1978 — Pope John Paul I dies after only 33 days in office

One of the briefest reigning popes, Pope John Paul I (his papal named honoured his two immediate predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI) died at the age of 65, apparently of a heart attack. Inevitably, conspiracy theories regarding his death were widespread later that same day – institutions as powerful and secretive as the Vatican tend to breed them like flies.

Still, it is interesting that John Paul I was one of the most liberal Popes in many years (possibly even moreso than the current Pope Francis), and that his expressed positions on many issues dismayed the more conservative Catholics. His two immediate successors to the Papal throne were both very much hardline conservatives, who were quick to throw cold water on some of John Paul’s planned reforms. The former Cardinal Albino Luciani’s greatest legacy would be his papal name – his successor called himself John Paul II. (Disappointingly, no subsequent pope has named himself George Ringo.)

Referenced in:
Hey Luciani! — The Fall

1978 — Dennis Nilsen commits his first murder

Also known as ‘The Kindly Killer’ and ‘The Muswell Hill Murderer’, Dennis Nilsen was 33 years old when he made his first killing, that of Stephen Holmes. Holmes, like most of Nilsen’s victims, was a teenaged male. Nilsen strangled and drowned him, then indulged his necrophiliac tastes by masturbating twice over the body. Unlike his later victims (and while Nilsen was convicted of six murders, his own confession to police lists 15), Holmes was not dissected after his death.

Nilsen would finally be caught in 1983, and sentenced to life imprisonment. It is known that he killed at least 12 people (although he claimed more) and attempted at least seven more murders. At the time of this writing, he remains in HMP Full Sutton, a maximum security prison in Yorkshire.

Referenced in:
Killing for Company — Swans
You’re Dying To Be With Me — Macabre
Cranley Gardens (Dennis Nilsen) — Church of Misery

1978 – The Amoco Cadiz oil spill

The Amoco Cadiz was a tanker of the VLCC (very large crude carrier) class, which ran aground on Portsall Rocks, off the coast of Brittany, France, in the early hours of March 16, 1978 after encountering Force 10 winds and high seas in the English Channel. At the time, the ship was carrying a quantity of over 1.6 million barrels of oil (and a barrel is 42 US gallons), all of which spilled out into the ocean as the storm battered the Cadiz so hard that she broke into three pieces. There was no loss of human life during the ship’s demise, but the oil spill was catastrophic.

The toll of the oil on the local marine life – and local in this case means in the oceans off more than 200 miles of Atlantic coastline – was enormous. More than 20,000 seabirds and over a million molluscs and fish were recorded as killed (and these are only the bodies that washed up on the shores somewhere – many more would not have made it that far). In addition, the physical damage to beaches and coasts was extreme, while the isolated location and bad weather made it the spill hard to clean up before more damage was done. In some of the affected locations, the impact of the spill is still plainly visible today, nearly forty years later.

Referenced in:
Amoco Cadiz — Speedy J
The Oil Song 2010 — Steve Forbert

1978 – “Diff’rent Strokes” premieres

If the phrase “wha chu talkin’ about Willis?” doesn’t make you cringe, you were presumably born after this show went off the air. Well, I suppose you might have liked it. Someone must have – it ran for eight seasons, and made stars out of the kids in it. That’s right, Gary Coleman was a star for a while.

Leaving the snark aside, “Diff’rent Strokes” was a fairly decent example of the American sitcom, and it did make a lot of important points about racism, albeit mostly in a humourous way. On the other hand, it also gave airtime to Nancy Reagan so she could push her “Just Say No” campaign, so no one agreed with everything it had to say.

Except that it really does take different strokes to move the world.

Referenced in:

TV Party — Black Flag

1978 – “Dallas” premieres

One of the most popular shows of the Eighties, “Dallas” chronicled the lives of the wealthy Ewing family and their associates, and was set in and around the eponymous city of the title. The Ewings were a powerful family who made their fortune in oil, and the show was a soap opera that largely concerned itself with the business and romantic lives of its characters.

It lasted for a total of 13 seasons, not counting the original mini-series that kicked it off, or its assorted spin-offs and re-unions. Today, it is probably best remembered for three things: the “Who Shot J.R.?” cliffhanger that ended the second season, the “dream season”, where in early season nine it was revealed that all of season eight had been a dream; and the intense ratings rivalry between Dallas and Dynasty, the reigning soaps of their era.

Referenced in:

TV Party — Black Flag

1978 – The Jonestown Massacre occurs

Jim Jones was a weird kid, into death and religion, who would later become a Communist. Later still, he would found the People’s Temple, and move it – and most of the adherents of the religion – to a site in Guyana he named the People’s Temple Agricultural Project, but which is better known to history as Jonestown. Messianic fuckwits like Jones are a cowardly and superstitious lot, and Jones himself was about as well balanced as an up-turned egg.

In 1978, after the visit of Congressman Leo Ryan, Jones’ personal demons got the better of him. He ordered a mass suicide of his followers – although accounts vary as to just how voluntary this suicide was – and the shooting of the Congressman and his party. A total of 918 people died, including Jones and 908 of his followers. Almost all of them were Americans, and until the 9/11 attacks, it was the single greatest loss of American lives that ever took place in a single day.

Referenced in:

Guyana Punch — The Judys
Jimmie Jones — The Vapors
Reverend — Church of Misery
The Riverflow — The Levellers
Jonestown — Concrete Blonde
Guyana (Cult of the Damned) — Manowar
Carnage in the Temple of the Damned -– Deicide
Ballad of Jim Jones — Brian Jonestown Massacre

1978 – Pope John Paul I is appointed

Albino Luciani was the Patriarch of Venice, prior to his ascension to the throne of St Peter. He was much loved as a Pope, both for his humilty and his general joyousness.

His Papal name, John Paul, combined the name of his two immediate predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI – and was subsequently the name of his successor – largely due to the fact that John Paul I died after only 34 days in office (which makes him the eleventh shortest lived Pope).

His theology was unusually liberal for a Pope, including discussing the possibillity of ending the church’s opposition to contraception. For this reason, along with Luciani’s comparative youth (he was 65 when he died, young for a Pope), it is widely rumoured that he was assassinated (which would hardly be unprecedented for a Pope), but no conclusive evidence has ever emerged.

Referenced in:

Wave — Patti Smith
Hey Luciani! — The Fall

Personally, I feel that Pope Benedict XVI really let the side down by not calling himself Pope George Ringo.

1978 – Keith Moon dies of a drug overdose

In the history of rock and roll’s true wild men, Keith Moon stands above them all. He was the wild man’s wild man, a talented musician with a distinctive sound of his own, whose considerable musical talent was dwarfed by his talent at partying.

He was the drummer for the Who, and the last member to join the band. His driving beats powered them to stardom alongside the vocal talents of Roger Daltrey, the guitar playing genius of Pete Townsend and the dependable bass lines of John Entwhistle.

Moon died at age 32 when he overdosed on pills he had been given to help treat his addictions, in a series of small errors that added up to a full-blown catastrophe.

Referenced in:

Under A Raging Moon – Roger Daltrey
Rock And Roll Hall Of Death — Mitch Benn And The Distractions