"Rats on the West Side, bedbugs Uptown/ What a mess! This town's in tatters; I've been shattered," the Rolling Stones sang in "Shattered," the last song on the second side of their 1978 album Some Girls. When the album debuted, there was a legal controversy over the unauthorized use of celebrity photographs on the album package that resulted in a hasty redesign, such that subsequent purchasers of Some Girls pulled out an inner sleeve that had the band's faces pasted over those of Hollywood starlets, and which front and back bore the message, "PARDON OUR APPEARANCE! CONTENTS UNDER RECONSTRUCTION!"
Even those who remember the LP era might be forgiven for forgetting that in 1978, New York itself was in need of some reconstruction, given how completely the city has been transformed during the last decade into a destination for patriotic, consumption-oriented tourism. Viewing the city in its hagiographic mode (a gift shop in my neighborhood sells Christopher Radko Christmas ornaments of the Twin Towers for $52 apiece), it is hard to recall that not so long ago, most Americans regarded New York as distinctly alien, and something other than American.
Perhaps more than any other single event, the New York City blackout of July 1977 was the occasion and confirmation of this widespread conviction. Unlike the quiescent 1965 blackout to which it is often compared, the 1977 blackout resulted in massive looting and destruction of property in the city's poorest neighborhoods, and served to crystallize public debates about poverty and the welfare state.
The journalistic and sociological complexities of this signal event are the subject of James Goodman's new book Blackout. A professor of history at Rutgers and the author of Stories of Scottsboro, ...1
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