March 25, 1990 — The Happy Land nightclub in New York is torched

Happy Land nightclub had been ordered closed for building code violations during November 1988, including the lack of fire exits, alarms or sprinkler system. These faults were never remedied, and fire exits were later found to have been deliberately blocked (to prevent people entering without paying).

The evening of the fire, Julio González had argued with his former girlfriend, Lydia Feliciano, a coat check girl at the club, urging her to quit. She told him to leave, and when he refused, she called the bouncer. González tried to fight back into the club but was ejected by the bouncer. He was heard to scream drunken threats in the process. Later that night, González returned to the establishment with a container of gasoline which he spread on the staircase that was the only access into the club.

In the resulting fire, 87 people lost their lives. González was convicted of 87 murders and 87 charges of arson, and sentenced to 25 years to life on every charge (a total of 4350 years), although he will be eligible for parole in March 2015 (the sentences for multiple murders are served concurrently under New York state law).

1990 – Marion Barry, former and future DC Mayor, convicted of drug possession

Marion Barry was first elected the Mayor of Washington DC in 1978, and began his tenure on January 2, 1979. On January 18, 1990, Barry was videotaped by FBI agents freebasing crack cocaine. After his arrest, and throughout his trial, which concluded in August 1990, he continued to serve as Mayor, although he did not stand for re-election (which was scheduled for November of that year).

Convicted of one count of possession of cocaine, he served six months in a minimum security facility for the crime. In 1994, now out of prison, he was elected Mayor again, and served a fourth four year term from 1995 to 1999.

He does not like to be compared to Rob Ford.

Referenced in:
Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous — Good Charlotte

1990 — They Might Be Giants release “Flood”

They Might Be Giants’ third studio album, and probably their best known, “Flood” features their single best known song – a cover of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” – as well as “Birdhouse in Your Soul” which was a top ten hit in both the US and UK. It would go on to be their best selling album, achieving platinum status in 2009.

The album as a whole is one of the most consistently excellent of all their albums, and is widely regarded as their best (although that may be something of an artifact of it being the most widely owned of their albums). It would be followed up by “Apollo 18” two years later.

Referenced in:
Theme from Flood — They Might Be Giants

1990 – “Die Hard 2: Die Harder” is released

The second film in the Die Hard series, this sequel went out of its way to draw attention to the fact that it was a sequel – lines like “how can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” were a non-too-subtle reminder of that. That said, the film was reasonably successful commercially (if not artistically), and the franchise would continue.

Die Hard 2 is the most blatantly sentimental and patriotic of the Die Hard films – released on July 4, set on Christmas Eve – no tactic of cheap manipulation was left unused by writers or marketers for this one. But who cares? Bruce Willis shot bad guys and stuff got blowed up real good. What else do you want?

Referenced in:

Live Free Or Die Hard — Guys Nite

1990 – James Pough goes on a shooting spree

James Edward Pough was 42 years old on June 18, 1990, when he began his killing spree shortly after midnight. His first kills were a pimp and a prostitute. Following this, he shot and wounded two youths and robbed a convenience store. But this was merely the overture.

At approximately 10:45, he entered the office of General Motors Acceptance Corporation in Jacksonville, Florida – the same office that had repossessed his Pontiac five months earlier. He opened fire, killing nine people and wounding four more over the next before turning his weapon on himself. His suicide effectively ended the rampage, leaving behind little explanation of Pough’s motives or intentions.

Referenced in:

What the Hell Did You Do? / James Pough — Macabre

1990 – Kurt Cobain commits suicide

To his fans, and most other people for that matter, he must have seemed on top of the world. Why wouldn’t he? He was the lead singer and songwriter of Nirvana, the leader and figurehead of the Grunge movement (the reigning style of music and fashion), and considered as important culturally as Lennon or McCartney had been.

But Lennon and McCartney didn’t suffer from depression. Stardom seemed an unwanted distraction for Cobain – it was certainly an unwanted pressure. We may never know exactly what pushed him over the edge into absolute despair, but something did. Likely factors – most of which were exacerbated by his depression and its other symptoms, even while they too were symptoms – include Cobain’s drug use, his physical weariness after a long tour and bouts of illness, the sad state of his marriage to Courtney Love, and his long term depression.

His body was discovered on April 8, 1990. He had shot himself after taking a large dose of heroin (and possibly some diazepam) and writing a suicide note. The coroner later estimated that he had died on April 5. He was survived by his wife and daughter, his bandmates in Nirvana, the Grunge movement, and a number of urban myths that he had been murdered.

Referenced in:

Let Me In — REM
About a Boy — Patti Smith
Mighty K.C. — For Squirrels
Innocent — Our Lady Peace
Sleeps with Angels — Neil Young
You Were Right — Badly Drawn Boy
Too Cool Queenie — Stone Temple Pilots
Californication — Red Hot Chili Peppers
Rock And Roll Hall Of Death — Mitch Benn And The Distractions

1990 – Stevie Ray Vaughan dies

One of the all time guitar greats, Stevie Ray Vaughan began his career working with smaller bands, but grew to such popularity and renown that he was soon able to front his own band, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble.

On the night of August 26, 1990, Vaughan played at a concert in East Troy, Wisconsin. The event was a sellout, and Vaughan’s loyal fans were treated to an encore guitar jam featuring Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Buddy Guy, Jimmie Vaughan and of course, Stevie himself.

But shortly thereafter, Vaughan was involved in a helicopter crash that claimed his life. He was only 35 years old, and his death inspired a large number of musical tributes. He would have liked that.

Referenced in:
SRV — Eric Johnson
Jibboom — Steve Vai
Big Stratocaster — Wayne Perkins
Stevie’s Blues — Tommy Emmanuel
Stevie Ray’s Blues — Stevie Wonder
Six Strings Down — Jimmie Vaughan