Remembering 1979

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Here at ETS we are reflecting somewhat on the meaning of 1969 on its 40th anniversary and remembering where we were. To be honest, I was a little young for 1969 (although my mother swears I saw the moon landing). My first "9" year I remember was 1979.

This is an interesting year because quite frankly, it was not a good one. Inflation was around 12% around, gold was way up (maybe higher in absolute dollars than it was now), and gas lines were forming in the summer. This was when the rust belt really began to earn its nickname.

And there was the Iran hostage crisis which is rarely discussed these days (and which I have blanked out a bit), but was like an overwhelming wave of absolute darkness back then. This is where Nightline got started, and in our household, was required viewing at least once a week...for over a year that the crisis went on. It was truly, truly awful.

I was also not enthralled with the artistic output from either radio ("Heartache Tonight" is depressing and neither the "Logical Song" or "Reunited" have ever worked for me) or TV. Even 70s TV classics like Happy Days and Charlie's Angels were losing steam. All that was left was reruns of Star Trek, Get Smart and the OLD Battlestar Galactica (which was quite excellent later in the season)...and WKRP in Cincinnati which had a running theme of Johnny Fever bemoaning the death of rock and roll (we hear you man).

But there is one shining moment. One Saturday evening as we were preparing to watch Saturday Night Live (which was in its first glory period), we saw the dreaded news logo meaning that SNL would be interrupted to bring us the latest on the crisis.

Just as were preparing the change the channel, someone yelled "Wait!". It wasn't the Iran crisis, but the "Tokyo Crisis" (when Paul McCartney was arrested in Japan for possession of weed). Finally, someone willing to snort in the face of danger. Saturday Night Live also gave us the "Pepsi Syndrome" (when a can of Pepsi caused a nuclear meltdown), Steve Martin, "Jane You Ignorant Slut" and John Belushi as Captain Kirk (there...was...none...better). Good memories. Precious memories.

Looking back at 1979 in retrospect, I see that there are other seeds of change that were beginning to sprout and waiting for the 80s to arrive. 1979 was the year of "Heart of Glass" (Blondie) and others like "Cruel to be Kind" (Nick Lowe), "Rock Lobster (The B-52s) and "Let's Go" (The Cars). Somewhere in a practice rink, the U.S. Olympic hockey team was learning to work together to win the gold in 1980 (sweet). And apparently there are some musical classics I forgot were from 1979 like Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me."

Is this a lesson that I should wait for better days or see the brighter side? Sort of. But more importantly, I think it's a reminder that while life can rob you of hope, confidence, the will to fight and your creativity (all while still in graduate school)...it can never rob you of your sense of humor. At least not mine. As long as channels like Bravo TV and VH1 show the ridiculous and The Soup and The Dish are there to lampoon it...I feel confident we will somehow survive as a nation.

I don't think I want to repeat 1979, but I do thank it for The Tokyo crisis and some of those obscure singles I bought in iTunes while I wait for the unknown future of 2010.

3 Comments

Awesome! This is about the time I start to really remember things -- 1979. I was seven and my little sister had just been born the year before. I remember this being sort of like the last summer before I started to think about being a bit more grown up. I remember that I read the Hardy Boys books that summer at our cottage (no TV only radio) and do recall waiting in lines for gas on specific days. We spent much of the summer playing tennis at a little, in the middle of no where, tennis "club" (if you could call it a club at all). My Mom taught me to play and I would spend hours hitting against a backboard.

I think it does point to something for me as well ... here in 2009 my little girl is 7 (just like I was 30 years ago) and I see her reading Nancy Drew, listening to new music, and exploring our neighborhood on her own for the first time. In lots of ways we are struggling through similar economic times and are looking for a way forward. The thing your post reminds me of is that as difficult as it may be for us, that my little boy and girl are just thrilled to be running through the summer air -- just like I was in 1979. Thanks for the post!

JAMIE CALVIN OBERDICK Author Profile Page said:

For me, here are my other 1979 memories:

- The incredible run the Baltimore Orioles made and then failed to win the World Series.

- Much more importantly, I grew up exactly 12 miles from Three Mile Island (I know due to a radius map the newspaper printed and the 12 mile circle went over our little tiny street). Some memories of that accident include:

- Being let out of school early that Friday and being told to go home and shut all windows and stay inside. As if that would help. Rumors flew through the middle school that several people died at the plant.

- Despite my parents' misgivings, going on a weekend boy scout camping trip. I really wanted to go. The Saturday night of that event, we had a Civil Defense person come up to our cabin and I will never forget hearing the man say to our Scoutmaster "tell your boys to pack everything up and sleep in their clothes. There is a chance we may need to evacuate and we will have to move fast if we do."

- A family we are pretty close to from my parent's church owns a farm about a mile from the plant, the cooling towers loom over the cow pasture. He said to my dad the Sunday of the accident that they all had this metallic taste in their mouths and couldn't understand it. That is the sign of radiation.

- My parents' house is bordered by a housing project on one side and the substation for the parent company of TMI on the other. A neighbor who worked at the plant told us it was plain luck there wasn't a real meltdown.

So, Iran hostage was dark, but the idea that your home could very well become a nuclear wasteland overshadowed that for a week in late March/early April that year.

ELIZABETH J PYATT Author Profile Page said:

Ah sweet memories.

I definitely remember the Orioles losing in GAME 7 (Ahhh!) - I still have problems listening to "We are Family" since it was the anthem for the opposition that shall not be named in Central PA.

I do remember TMI as well, but it was far enough away that it was mostly a TV event. I'm glad it wasn't any closer.

In Baltimore, we used to discuss that we were probably doomed in any Soviet attack because of our proximity to Washington. I do remember David Brinkley revealing that Congress was prepared with an emergency tax collection plan in case of a nuclear holocaust. Our tax dollars at work.

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