1989 — The Exxon Valdez runs aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska

One of the worst oil spills in history, especially in terms of the difficulty of cleaning it up, the collision of the Exxon Valdez with the Bligh Reef in Alaska’s Prince William Sound is the second worst oil spill in US waters (exceeded only by the Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010). It took place, as most oil spills do, because an oil company decided that saving a few dollars by cutting safety margins was more important than the health of their employees or the environment.

The Exxon Valdez oil spill was incredibly remote, in a bay with virtually no land access, meaning that everyone had to come in by sea (through the oil slick that grew to cover 28,000 square kilometres) or by air. Taking place in the Alaskan spring, the clean up was further complicated by the melting of the ice floes and the occasional calving of icebergs. More than 25 years later, much of the oil still remains on the coasts and in the waters of the area – and Exxon is still to pay $92 million in compensation.

Referenced in:
Black Sea — John McCutcheon
Raven’s Child — John Denver
Dirty Pool — Spirit of the West
Barren Ground — Bruce Hornsby and the Range
The Wreck of the Exxon Valdez — Geoff Bartley

1989 – Mark J. Kilroy is murdered by a cult led by Adolfo Constanzo

Adolfo Constanzo first began gathering his cult in the 1980s. In 1986, he demanded that the Calzadas family cartel accept him and his followers into its ranks. When they rejected him, members of the family began to go missing – Constanzo and his followers were kidnapping them then killing them in gruesome magical rituals.

Constanzo enjoyed some success as a criminal, largely due to the fact that he scared the living crap out of people, but the abduction and murder of American student Mark J. Kilroy in May 1989 was the beginning of the end for his group. Diplomatic pressure from the US led to a crackdown by Mexican police, and several of Constanzo’s people were arrested. Constanzo and a few others escaped, only to be cornered by police in July. Constanzo committed suicide rather than go to prison.

Referenced in:
El Padrino (Adolfo Constanzo) — Church of Misery

1989 – Nicolae Ceauşescu is executed by revolutionaries

Merry Christmas Romania! Have a free democratic state, a dictator’s corpse and a happy new year!

One of the most vicious dictators of the Communist era, Nicolae Ceauşescu is perhaps second only to Stalin in sheer numbers of his own people that he had executed. He was the President of Romania for more than 22 years, and in that time, he made a lot of enemies, chiefly among his own citizens.

The 1989 revolutions across Eastern Europe gave inspiration to Romanians, and on December 16, an uprising began in Timişoara in response to yet another attempt by the Ceauşescu regime to stamp out religion. By December 22, Ceauşescu and his wife Elena were attempting to flee the country, but to no avail. On Christmas Day, they were tried and sentenced to execution. The Ceauşescus were killed by a three member firing squad. They were not much missed.

Referenced in:

Right Here Right Now – Jesus Jones

1989 – The Communist Party of Bulgaria relinquishes power

Like the Communist Parties of all the Eastern European states, the Bulgarian Communist Party found its power and authority undermined by the reforms made by Mikhail Gorbachev in the Perestroika era. The immediate cause of the fall of the Communists was the break up of a demonstration in Sofia in October 1989. Public outcry led to the replacement of Todor Zhivkov, the ruling autocrat, with Petar Mladenov, but this was too little too late.

As the people of Bulgaria remained restive, and as other Communist states in Eastern Europe fell (notably the fall of the Berlin Wall in East Germany and the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia that November), demands for similar reforms mounted. Finally, Mladenov complied. On December 11, he announced on national television that Communist Party would relinquish power, and in June of the following year, the first free elections since 1939 were in held.

Referenced in:

Right Here Right Now – Jesus Jones

1989 — Actor Phillip Sayer dies

Born in 1946, Phillip Sayer was best known for his role as Sam Phillips in the film “Xtro”. He had a brief career in film, mostly in England, before his untimely death at the age of 42 from cancer. Other roles of his include “The Hunger”, ‘Shanghai Surprise” and “Slayground”.

Referenced in:

Just One Life — Brian May

1989 – United Airlines Flight 232 crashes in Sioux City

UNited Airlines Flight 232 was a routing flight from Denver to Philadelphia via Chicago. However, due to what were later determined to be inadequate standards for maintainence, the tail engine failed, taking all flight controls with it. The flight crew managed the problem in an exemplary fashion, using the two wing engines as rough controls.

The crippled plane limped to Sioux Gateway Airport, in Sioux City, Iowa, where they attempted a landing. Being unable to slow the plane down without controls, they landed at much too high a speed, and the plane broke up on the runway, killing 111 of the people aboard, although 185 others survived, largely due to prompt medical attention provided at Sioux City, and the fact that the crash took place in daylight hours. In the wake of the crash, safety standards were tightened on all US passenger aircraft.

Referenced in:

Crash Flight 232 — Leæther Strip

1989 – The Todd Terry Project releases “To The Batmobile Let’s Go”

Although Todd Terry is best known for his remixes of other artists works, his earlier work as a DJ and recording artist was more adventurous. His 1989 album, To The Batmobile Let’s Go is a case in point. It doesn’t really work that well as music because it’s not really structured for playing dance cuts of – although it is good to dance to.

Terry would go on to acheive greater fame in the 90’s with a series of high profile remixes, including his takes on such songs as Missing (Everything But The Girl) and S-E-X-X-Y (They Might Be Giants).

Referenced in:
Kylie Said To Jason — KLF

1989 – The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia relinquishes power

The Velvet Revolution was a non-violent revolution in Czechoslovakia, following on from the fall of the Communist regimes of East Germany, Hungary and Poland. It began when police suppressed a protest march on November 17. The suppression led to a range of other protests across the country, starting from November 19. Some of the strikes became permanent, and even the state controlled media could not hide the mounting chaos.

After ten days, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia came to the conclusion that they could no longer hold power. They gave up their monopoly on power, and the following day, the constitution was amended to remove their leading role in the state. Although free elections were not held until June of 1990, it was on this day that Communist rule ended in Czechoslovakia.

Referenced in:

Right Here Right Now – Jesus Jones

1989 — Irving Berlin dies

Born Israel Isidore Baline, the composer better known as Irving Berlin was 101 years old when he died. His family came to America in 1893, fleeing the anti-Jewish pogroms of Russia. They settled on the Lower East Side of New York City, where the family got involved in music and Irving’s talents as a musician first came to light.

Over the course of his life, he wrote more than 1800 songs, which included the scores for 19 Broadway shows and 18 Hollywood films, including songs such as “White Christmas” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and such classic musicals as “Annie Get Your Gun”. His music was nominated for Academy Awards on eight separate occasions, but he never won one.

It doesn’t seem to have bothered him much, although he did retire from songwriting in the Sixties and spent the rest of his life in relative obscurity in his beloved New York City.

Referenced in:

Green Onions — The Blues Brothers

1989 – “The Arsenio Hall Show” is first broadcast

First broadcast on the evening of January 3rd, 1989, “The Arsenio Hall Show” was a very popular talk and variety show in the United States. Hosted, as the name suggests, by comedian and actor Arsenio Hall, it rapidly became the place to be seen – especially if one was attempting to reach that market sector known as ‘the MTV Generation.’

The show ran for five years, for a total of 1248 episodes, before its cancellation. The final episode was broadcast on May 27th, 1994. Today, it is probably best-remembered for the June 1992 appearance of Bill Clinton on the show – he played “Heartbreak Hotel” on his saxophone, impressing many young viewers with his ‘coolness’.

Referenced in:
My Generation (Part II) – Todd Snider

1989 – Daniel Rakowitz murders Monika Beerle

In the annals of really stupid criminals, Daniel Rakowitz holds a special place. A native of Texas, he moved to New York in 1985 when he was 25, and regularly prowled around the East Village area with a chicken, asking to be called ‘the God of Marijuana’.

When his roommate, Monica Beerle, disappeared in August of 1989, he boasted that had boiled her head and made soup from her brain. Rakowitz was also alleged to have boasted of killing her, although at his trial, he denied this. Other accusations included Rakowitz referring to himself as a cannibal, and serving homeless men a soup containing Beerle’s finger.

Certainly, he hid her skull in a locker at the Port Authority Terminal, where it was later found by police. On February 22, 1991, after deliberating for nine days, a jury found Rakowitz to be not guilty by reason of insanity, and he was sent to an asylum for the criminally insane, where he remains today.

Referenced in:

Is It Soup Yet? – Macabre

1989 – ‘Epitaph’ by Charles Mingus is first performed live

Mingus never believed that his ground-breaking composition would be performed while he lived – hence his title. He stated that he had written it “for my tombstone.” If it was an epitaph, it could scarcely have been a better one, for all that it was more than a decade since his death.

The manuscript was only found after his death, when Mingus’ works were being catalogued. In this, its first performance, the concert was produced by Sue Graham Mingus, his widow, and played by a 30-piece orchestra conducted by Gunther Schuller. Schuller later stated that Epitaph was “among the most important, prophetic, creative statement in the history of jazz,” and The New Yorker wrote that Epitaph represents the first advance in jazz composition since Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown, and Beige which was written in 1943.

Referenced in:
Woke Up This Morning – Alabama 3

1989 – China declares martial law in response to the Tiananmen Square protests

Inspired by, among other things, the fall of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, approximately 100,000 Chinese protestors, many of them students, occupied Tiananmen Square in Beijing for several weeks beginning on April 14, 1989.

In what can only be described as a massive over-reaction, the government of the People’s Republic of China declared martial law and sent in tanks and infantry to disperse the protestors. The army was delayed by other protestors, but on June 3, they reached the Square.

What followed has often, and not inaccurately, been labelled a massacre. Due to the government’s highly efficient censorship, an accurate death toll has never been released, and even today the incident officially did not occur. Unofficially, a number that has been variously estimated as between 140 and 7000 people died in the protests, and hundreds more were injured, all in an attempt to win rights that the majority of people reading this blog take for granted.

Referenced in:

China – Joan Baez
Blood Red – Slayer
Tin Omen – Skinny Puppy
Watching TV – Roger Waters
Hypnotize – System of a Down
Seven Days in May – Testament
The Tiananmen Man – Nevermore
We Didn’t Start the Fire – Billy Joel
The King of Sunset Town – Marillion
Tiananmen Square – Chumbawumba
Black Boys on Mopeds – Sinéad O’Connor
The Ghost in You – Siouxsie and the Banshees