March 14, 1974 — Russell Hoban begins writing “Riddley Walker”

Russell Hoban was always somewhat peripatetic in his writing interests. While he tended to return to the same themes, he was far less loyal to genres. “Riddley Walker” is one of his best known novels, and as the only major work of science fiction he wrote, is representatively unrepresentative of his oeuvre.

It concern a young man in a world (ours, about two millennia after a nuclear war) who stumbles on a plan to build a super-weapon. The novel took Hoban more than five and half years to write, and won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel in 1982, as well as an Australian Science Fiction Achievement Award in 1983. (It was also nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1982, but lost to Gene Wolfe’s “The Claw of the Conciliator”.)

1974 — Dennis Rader commits his first murders

Dennis Rader was an American serial killer who abducted, tortured and killed ten people between 1974 and 1991, sending boastful letters the the police which he signed “BTK” (“Bind Torture Kill”). He ceased sending the letters for a time after his last murder, only to resume correspondence in 2004 – leading to his arrest and conviction in 2005.

His first victims were members of Otero family of Wichita, Kansas: parents Joseph and Julie, their son Joseph jnr, and daughter Josephine. Rader suffocated the males with plastic bags, strangling Julie with rope and hanging Josephine. His first letter, which he ‘mailed’ by concealing it inside an engineering book at the Wichita Public Library in October 1974, described the murder of the Oteros in gruesome detail.

As of this writing, Rader remains in the El Dorado Correctional Facility, where he is serving ten consecutive life sentences (175 years) without parole.

Referenced in:
B.T.K. — Church of Misery
Bind Torture Kill — Suffocation
Bind, Torture and Kill — Suicide Commando

1974 — Mama Cass dies

Ellen Naomi Cohen, better known to the world as Mama Cass, was only 32 years old when she died. Mama Cass was a member of the Mamas and the Papas, best known for their 1965 hit, “California Dreamin'”. Stardom had been good to the band, most of them living among the other musicians and artists of Los Angeles, but bad for Cass in many ways.

She had an addictive personality, and being able to afford basically any drug she wanted had led her to behave like a kid in a candy store. Cass was also known for her appetite, being considered somewhat fat (even by the more generous standards of the Sixties for most of her career). At the time of her death, she was fasting four days a week – the coroner speculated that this may have stressed her heart, leading to her fatal heart attack. No food was found in her windpipe – the story that she choked on a ham sandwich is simply an urban myth.

Referenced in:
Rock And Roll Hall Of Death — Mitch Benn And The Distractions
(He’ll Never Be An) Ol’ Man River — This Is Serious Mum

1974 – Malcolm Greenridge, a.k.a. E.D.I. Mean, is born

A member of hip hop ensemble Outlawz, E.D.I. Mean (his name is intended to sound like that of Idi Amin – although why anyone thought that was a good idea is a matter of considerable speculation) is best known for his work with Tupac. Mean met Tupac through his third grade classmate, Katari “Kastro” Cox, a cousin of Tupac.

His first recording was a guest appearance on Tupac’s 1993 single, “Holler If Ya Hear Me”. Mean would frequently record with Tupac between 1995 and Tupac’s death in 1996. E.D.I. Mean remains an active recording artist, although his recent work has largely consisted of guest appearances on other artist’s recordings.

Referenced in:
Introbomb First (My Second Reply) — Makaveli

1974 – Lynyrd Skynyrd release “Sweet Home Alabama”

It’s not clear how much real malice they bore him, but Lynyrd Skynyrd certainly seemed pissed with Neil Young when they released “Sweet Home Alabama” in 1974, singling out his songs “A Southern Man” and “Alabama” for particular scorn. Mind you, the lyrics also state that Watergate doesn’t bother them, which would have made them about the only people in America it didn’t bother at that point. (Band members have repeatedly claimed that the lyrics were misunderstood.)

“Sweet Home Alabama” reached number 8 on the American charts, becoming Skynyrd’s first (and only) hit. It eventually sold Platinum, and has been used on so many film soundtracks that it is now more or less impossible that you haven’t heard it. In a move that would probably have annoyed the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd (were they still alive), the state of Alabama now uses those three words on its number plates.

Referenced in:

All Summer Long — Kid Rock
Ronnie and Neil — Drive-By Truckers
Play It All Night Long — Warren Zevon

1974 – The Birmingham Pub bombing takes place

On November 21, 1974, two pubs in central Birmingham, the Mulberry Bush and the Tavern in the Town were bombed just before 8:30pm in the evening. Ten people were killed at the Mulberry Bush and another eleven at the Tavern in the Town. Another 162 people were injured, and a third device at another location failed to detonate.

Within days, six men were arrested on suspicion of the bombings, which were widely blamed on the IRA. The men – Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Joseph Hill, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker – were charged with the bombings, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. All the convictions were later over-turned, amid charges being laid against police officers and prison guards for their conduct regarding the men. The Birmingham Six were innocent.

Referenced in:

Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six — The Pogues

1974 – Nixon resigns the Presidency in disgrace

After the long, slow death of a thousand cuts that was the Watergate scandal, Nixon’s decision to resign from the Presidency – even in disgrace – must have come as something of a relief to him. Starting with the Watergate break-in, on June 17, 1972, which led to the revelation of the Nixon administration’s dirty tricks squad – and getting worse and worse as the attempted cover-up ballooned and failed.

Nixon fought, though. He fought as hard as could, as long as he could – for more than two years. But in the end, his only remaining choice was to leave on his own terms before he was forced out. The pardon that his hand-picked successor gave him – which was for all crimes including those yet to be discovered – was no doubt also a consideration.

Referenced in:

We Didn’t Start The Fire – Billy Joel
Ego Is Not A Dirty Word – Skyhooks
Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
She Is Always Seventeen – Harry Chapin

1974 – Nixon impeached by Congress

It is the single greatest scandal to have ever touched the office of the President of the United States: Richard Nixon was impeached by Congress. Which is to say, he was charged with criminal offences related to his office. More specifically, the charges related to his role in the Watergate scandal and its attendant (and failed) cover-up.

In little more than a fortnight, Nixon would resign the Presidency in shame, and his hand-picked successor would immediately give him the quid pro quo of a pardon that also covered Nixon for “crimes yet to be discovered.” This allowed Nixon to avoid actually facing the charges against him, and made him one of the few people to have been pardoned for crimes he was never convicted of, or even tried for; and also did untold damage to the institution of the Presidency, which would never again be as respected as it had been before 1973.

Referenced in:

All My Heroes Are Dead — Dar Williams

1974 – Manufacture of the Neutron Bomb begins

When it was first created, the Neutron Bomb was hailed as a triumph of efficiency and progress. In theory, it would kill the population of its affected area, while leaving the buildings standing. The bomb would have a lesser degree of heat and concussive force than an ordinary nuclear bomb, but a greatly increased amount of radiation.

The bomb was never used in a combat situation, and its production has been largely discontinued. The United States, the Soviet Union, China and France all had developed neutron bombs, but no country is currently known to deploy them.

Referenced in:

Kill The Poor — The Dead Kennedys

1974 – Duke Ellington dies

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was one of the greatest and most influential of Jazz musicians – although he himself always described his music as “American music”, and used the phrase “beyond category” to praise music he particularly liked.

He was born in Washington DC in 1899 to parents who were also musical, and who nurtured his talents. Ellington started writing his own compositions at the age of 15, and by the time of his death, would have created more than a thousand pieces of original music, embracing the jazz he is best known for as well as other musical styles including blues, gospel, pop and classical.

He is universally regarded as one of the all time greats in his field, and achieved (and faded from) popular and critical success several times during his life (and after).

Referenced in:
L.A. Money Train — Rollins Band
Woke Up This Morning — Alabama 3

1974 – Cyclone Tracy hits Darwin

It’s sometimes referred to as ‘The Night That Santa Never Came‘. What came instead were howlling winds of more than 200km an hour, tearing Darwin to pieces and having a similar effect on nearby towns in the Northern Territory.

In the end, the death toll would reach 71, of whom 22 were caught at sea by the storm. It destroyed 80% of all buildings in Darwin and left tens of thousands of people homeless, most of whom were evacuated to other cities.

Cyclone Tracy remains the greatest natural disaster in Australian history. Darwin today bears little resemblance to pre-Tracy Darwin, and although its population has long since surpassed the 49,000 residents at the time of the cyclone, the majority of them are new immigrants to the city or born since 1974.

Referenced in:

Tojo – Hoodoo Gurus
Santa Never Made it into Darwin – The Wayfarers

1974 – Patty Hearst kidnapped by the SLA

Patricia Hearst was 19 years old when she was kidnapped from her apartment by the Symbionese Liberation Army. Heir to the Hearst family’s millions, she was originally kidnapped for the ransom money, but soon became a victim of Stockholm Syndrome. On April 3, she announced that she had joined the SLA, adopting the name Tania.

Two weeks later, she participated in a bank robbery alongside other members of the Army, and a warrant for her arrest was issued. She was arrested in September, tried and sentenced to 35 years imprisonment. Later, Hearst was pardoned of all crimes, and became an occasional actress.

Referenced in:
Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner — Warren Zevon