January 20, 1977 — The end of the Ford administration temporarily returns Henry Kissinger to obscurity

Henry Kissinger once received the Nobel Peace Prize for failing to negotiate a peace treaty. Which tells you close to everything you need to know about the man: he is lauded out of all proportion to his actual achievements. Realistically, his single greatest achievement is avoiding prosecution in the downfall of the Nixon administration.

I’ll back up. Kissinger was Nixon’s Secretary of State and later his National Security Advisor. As such, he was a major architect of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War (and thus, of America’s defeat in the Vietnam War). A proponent of Realpolitik (which is basically the doctrine that morality comes second to winning in politics), Kissinger was not a bloodthirsty man, but a callous and indifferent one. If other people had to die for him to get what he wanted, so be it.

He remained in office throughout the Ford administration, while he largely disappeared during the Carter years, Reagan relied on him for advice, as have almost all his successors in the Oval Office. Kissinger is still seen as an authority on US foreign relations even today – in 2016, Clinton boasted that he was one of her advisors (and Sanders boasted that Kissinger was not, and would never be, one of his advisors).

1977 — Christopher ‘The Falcon’ Boyce is arrested

An employee of TRW in California from 1974, Boyce was disturbed by misrouted cables for the CIA that he began receiving at work, which made it look as if the CIA was conspiring to destroy the government of Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam (who was acting in a way that the Agency considered contrary to American interests) and to similarly meddle in the affairs of other American allies. Disgusted by what he regarded as this betrayal of America’s allies, Boyce retaliated by selling CIA secrets to the KGB.

Unfortunately for him, his intermediary was an old high school buddy, cocaine and heroin dealer Andrew Daulton Lee, who took the information to the Soviet embassy in Mexico City. When Lee was arrested by the Mexican police on an unrelated charge, he had on him microfilm intended for the Soviets – and it didn’t take long for him to implicate Boyce as well. Ten days after Lee’s arrest, Boyce was picked up by the FBI. Later, he would be sentenced to 40 years in prison on espionage charges, although he was later paroled after serving 25 years.

Referenced in:
This Is Not America — David Bowie and the Pat Methany Group

1977 – Members of Chic are refused entry to Studio 54

Chic was a disco band that was formed by Nile Rodgers and Bernie Edwards in 1976. They had early hits such as “Everybody Dance” and “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)”, but their 1978 single “Le Freak” was their greatest hit (and the single best selling single ever for their label, Atlantic).

Its genesis came from an incident in 1977. Grace Jones had invited the band to join her at Studio 54, but had neglected to put their names on the door. So after waiting through the legendarily long queues on the busiest night of the year, Bernie Sanders was understandably pissed off to be refused entry to the club.

So pissed off, in fact, that he wrote a song about it – originally, the words ‘Le Freak’ were actually ‘fuck off’.

Referenced in:
Le Freak — Chic

1977 — “Fantasy Island” premieres

The original run of “Fantasy Island” commenced with a made for tv movie screened on ABC on the night of January 14, 1977. A second such movie was screened more than a year later, on January 20, 1978, with the regular series commencing a week after that. By the time it finished in 1984, there had been 152 weekly episodes across seven seasons, and Ricardo Montalban and Herve Villechaize were celebrities. Even now, shouting “the plane, the plane!” in a bad Spanish accent will bring back memories for many people.

Ironically, “Fantasy Island” was originally pitched as a joke, when Aaron Spelling asked an exec if what they really wanted was a show where tourists visited a tropical island to live out their sexual fantasies. The question was intended to be rhetorical, but the exec took it seriously, and the rest is history (albeit, probably less x-rated than Spelling’s sarcasm implied).

Referenced in:
TV Party — Black Flag

1977 — Marc Bolan dies

After David Bowie (with whom he maintained a mostly friendly rivalry), Marc Bolan is the single biggest name in the history of glam rock. Born Mark Felt, he was two weeks short of his thirtieth birthday when an automobile accident claimed his life.

Bolan’s career had been a great one up to that point. As the lead singer of T.Rex, he wrote and performed such classics as “Get It On”, “Children of the Revolution” and “Telegram Sam”. His influence, and that of T.Rex, on later musicians, especially in Britain, was immense. His grave remains a site of pilgrimage to fans from all over the world.

Referenced in:
Rock And Roll Hall Of Death — Mitch Benn And The Distractions

1977 – “CHiPs” premieres

“CHiPs” was a light-hearted action adventure series that followed the adventures of two members of the California Highway Patrol, motorcycle-riding partners Ponch (Erik Estrada) and Jon (Larry Wilcox). The show was very formulaic, with almost every episode ending with a high speed vehicular chase that ended in a spectacular collision. Although the show destroyed cars at a rate that even John Landis would envy, and featured armed police officers in every episode, it was rare for a weapon to be un-holstered, let alone fired.

ChiPs ran for 139 episodes across six seasons from 1977 to 1983, with a reunion movie being released in 1999. In its day, it was one of the top-rating shows on television, and Erik Estrada, in particular, has become strongly associated with the show (to the exclusion of almost everything else in his career).

Referenced in:
TV Party — Black Flag

1977 – Andrew ‘The Snowman’ Lee is arrested

Andrew Lee was an average enough twenty-five year old Californian male of the mid-Seventies, except for two things: his drug use had crossed the line into dealing (chiefly cocaine, but later heroin) and his best friend, Christopher Boyce, was engaged in espionage against the United States. Boyce was an employee of a defence contractor who was horrified by the information he saw regarding the CIA’s dealings in other nations (some of them allies of the USA). When he decided to sell this information to the Soviets or Chinese, he reached out to Lee, recruiting him as a courier and intermediary in 1976.

Unfortunately, coke-addicted drug dealers often come to the attention of the authorities: after several successful trips, Lee was arrested outside the Soviet consulate in Mexico City on suspicion of having murdered a cop there. While he was not guilty of the murder, he confessed to the spying when tortured by the Mexicans, and was extradited back the USA, where he and Boyce were charged with espionage and quickly convicted. Lee’s sentence was a life one (Boyce was sentenced to only 40 years imprisonment – the disparity is most likely due to Lee’s drug dealing), and as of this writing, he remains in the United States Penitentiary, Marion, Illinois.

Referenced in:
This Is Not America — David Bowie and the Pat Methany Group

1977 – Several members of Lynyrd Skynyrd die in a plane crash

A total of 24 passengers and 6 crew were aboard the Convair CV-300 that crashed on the evening of October 20, 1977 after running out of fuel near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Six people died: the pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William Gray, along with three members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist/vocalist Steve Gaines, backing vocalist Cassie Gaines (Steve’s older sister) and the assistant road manager of the band Dean Kilpatrick.

The band did not continue to tour after the crash, only reforming with a substantial changeover in membership some ten years later. They left a legacy of two of the best known songs in the world: “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Freebird”.

Referenced in:

Ronnie and Neil — Drive-By Truckers
Play It All Night Long — Warren Zevon
(He’ll Never Be An) Ol’ Man River — This Is Serious Mum

1977 – “Star Wars” premieres

It all started out pretty humbly: George Lucas, a filmmaker with one hit and one interesting failure (American Graffitti and THX-1138, respectively), was able to leverage his success into a reasonably large budget for the time (about $8 million in 1976 dollars), and make a fantasy with scifi trappings inspired by his love of action movies and serials from the past.

Star Wars (as it was originally titled – both the Episode IV and the A New Hope are later additions) riffed off classic Westerns (the cantina sequence), World War Two dogfight movies (the Death Star assault), martial arts movies (the Force training sequence), Flash Gordon serials (in general) and, of course, Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress.

It would go on to become one of the highest grossing films of all time, second only to Gone With The Wind (in inflation-adjusted figures), spawn five sequels and any number of spin-offs, and make scifi mainstream in a way it had never been before. Along with Jaws, it also helped to create the blockbuster-obsessed culture of Hollywood’s last three and a half decades.

Referenced in:

Bicycle Race — Queen
Californication — Red Hot Chili Peppers

1977 – Eraserhead is released in the United States

“Eraserhead” is the film that, more than any other, made the career of David Lynch, its director. It is a short surrealist nightmare, noted for its iconic elements, such as the screaming baby, the hairstyle of its protagonist and the woman in the radiator.

Yeah, I don’t know what it all means either, but I still love his work.

Referenced in:

Too Drunk To Fuck — Dead Kennedys

1977 – Steve Biko dies in prison

Steve Biko was born in King William’s Town, south Africa in 1946. He went to the University of Natal, where he studied medicine. While he was studying, he became involved in various political causes. By the late sixties, he was head of the Black Consciousness Movement, a grassroots anti-apartheid movment.

Biko and the BCM played a significant role in organising the series of protests which culminated in the Soweto Uprising of 16 June, 1976. In the aftermath of the uprising, which was crushed by heavily armed police shooting school children protesting, the authorities began to target Biko further.

On the 21st of August, 1977, he was arrested at a roadblock. He was assaulted while in custody, and suffered severe injuries. On the 11th of September, he was driven, naked in the back of a police vehicle and still badly injured, for 1500 miles to Pretoria prison. He was declared dead shortly his arrival there, which the police claimed was due to a hunger strike.

Biko became a martyr of the anti-apartheid movement, and in a more general sense, of oppressed peoples everywhere.

Referenced in:

Biko – Peter Gabriel
I’m a African – Dead Prez
Biko Drum – Christy Moore
Mal Sacate – Kris Kristofferson
Biko – Sweet Honey in the Rock
Biko’s Kindred Lament – Steel Pulse
Tribute To Steve Biko – Tapper Zukie
A Motor Bike In Afrika – Peter Hammill
The Death of Stephen Biko – Tom Paxton
Chile Your Waters Run Red Through Soweto – Sweet Honey in the Rock

1977 – Elvis Presley dies

One more day, and he would have been touring again. But as it happened, Elvis Presley’s lifestyle caught up with sooner than that. Over the last few years, he had become seriously overweight, and also addicted to drugs.

By the time of his death, Presley was sick enough that he was having difficulty staying upright throughout his concerts. His friends and crew were doing their best to conceal his difficulties, but things had been slipping for some time.

Elvis was buried in Memphis, next to his mother’s grave, two days after his death – although even today, thirty years on, sightings of the King of Rock and Roll continue (he’d be 74 years old today, so it’s just plausible that he might have lived to this point).

Referenced in:

Dead Elvis – Doug Anthony All Stars
Going to Graceland – The Dead Milkmen
Rock And Roll Hall Of Death — Mitch Benn And The Distractions

1977 — Spree killer Gary Gilmore is executed by firing squad

Gary Mark Gilmore was the first person to be executed after the Supreme Court decision of Gregg vs Georgia in 1976. He was convicted of two murders in the state of Utah, and acheived notoriety for insisting on being sentenced to death. At that time, the state of Utah had two different methods of execution, and Judge Bullock (who heard the case) permitted Gilmore to choose between the noose and the firing squad. Gilmore chose the latter, forbade his attorneys to appeal his sentence, and insisted on donating his eyes for use in transplants.

Although Utah traditionally used a five man firing squad, four of whom would be given live rounds and one a blank, Gilmore’s brother Mikal claimed to have found five bullet holes in Gary’s chest after his death. Per his request, Gilmore’s eyes were removed, and used in transplant operations later that same day.

Referenced in:
Bring On The Night — The Police
Gary Gilmore’s Eyes — The Adverts