You forget how good LIFE magazine was until you come across one.
The date on this issue was Oct. 23, 1970. The price, 50 cents.
It was tucked away in a box under many boxes in an attic corner. On the cover was a brash, confident Muhammad Ali, staring you down while defiantly parking his red Everlast gloves on his hips.
There was no magazine as good as LIFE in the 1960s and ’70s. It was all about covering current events through the art of storytelling. More than any other magazine or newspaper of its era, LIFE understood the importance of photography in that mission. Its iconic images showed readers the lives of heroes and villains as well as those of hippies and scientists. The photographs were accompanied by stories written by some of the best reporters of the era.
How well its editors accomplished that mission is quickly noticed in that one issue tucked away so many years ago. Its 84 pages touch on stories that continued to mold the the 1970s decade — one in which people defiantly questioned authority by asking the question “why.”
It started with the only other headline on the magazine’s cover: “New GIs in Vietnam: commanding them in the old way is out.” Reporter John Saar explained what was called grunt logic: That since the U.S. had decided not to go out and win the war, soldiers reasoned “there’s no sense in being the last one to die.” He told the stories of a 24-year-old captain confronting new-style draftees such as Pfc. Duane Sedler, who held the bronze star but refused to go on any ambush, saying, “It’s my life and I’d like to try to keep it.” Then there was Pvt. John Munn. He was brave under fire and even more combative as a spokesman for his fellow black soldiers, who he said received fewer promotions and even fewer more of the choice rear-area assignments.
Munn, like the prize fighter Ali on the cover, sympathized with the Vietcong. “I have nothing against that little man out there. They’re fighting for what they believe in, and you can’t knock that. I lie on my air mattress at night, and I say what am I doing here?”
Much of the magazine covers topics that are relevant today, but framed much differently.
The headline of an editorial reminds you of the tea party — “Demand for moral leadership” — only the people mixing the tea in the 1970s were liberals.
The first sentence states, “Around the White House they worry quite sincerely that a lot of Americans are confusing the president with God.” It ends with Patrick Moynihan, who is an aide to President Richard Nixon, warning, “One of the worst mistakes of the 20th Century has been to lay the responsibility for personal, abstract issues on the office of the president.”
Today we pick up The Lima News and read all about The North American International Auto Show. It’s all about cool cars, lower gas mileage and safety. The Oct. 23, 1970, issue of LIFE, on the contrary, was filled with ads about muscle cars that gulped gas, could reach high speeds instantaneously, and were marketed for teenage boys.
The new 1971 Mustang was called “fantastico” and an ad for the new Charger noted that “you can’t afford not to be Dodge material.” American Motors touted its Javelin, “the hariest looking sporty car” in America.
Then there are the other car ads, the ones that help you quickly understand why historians note that The Big Three lost track of the interests of the mom and dad during the 1970s. They featured vehicles like the “handsome Ford Ranchero” (not!) and the Club Wagon, which could hold a dozen people (why?).
There were no ads for “Slim Fast” or other nutrition supplements in that LIFE magazine, but there was a two-page ad showing 65 bottles of whiskey, noting “one thing they couldn’t imitate was the taste of Canadian Club.”
As for the Ali story, I’ll need to share that for another time. You don’t write about Muhammad Ali in a few sentences. He was the original sports trash talker, a spokesman for civil rights like no other, and perhaps the most recognizable person of his time.
He and LIFE magazine had something in common.
They shook up the world.
ROSES AND THORNS: A few this week.
Rose: Ohio Gov. John Kasich plans to hold the State of the State in Lima on Feb. 19.
Rose: The Lima Symphony Orchestra board of directors and maestro Crafton Beck announce a contract extension that goes through June 2014
Rose: To Becky Yarnell, whose hair styling salon “Guys and Dolls” was named Business of the Year in Ottawa. The 5-year-old business has donated thousands of dollars to the Putnam County Cancer Assistance Program.
Rose: Shawnee graduate David Crouse returned to Lima to show the premier of an upcoming PBS documentary, “The Regan Presidency, which will air nationally later this year.
Rose: To Danielle Rohr and Todd Book, who won Lima City Singles bowling championships. It was the first time since 1999 that both divisions were won by first-time champions.
Thorn: On Tuesday, a man reported a pit bull was running at large in his backyard on Cortlandt Avenue and on Wednesday, a Hazel Avenue woman said a pit bull slipped under the fence in her yard and attacked her 6-month-old German Shepherd.
Thorn: An employee of LE. Myers reported someone removed 200 feet of copper wire from four different vehicles at the Central Point Parkway business.
PARTING SHOT: All the world is a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.