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One Day in 1977: Elvis, the Pledge, and Extraterrestrials

Josh Levin, host of Slate's ‘One Year’ podcast, curates fascinating reads about three wildly different events on a single day in August 1977 and their impact on America.

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What I love about hosting One Year is that the show is not about any one thing. Our first season, on 1977, is a mishmash of super-famous and little-known stories on all kinds of subjects. From Gay rights to drug policy, feminism to cancer treatment — all those narratives bounce off each other in weird and unexpected ways. Together, they give a sense of what it was like to live through that specific moment in time, when it seemed like the country’s rules were getting rewritten.

The fifth episode of One Year: 1977 was an experiment in form. It’s about three distinct events that took place on a single day in August 1977: The death of Elvis Presley, a New Jersey high schooler going to court to protect her right to sit during the Pledge of Allegiance, and astronomers in Ohio finding a mysterious signal from outer space. Three distinct events means three different research rabbit holes… and a whole lot more than three open tabs. I’m sharing some of the highlights here.

Image by Keystone / Stringer / Getty Images

Where Were You When Elvis Died?

Lester Bangs
Village Voice

Josh Levin: “Lester Bangs’ obituary for Elvis Presley captures the singer’s titanic importance while deflating the cult of the King. And Bangs is prescient in calling Elvis’ death the end of mass culture, writing that ‘we will never again agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis.’”

A Big Hunk O’ Love

Elvis Presley

JL: “Two minutes of pure Elvis in the ‘70s vibes. Elvis says ‘big hunk,’ and then the piano kicks in.”

Can 17,000,000 Readers Be Wrong?

James Lardner
The Washington Post

JL: “Our episode focuses on the National Enquirer’s quest to get a photo of Elvis in his coffin. This is a tremendous portrait of the Enquirer at the height of its powers: ‘Money is almost paper clips... we can easily be spending $20,000 for something that's going to end up in the trashcan.’”

We Wait and Wonder

John Kraus

JL: “The Wow! signal is the biggest unexplained mystery in the world of SETI (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence). A team of astronomers found the signal in 1977 but didn’t go public with it until 1979.”

Josh Levin

Josh Levin is Slate’s national editor and the host of the podcast One Year. He is also the host of Season 4 of Slow Burn on the political rise of David Duke and co-hosts the sports podcast Hang Up and Listen. He is the author of The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth, which won the 2019 National Book Critics Circle Award for biography. Levin was born and raised in New Orleans and lives in Washington, D.C.