence I found is a transcript from Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis).
I was a terrible college student. I dropped out many times. I hardly ever did homework, and it’s amazing I got grades as good as these. During 1971-1972 I attended State Technical Institute Memphis. There I majored in a two-year computer science degree. I loved computers, but the focus was on COBOL and getting a job in a bank. I decided I didn’t want that and transferred to Memphis State in 1973. This only came back to me as I studied the transcript.
Many of these courses are general requirements but the ones that weren’t, remind me of when I was searching for a major. I remember now I was considering history, sociology, English, and anthropology. Although, at some point, maybe even when I quit State Tech, I was considering getting a library degree. I needed a B.S. degree before moving to Knoxville to get an M.L.S. degree (Master of Library Science). I just can’t remember.
I remember liking Byzantine history but not the course. It required too much real work. I don’t know why I made an F in “U.S. Southern History Since 1865” since I made an A in “U. S. History Since 1865.” I have absolutely no memory of taking that course. I took “Southern Literature” in the Spring of 1974 and got an A. I also took two Library Science courses that spring, which backs up my memory theory that I was thinking about becoming a librarian.
One course I distinctly remember is “ENGL 3501 English Grammar” because it was about grammar theory and was really hard. And I have trouble with ordinary grammar. What improved my grade was writing a paper on computer translation of languages. I was really into that subject and I impressed the professor.
I lived at 140 Eastview Drive in Memphis during that year because that’s where I remember writing the paper on computer translation. I was sharing a duplex apartment with Greg Bridges who was my science fiction buddy. We went to conventions and produced a fanzine on Gestetner mimeograph which the two of us co-owned with Dennis McHaney. Another buddy John Williamson lived next door in the duplex across the driveway. We got our friend Claude Saxon to move onto this street too, just a couple doors down. We pictured ourselves creating a hippie-like commune by getting all our friends to move to Eastview. It was a rundown neighborhood in 1973, and it’s worse now in 2022. Here’s what it looks like today from Google Maps.
One of the reasons why my grades were falling off was having so much fun at the time. I was into fandom and a member of two APAs – Spectator Amateur Press (SAPS) and Southern Fandom Press Alliance (SFPA). I was also going to lots of rock concerts and smoking a lot of weed with many friends. Two that I remembered a day later were Tom and Sara. I ended up dating Sara’s sister Alice in 1975.
It was while Greg and I lived in this Eastview duplex that he worked on the Programs committee at Memphis State and he got Fred Pohl, John Brunner, and James Gunn to come and do a two-day seminar. The three writers took Greg and me to lunch and we got to listen to them talk about the old days for a couple hours before Pohl and Gunn had to go to the airport. Then we spent the afternoon taking John Brunner around Memphis. He wanted to see the Lorraine Hotel because he was the president of the Martin Luther King society in London. This was before it was renovated. Then Brunner took Greg and me out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant on Union Avenue before we took him to the airport.
I was able to document this from a fanzine article Greg Bridges wrote for Memphen 279 in 2002. The internet has become my real auxiliary memory. Pohl, Brunner, and Gunn were in Memphis on November 22 and 23 1972. That’s before 1973, and earlier than I thought. I assumed 1973 or 1974. But, can I trust Greg’s memory. I hope he had some kind of physical evidence.
I’ve always told people I never lived anyplace longer than 18 months during the 1970s. His date puts me in Eastview in 1972 and I’m pretty sure I moved out in the summer of 1975. I remember 1975 because that’s the year Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen came out. If Greg’s dates are correct I lived on Eastview for almost three years, maybe longer. That completely contradicts what I believed for years.
To me, the 10th, 11th, and 12th grades seemed like the longest years in my memory. I went to three different high schools in two states while living in four different houses. There’s got to be more to 1973. I was twenty-one for eleven months of 1973, that should have been a special time. I suppose going to college filled up the time in a way that made it seem quick and not memorable.
I found a timeline I made years ago. It gives me a few clues. Jim Connell came to visit me and he, Carol Suter, and I drove in Carol’s yellow Gremlin to Dallis to see my sister Becky and her husband Skip Suter, Carol’s brother. That was when I first met Becky’s future second husband Larry Gamer. I was very impressed with him since he was a computer programmer.
Another thing I remember is making a trip to Cape Kennedy with Carol. Her mother asked Carol and me to drive her nephew and niece back home to Titusville. They had been staying with Carol’s mother. Their father, Carol’s uncle, worked at NASA and he took Carol and me to his job site at a communication facility on base. While we were there they taped conversations with Skylab 3, which operated from July 7, 1973, to September 25, 1973. This was when we were out of school and could have made the trip. After we dropped off the kids, Carol and I drove to Gainesville to see my old friend Jim Connell. I remember sleeping on the floor in a communal house. But I’m not sure of this memory. It might have been another trip with Carol. But Gainesville would have been close to Titusville. I do remember we went by Six Flaggs in Atlanta. That’s when I saw Helen Reddy in concert.
I made that timeline decades ago to help me remember all the places I lived. It confirmed the trip to Gainesville. It said the Helen Reddy concert was on 8/31/73. It also said Carol and I went to see Edgar Winter and Dr. John the next day, 9/1/73.
So far I’ve been able to prove I took 12 college courses and visited Dallas, Atlanta, Gainesville, and Cape Kennedy in 1973. That’s something but not much.
I have found one letter from 7/29/73 that I wrote Connell which he returned in 1980. I wrote Connell hundreds of pages of letters, which he kept in a box, but his mother threw out sometime in the 1970s. I’d give anything to have that box now. Here’s the letter:
There’s something woo-woo in that letter. In the third-to-the-last paragraph on page one, I asked Connell to imagine a future where he has a daughter born deaf. Connell’s stepdaughter went deaf several years ago after having to take some major antibiotics.
This letter is also weird because it sounds like me now. But then I was trying to imagine the future and now I’m trying to reconstruct the past.
I had Connell read the letter to see what he remembered. He didn’t remember the letter but he thought we thought many more thoughts per second back then than we do now because the letter impressed him with my stream of ideas.
I don’t remember taking any photographs from 1973. I don’t think I owned a camera. That really limits my recall.
A day later I remembered that not only did I own a camera, but so did Greg Bridges and John Williamson. That we had built a darkroom, in the living-room closet at the house on Eastview and considered ourselves amateur photographers. I still don’t think we took pictures of ourselves. We were all into nature photography and macro photography. I did take several rolls of film using Carol as my model. Plus we made super8mm movies. Williamson was into various creative hobbies and even made silkscreen images. He made a silkscreen cover for my SAPS apazine After the Goldrush. I through all that out in my later Buddhist phase.
I’m now out of physical evidence to prove my existence in 1973. Wikipedia’s timeline of major events of 1973 triggers little for me. Neither the 1972-73 nor 1973-74 TV schedule triggers any memories. I’m not sure we watched TV at the Eastview house or even owned a TV.
In my letter above I review a movie. I can’t remember where I watched it. I sometimes rode my bike over to my mother’s house to watch TV there. Today I had a vague memory of a black and white TV in an old wooden cabinet sitting in a tiny living room that had one ugly couch. This memory was in black and white. All my memories of that Eastview living room are in black and white. I think it must have been dark and dingy.
In this post about 50 albums from 1973, I remember many of them, but most of them I bought later. The only ones I think I bought in 1973 were Brothers and Sisters by the Allman Brothers Band, ‘Pronounced ‘Leh-‘nerd ‘Skin-‘nerd’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Over-Nite Sensation by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John, and Piano Man by Billy Joel.
I was able to verify going to a few concerts by recalling them and verifying the dates on the internet. Carol Suter and I went to see Elton John on October 11, 1973, at the Mid-South Coliseum for the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road tour. We also saw him one other time, but I can’t remember if it was in 1972 or 1974. Carol hurt my feelings because she said she would go with me to see Billy Joel during the Piano Man when he was at Lafeyette’s for several days but then went with someone else. I now wished I had seen Billy Joel before he was famous.
I also saw Frank Zappa twice during the 1970s. He was in Memphis in March of 1973, but I can’t verify I was at that concert, but I think it was around the time of Over-Night Sensation. I and my friends went to a lot of concerts during these years. It seemed like every week some big act would perform, often two or three at a time. And the tickets were less than ten dollars back then.
If I would go to the library and look at the microfilm of the Commerical Appeal for 1973 I could verify all those concerts probably. I might even dredge up some other 1973 events I remembered or attended.
Here are the most remembered science fiction books from 1973. I don’t remember reading any of them during that year. Greg and I were both science fiction collectors. I’m pretty sure I subscribed to F&SF that year because I had collected over 200 back issues. But I probably also subscribed to Galaxy, Analog, Amazing, and Fantastic. I also remember building several large bookcases for my collection. They were the same size as a sheet of 1/4″ plywood. I used 1 x 8-inch planks for the shelves and plywood for the backing. They were huge. Greg used giant metal shelves in his room. We even had bookcases in the hall and living room.
Greg and I also published fanzines, traded fanzines, and subscribed to fanzines. Our favorite was Richard Geis’s Science Fiction Review. A few years ago I bought most of them again on eBay and scanned them for the Internet Archive. Probably if I reread the 1973 issues it would trigger many memories.
A memory that came to me on the second day of writing this essay was about my Raleigh 3-speed bicycle. I didn’t have a car that year. When I needed a car I’d ride my bike over to my mom’s house and borrow her car. I rode that bike all over Memphis. Once, and I don’t remember when I visited Connell in Miami and he told me to bring my bike on the airline. I did. And we rode it all over Coconut Grove, where I used to live. I loved that bike. I have no idea what happened to it. That saddens me.
Well, this research is running too long for a blog post, but I think you get the idea. We can remember a lot. Especially if we have triggers. I often have vivid memories of the past pop into my head unbidden. It makes me wonder if everything is recorded and if the bottleneck is the mechanism of recall.
I’m sure if I kept at this experiment I could write a whole book about memory and what I could eventually remember from 1973. I doubt many would want to read it. I’m not even sure anyone will want to read all that I’ve written here. Most people don’t seem very interested in remembering the past. I even know people who say they intentionally try to forget the past and throw away anything that makes them recall it. That horrifies me. I hate that I went through that Buddhist phase.
How much can you remember from 1973?