November 5, 1979 — Russell Hoban finishes 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”.)

1979 — Margaret Thatcher becomes Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

One of the most controversial British heads of state since King Charles I, Margaret Thatcher was 64 when she became Prime Minister, and had been in Parliament for twenty years. She rapidly became known for the strength of her convictions – which unfortunately included more than a few she’d developed after drinking the free market kool aid.

Margaret Thatcher would serve as Prime Minister until 1990, presiding over the privatisation of many government services and Britain’s successful prosecution of the Falklands War in 1982. Few world leaders have ever been as hated by the left, or as good at unintentionally recruiting for it.

Referenced in:

Prophets of Rage — Public Enemy

1979 – John Wayne dies

Marion Robert Morrison, better known as John Wayne, was the cowboy. In the course of his fifty year career, he appeared in more than 170 films such as “The Searchers”, “The Alamo”, “The Green Berets”, “High Noon”, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” and “True Grit”. He was also instrumental in getting “Blazing Saddles” filmed, although he felt that he couldn’t appear in it without destroying his career – as the iconic cowboy, appearing the ultimate satire of the Western genre might not have gone over well with his fans.

Wayne had developed cancer of the lung in 1964, and while that cleared up, he then developed cancer of the stomach, which would prove fatal. While there is a persistent rumour that he developed cancer as a result of exposure to radioactive fallout while filming “The Conqueror” in 1956, Wayne himself blamed his six pack a day smoking habit.

Referenced in:
Asshole — Denis Leary

1979 – The final episode of “Good Times” screens

“Good Times” was a distinctly Seventies show in many ways, but none moreso than its focus on African-American characters. Along with “The Jeffersons” and “Sanford and Son”, it was among the first shows to features a predominantly African-American cast, and after the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s had won new rights for African-Americans, shows like these helped to create a new normal for black and white audiences alike (however much they might have been guilty of tokenism, racism and sexism themselves, they were still improvements on most of the domestic comedies that had preceded them).

The final episode of “Good Times” was entitled “The End of the Rainbow”, and saw each of the major characters given a happy ending in terms of career and domestic arrangements. Since that time, it has been a perennial in syndication, and a steady seller when it was released on DVD

Referenced in:

The Thanksgiving Song — Adam Sandler

1979 – Ayatollah Khomeini bans western music from Iran

The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was a decisive turn against Western influences, and a new, theocratic constitution that effectively made Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini dictator for life as part of a return to Islamic values. Among these was the banning of almost all Western culture, including most modern music. (With the exception of some music by Queen – the late great Freddie Mercury was of Persian descent, after all.)

Khomeini is gone now, but the bans remain in place.

Referenced in:

Triumph of the Swill — Dead Kennedys

1979 – The arcade game “Asteroids” is released

One of the earliest and best arcade games, infamous for its simple vector graphics and unjustly overlooked for the difficulty and depth of its gameplay, Asteroids was never as popular as Space Invaders or Pac-Man, although historically, it’s almost as iconic. But its simplicity ultimately worked against it: there was nowhere to go to build a franchise out of it, not even any easy way to create variant forms of it (there’s no game that serves as the Galaga to Asteroids’ Space Invaders, for example).

Asteroids had a reasonable reign in the arcades, but even prettying up the graphics couldn’t do that much to keep it current as display technologies improved and newer games took over the marketplace. But to those of us who loved it, it will never die.

Referenced in:

Hyperspace — Buckner & Garcia

1979 – The Boys Next Door release “Shivers”

It’s probably a good thing that Nick Cave decided that suicide really didn’t suit his style. From relatively inauspicious beginnings, the members of the Boys Next Door would form the nucleus of the Birthday Party, Nick Cave’s first truly great band, who would in turn pave the way for the Bad Seeds.

“Shivers” remains a perennial favourite of fans of Australian goth and alternative music, and if JJJ hadn’t rejigged the Hot 100’s rules to make it a year by year thing, it would still be placing respectably in it each January.

Referenced in:

Morrison Hostel — This Is Serious Mum

1979 – Police raid a punk rock gig at the Elks Lodge in Los Angeles

On St Patrick’s Day, 1979, a huge punk concert was held at the Elks Lodge in Los Angeles. The line-up included the Zeroes, the Wipers, the Plugz, the Go-Gos and X. However, during the Plugz set, the LAPD arrived. What happened next is the subject of some dispute.

The police claimed that they were responding to complaints and were the victims of unprovoked attacks. The punks claimed that this was a planned police operation from the start, and that they were the victims of unprovoked attacks. The truth probably lies somewhere in between. Both LA punks and LA cops are notoriously aggressive and hot-headed – it’s likely there were provocations and attacks in both directions. The sheer size of the police response – which included blocking off several surrounding intersections and cops in full riot gear – lends weight to the claim that they planned the raid in advance.

The incident has passed into legend now, the first large scale bloody encounter between hardcore punks and the Los Angeles Police Department that continued for years, as part of the LAPD’s apparently un-ending war on underground music (which predates this incident by more than a decade and continues today).

Referenced in:
Pig — Angry Samoans
Elks Lodge Blues — The Gears

1979 – Kenneth Bianchi is arrested for murder

Along with his cousin Angelo Buono, Kenneth Bianchi was one of two men dubbed ‘the Hillside Strangler’ (since until they were apprehended, it was believed that their killings were the work of one man acting alone). Between October 1977 and February 1978 the two abducted, tortured, molested and murdered 10 women. Buono then fled, dying later that year. On January 11, 1979, Bianchi attempted to abduct two women, whom he killed in his standard fashion.

However, perhaps because of Buono’s absence, he left many clues and police apprehended him the following day without difficulty. Bianchi attempted to plead insanity but failed, and was convicted of the twelve murders. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, and remains in Washington State penitentiary in Walla Walla.

Referenced in:
The Hillside Stranglers — Macabre

1979 – 5 protestors are killed in Greensboro, North Carolina

It is a sad feature of American history that two elements of it routinely succeed in drowning out the finer qualities and ideals for which that nation stands. These two elements are hubris and handguns.

The Greensboro Massacre is a case in point. The deaths of five civil rights marchers occurred in an 88 second long explosion of gunfire from counter-protestors – largely members of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party. But it’s never as simple as the good guys and the bad guys.

The two groups had clashed for months previous to the massacre, and both sides – imbued with the hubris that comes from knowing that when your cause is noble and true and just you don’t have to be – were to blame for the rising tensions. Furthermore, at least one witness claims that the first shots were fired by the civil rights marchers – and members of the KKK and the Nazis claimed at their trials that an undercover BATF agent had encouraged them to take their guns along to the rally.

Whoever is to blame – and it seems there’s plenty for all in this mess – the shootings were a senseless tragedy. Captured on film by news crews, their broadcast around the world showed that for all the civil rights advances of the Sixties, there was still a lot of work to be done before the goal was reached.

Referenced in:

88 Seconds… & Still Counting — Pop Will Eat Itself
88 Seconds (I Wanna Go To The Rodeo) — The Othermothers
88 Seconds in Greensboro — Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark

1979 — Iran officially proclaimed an Islamic Republic

Although the revolution against him began in January 1978, the Shah did not flee Iran until January of 1979. Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile shortly thereafter, and while revolutionary and loyalist forces fought, the military declared itself neutral and sat out the fight.

On March 30 and 31, 1979, a referendum was held, and the Iranian people voted overwhelmingly to become a theocratic state. On April 1, it was proclaimed that the nation would henceforth be called the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Khomeini would be its president.

Referenced in:
We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel

1979 — Brenda Spencer goes on a shooting spree

Brenda Ann Spencer was only 16 years old when, one Monday, she took her father’s gun and began shooting at the school opposite her house. She fired 30 rounds, killing two and wounding eight others. The police were called and a siege ensued.

After seven hours, she surrendered to police, and told them that her motivation for the killings was simply that she didn’t like Mondays, and that this livened up the day. She was sentenced to a term of 25 years to life imprisonment – and has since been denied parole on several occasions (her next hearing is scheduled for 2019).

Referenced in:
Brenda Spencer — The Child Molesters
I Don’t Like Mondays — The Boomtown Rats

1979 – The Star Hotel in Newcastle closes down

The Star Hotel in Newcastle wasn’t what you would have expected from a town like Newcastle in the late Seventies. The front bar might have catered to sailors and dockers like most other Newcastle pubs, but the back bar had bands playing every night of the week – and completely free. (There was also a middle bar, which hosted drag shows.)

The pun was a byword in Newcastle for the rebelliousness and rowdiness of the crowds. The crackdown was a while in coming, but it was inevitable that the authorities would respond. In Septmber of 1979, the response came with brutal swiftness. It was announced that the Star Hotel was to close – and only a single week’s notice was given. Protests and petitions were organised, but to no avail.

On the final night of trading, September 19, 1979, a crowd of 4000 people gathered to drink and dance at The Star Hotel for the last time ever. As the police showed up to quell the ‘disturbance’, the night descended into violence and chaos. The Star Hotel is best remembered today for this final riot.

Referenced in:

Star Hotel – Cold Chisel