Forty years ago today, my parents and I were in the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, seeing a production of Threepenny Opera. I was eight. It was a hot night — they were all hot days and nights in the brutal summer of 1977 — and in the middle of a song, the lights and the PA went out. The singer finished her song, and only then did someone come out onto the stage from the crew.
“The lights are out on the east side, and the lights are out on the west side.”
He urged us to go home where it was safe. This turned out to be wise advice, as the looting and stuff started pretty soon after the lights went out…….
We filed out of Central Park toward the west side, where our little VW beetle Snugglebug was parked, and we drove home, the headlights of all the cars providing the only illumination on the streets. We got home safe, barely ahead of the rioting and stuff, and tried to sleep without use of fans or the one air conditioner we owned.
Twenty-nine years later, I got to write a Buffy the Vampire Slayer novel that used the blackout on that July day as a centerpiece. The novel focused on Nikki Wood, a previous Slayer who was established in the fifth-season episode “Fool for Love” as being killed by Spike on a subway car in New York in 1977. I built out from that, and one other confrontation Nikki had with Spike, shown in flashback in the seventh season’s “Lies My Parents Told Me,” and constructed the story of a Slayer that we might have seen had the show been created by Gordon Parks in the 1970s instead of Joss Whedon in the 1990s. Basically, a Buffy blaxploitation film. It was some of the most fun I’ve had writing a book.
New York has had three blackouts. The ones in 1965 and 2003 were pretty harmless, all things considered, but 1977’s NYC was a powderkeg. Crime was at an all-time high, the city was broke, and it was just a smog-choked mess. Perfect place for a Slayer to be needed, in truth………..