Coming of Age

1976–1985: Punk to Pomo, Basquiat to Breakdancing

February 12, 1979

Disco is the word. It is more than music, beyond a beat, deeper than the dancers and their dance. Disco names the sensibility of a generation, as jazz and rock—and silence—announced the sum of styles, attitudes, and intent of other ages. The mindless material of the new disco culture—its songs, steps, ballrooms, movies, drugs, and drag—are denounced and adored with equal exaggeration. But the consciousness that lies beneath the trendy tastes is a serious subject and can hardly be ignored: for it points precisely where popular culture is headed at the end of the American '70s.

Disco is phenomenal—unpredicted and unpredictable, contradictory and controversial. It has spawned a $4 billion music industry, new genres in film and theatre, new radio stations, a new elite of promoters and producers, and a new attitude about the possibilities of party going. It has also sparked major conflicts. "Death to Disco" is written on SoHo walls and "Disco Sucks!" rises from the throats of beleaguered partisans of rock, punk, or jazz who find their cultural identity threatened by disco's enormous commercial power.

Scenes from the disco wars erupt across the landscape. Gangs of rockers and hustlers (the dancing kind) fight furiously in the streets outside disco clubs in provincial cities. When Mick Jagger or Rod Stewart "goes disco" (with "Miss You" and "Do You Think I'm Sexy?" respectively), their cultural conversion is debated in hip salons as well as The New York Times. The rock critical establishment still treats disco music as an adolescent aberration, at best; many cultural commentators look on the whole sensibility as a metaphor for the end of humanism and the decline of the West. . . .

History hardly stops. Disco in the '70s is in revolt against rock in the '60s. It is the anti-thesis of the "natural" look, the real feelings, the seriousness, the confessions, the struggles, the sincerity, pretensions, and pain of the last generation. Disco is "unreal," artificial, and exaggerated. It affirms the fantasies, fashions, gossip, frivolity, and fun of an evasive era. The '60s were braless, lumpy, heavy, rough, and romantic; disco is stylish, sleek, smooth, contrived, and controlled. Disco places surface over substance, mood over meaning, action over thought. The '60s were a mind trip (marijuana, acid): Disco is a body trip (Quaaludes, cocaine). The '60s were cheap; disco is expensive. On a '60s trip, you saw God in a grain of sand; on a disco trip, you see Jackie O. at Studio 54.

Notes on the Nuyoricans

By Soledad Santiago

February 19, 1979

It's 15 minutes to airtime at NewsCenter 4 on a Saturday night. Felipe Luciano, Emmy-award-winning journalist and former head of the Young Lord's Party, is weekend co-anchor. Around him at least six clocks tick simultaneously, making tangible the rush of time as news pours in from around the world.

"Ten seconds . . . 10 seconds to the real thing," says the stage manager, starting the countdown. Then Luciano begins. Twenty-seven monitors and two cameras are going at once.

Luciano is projected into living rooms around New York City every weekend. He is among the most visible of young Latinos who herald the arrival of a new breed—the Nuyorican. Technically Nuyoricans are second generation Puerto Ricans who have made New York their home. But to me, Nuyoricans cannot be defined by age or date of arrival. Nuyorican is a state of mind.

Many Latinos remember with pride the splash the Young Lords made across the front pages of the nation's newspapers in the late '60s. They remember Luciano as a brilliant public speaker who exhorted the young to rise up against the system. He once told a graduating class at East Harlem's Ben Franklin High School: "You are not going to get it by getting people elected to Congress, by a good education, or by praying. The only way you are going to get it is by ripping it up. Seize the schools, seize the courts, seize the prisons where three quarters of our people are." . . .

The successful Nuyorican is often cut off from his roots by the very nature of success, suspended in the time warp of a culture in transition, a culture of synthesis which is defining and asserting its values, attempting to allow tradition to survive assimilation. The dilemma of Nuyorican identity is not a racial but a class one. In the uncomfortable limbo between black and white, rich and poor, the Nuyorican pioneers a new identity.

The Nuyoricans walk a tightrope between yesterday and tomorrow, cherishing the positive in Puerto Rican culture while wrestling with its ingrained restraints that have no place in their new life; attracted by the personal freedom of an anonymous urban society yet repulsed by its indifference; aspiring to middle-class accoutrements yet shackled by the code of machismo which presupposes that the male in the family be the only wage earner.

Not all New York Puerto Ricans are Nuyoricans. Many stay in enclaves, never learning English and never touching the mainstream of New York life. The Nuyorican identity has emerged as the result of a series of choices, an individuality born of historical necessity.

Does My Answer Match Your Question?

Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane
By Deborah Jowitt
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