Dan Epstein, author of Big Hair & Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ‘70s, will be reading from and signing copies of his book this Friday, July 23rd from 7-9pm at Slim’s Downtown. Slims will be keeping the ‘70s theme alive all night: Local DJ Midnight Cowboy will also be at the event, spinning ‘70s soul and funk sounds. The reading will be followed by a performance by The Oscar Gambles (with members from The Static Minds, The Revolutionary Sweethearts, The T’s, and The Royal Nites), who will be playing a ‘70s rock set in honor of the occasion. Local favorites The Infamous Sugar and The Royal Nites will also be playing that night.
In his book, Big Hair and Plastic Grass, Epstein weaves together pop culture, counter culture, and sports culture, as they culminate in his favorite era of baseball – the 1970s. A lifelong fan of the sport, Epstein has narrowed his focus on baseball to this particular decade because of the unique social and cultural events that took place during those years, which he feels impacted the game and the players unlike any other decade in recent sports history. The book provides a year-by-year look at ‘70s baseball, complete with colorful characters, scandals, fan riots, World Series triumphs, off-the-field tragedies, ill-conceived promotions, and the proliferation of artificial playing surfaces, polyester uniforms and (of course) amazing hair.
“I wrote this book because I wanted to read it,” Epstein explains. “I wanted a book on ‘70s baseball that celebrated the weirdness, coolness and funkiness of the period, while also giving proper due to the many wonderful players, exciting pennant races and important changes to the game that this extremely tumultuous era produced.”
Epstein became an avid baseball fan in 1976, the year of Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, The Bad News Bears, and the Yankees’ return to the World Series. His fondness for that time period was somewhat unique: “While writers 20 or more years my senior look to Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle as the embodiment of all that is good about baseball, I had the considerably more earthy Fidrych, Bill Lee, Dock Ellis, Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky and Dave “The Cobra” Parker to look up to,” says Epstein.
However, Epstein’s book focuses not only on the game and the players, but also on the major societal movements from that era, including the sexual revolution, the black power movement, the imminent drug culture, and the tumultuous political climate during the Nixon years. The effects of the ‘70s American culture were pervasive, and the game of baseball, contends Epstein, was no exception to the implications.
Since no book had ever tackled this era of sports in a cultural context, Epstein took the lead with Big Hair and Plastic Grass. “I think many baseball writers have tended to gloss over the era, or avoid it completely; either they feel it’s too ‘kitschy,’ or it’s too weird for them to wrap their heads around. But a baseball historian ignoring or downplaying the importance of the 1970s would be like a cultural or political historian giving short shrift to the 1960s; whether you love the era or hate it, what happened back then profoundly influenced where we are now.”
You too can embrace the ‘70s this weekend at Slim’s. Epstein has written for Rolling Stone, MOJO, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and TimeOut, and produced shows for VH-1. He is also the author of 20th Century Pop Culture.