Beam Us Up. No Wait — Just Get Us Outta Here!

Back to 1968, when the chic inherited the Earth — but they didn't all fit


[Archivist’s note: When we saw the ad in the October 10, 1968 issue of the Voice, we thought, hmm, this looks interesting — “INTERCOURSE begins at EARTH. Hallucinate yourself in a variety of environments where everyone joins hands in a new coalition understanding and love.”

Talk therapy? Group sex? It was 1968 on East 49th Street, after all.

Two weeks later we got an answer of sorts when the intrepid, street-level culture reporter Howard Smith made the scene at EARTH in his weekly column.]

October 31, 1968
By Howard Smith

I guess the sociologists could explain why people act like lemmings whenever anything new opens in town. Just use the right pop words and huge first night crowds will appear. I made myself the victim of this two weeks ago while attending the opening of a new discotheque called EARTH. The invitation beckoned: “We would like to include you as an honored guest … when the chic inherit the ‘EARTH.’ New York’s most avant-garde restaurant and discotheque. A whole new concept in dining and entertainment. Be kind to all you see and touch. A deep sense of oneness with nature … The earth steams gently … touch the warm wetness … Breathe in fragrances … The enchantment of ‘EARTH’ is knowing the joy of being alive. The newest sights, the newest sounds. Opening a whole new world … ‘Earth.’” Pretty good reading, but the discotheque was something else.

Full page ad for EARTH

Outside was the proving ground of human behavior. It was as if THE BOMB had fallen and this was the only refuge for the beautiful people. To get in became the only aim in life, and how was unimportant.

Suddenly the invitation seemed prophetic. I had a deep sense of oneness with the crowd. Tempers were steaming gently. I couldn’t help but touch the warm wetness of the person pressed against me. It was impossible not to breathe in the fragrances. I was kin to all I saw and touched, but far from a meaningful encounter, everyone was gagging from this unwelcome shoving kinship.

Earth’s owners, who managed to raise enormous sums of money to open their doors, were unable to manage the doors themselves. There was an ability gap. Even their publicity people would do nothing more than smile. Pleas of form a line, please, were ignored when it became apparent that brandishing invitations, press passes, even folded money didn’t accomplish what just plain shoving did. A few creative people used their tongues when elbows were rendered useless in the crush: “I work here … and besides I left my coat inside.”

The fact that people were struggling to get out as intently as others were struggling to get in did not dim anyone’s determination. When at last the resistance gave way and I penetrated the inner depths of this “new concept” in entertaining, the experience was literally over.

The inside story was the biggest let-down of the season. The first floor, dubbed “Earth Gardens,” was crammed with tables, chairs, potted plants, and perplexed people. The hot-house atmosphere was carefully created by that infamous interior design firm of Broken Air Conditioner.

Onward, with much climbing of stairs and peeking into hot, dim caverns. Each floor had its own self-conscious name: “Cafe Intergalactic,” “Karamu Safari’ Room,” and “Up.” There was the usual light show and deafening music. A visual miasma of rather passé day-glo wall decoration and the dismal sensation of flash bulbs popping at unexpected moments did cause me to blink occasionally. The soul food buffet was tasty but in short supply. Kool-Aid flowed like wine, increasing everyone’s thirst and irritability. Squeezing back down the steps required almost the same elbows and determination that it took to get in.

Looking over the invitation again, it seems someone had a great idea in his head. Too bad we don’t all fit.

Howard Smith's SCENES column, which appeared every week.
Continuation of Howard Smith's SCENES column, which appeared every week.