People who weren’t around in the Seventies, tend to solely associate those frantic days with punk and disco. But, the early part of that decade was so revolutionary, that survivors of that fast-changing period in time can only look back in retrospect, and marvel how unpredictable the new decade turned out to be.
When I started writing “Frantic”, I had just returned home to London after an extended vacation in San Francisco, where I had seen a new theatre group called The Cockettes perform at the palace Theatre in North Beach. I had never seen anything like them before, and during ‘Les Ghouls”, their Halloween spectacular, I was so enthusiastic, that I impulsively jumped up onto the stage at the end of their show. I wasn’t the first person to be so spontaneous. In the late Sixties, audiences ran onto the stage nightly after gyrating in their seats during ‘Hair”, so I wasn’t the first.
If I had started to write “Frantic” today, I very much doubt I would have remembered intimate details of those nostalgic days, but as I actually started writing my novel in 1970, I managed to record fresh sartorial and visual details of that extraordinary period in history. At the time, I was too young to be allowed into bars in San Francisco, and was too naïve to realise that the entire city was in the political grip of a gay lib sexual revolution, which would eventually lead to same sex marriages over three and a half decades later. Unthinkable then. All I was concerned about at the time was the newness of those innovative times, and the visuals of how freaks of all three sexes looked, and the beautiful interiors of their communal squats. The hippies in the previous decade hadn’t seemed so extreme in comparison.
Vintage clothes are in Vogue now, but in the early Seventies, second hand clothes were the norm. All the kids put their individual looks together from charity shops, which helped make street fashion more daring and innovative than ever before. I didn’t have to invent what my characters wore in “Frantic”, as I described their fabulous costumes from first hand observation, but fictionalised them. For instance, I had Alice, my heroine in the book wear a ‘pink basket cloche hat decorated with scarlet ostrich feather plumes, a Thirties pink satin sailor suit, spider web fishnet stockings, and a pair of skyscraper stilettos saturated with red rosettes.’
I started writing “Frantic” shortly after I returned home, and because my San Francisco experience was still fresh in my mind, I was able to describe friends’ apartments down to the last exact detail in the novel. ‘The bedroom was a mass of ostrich feathers, which hung down from the rhinestoned ceiling to diamonté covered navy veteran t shirts in whispering waves. All the walls were sequin thick, illuminated by psychedelic rays tinkling from flashing prisms. Glitter of a thousand hues washed over the entire apartment, sporadically lit by flickering Chinese umbrellas concealing pot-pourri light bulbs. Garish kimonos hung on every doorknob, and piles of fancy dress lay knee-deep on the floor.’
In London, clothes were equally as stylish as on the West Coast, and in ‘Frantic”, Alice the heroine always looked realistic, that’s because I invariably dressed her in exaggerated versions of costumes I wore in real life: ‘What with her exotic cardigan, her Mr Buddha rayon, black and silver flared skirt, silver jazz new york mets 80’s couples diy shirts and freaked out hair, plus her trademark thick smear of indelible scarlet lipstick, she looked a divine mess.’ I really did have an outfit like that, so in this instance, all I ficitonalised was the name of the shop.
But, it wasn’t only the clothes which made the early Seventies unique. In the first part of “Frantic”, the music was still hardcore rock and roll, before the invention of glam rock, spearhedaded by bands like The New York Dolls, who incidentally were the forerunners of punk music. I had been to several rock concerts in San Francisco, and re-invented the musicians and the music in “Frantic”, solely from my observation. ‘She’d never heard a singer make noises like him before: raspy, grating, ear-splitting groans, similar to a stuck pig slicing on an old fashioned, cornavy veteran t shirtated iron washing board. It was a refreshing departure from traditional acid rock improvisation, when infinite guitar solos were executed before vocals. Now, the music and voice were One.’
Survivors from the Seventies say that “Frantic” seems wildly authentic, but that’s because Observation, Adaptation and Fantasy are my main tools for writing fiction. They do say that writers should write about what they know about and I am no exception.
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write by Letitia