Because I am working on a book about the 1970s in America, and because I was a child in the 1970s in America, my research occasionally takes a turn for the emotional-primordial. Stumbling upon a certain informational tidbit doesn’t merely jog the memory but all five senses, too—as if a pump-mist of retro atmosphere has suddenly been pump-misted into the room.
I had hazy memories of a prepubescent pop duo, boys, who made the rounds of TV one summer with their chipper songs, one of which was a paean to Amy Carter, the First Daughter. My research on Jimmy Carter’s presidency led me to discover this pop duo’s long-forgotten name, the Keane Brothers. Upon learning this, I naturally did the Google/YouTube thing and found this particularly beguiling TV ad for the Keanes (courtesy of the Museum of Classic Chicago Television). The sultry female voice-over seems at odds with the teenybop product being pitched but is very much in keeping with the humid languor that fell over 1977. Also interesting to note that tween fashion has cycled ’round completely—this is exactly how my son and his friends look and dress today.
It turns out that 13-year-old Tom (piano) and 12-year-old John (drums) Keane had their own short-lived CBS variety program that year, a summer fill-in show. That, and their corresponding promotional appearances, must be what I remember. The YouTube clips of the Keane Brothers evoke a side of the 1970s that historians who were adults in that period never capture: the summery poptimism, goofy as it appeared. The seventies were not all darkness and malaise and Nixonian villainy. For me, these clips bring back that patina of sweat everyone had at all times back then—not a desperate salesman’s flop-sweat but the lightly worn consequence of activity, man-made fibers, and the matted, moppy hairstyles we all had. I feel the phantom patina on me now. I think J.J. Abrams was feeling it when he made Super 8.
Here is a clip of the Keane Brothers from their CBS program that, at around 2:26, shows them performing the Amy Carter song, “Amy (Show the World You’re There).” (You must first endure a tedious intrusion by a frizz-haired grown-up impressionist, though it does offer an intriguing glimpse of the vestigial vaudevillian ethos that still held sway in variety TV back then.)