I was 23 and 24 years old in 1979.
1979 was the big kahuna of years. It marked the demise of yet another decade-the end of the great era of the 70's. I got my first real industry job as a graphic designer at a place called Advantage Industries. It was a screen printing company and I worked in the art department creating original and custom T-shirt designs. It was great to be paid for something that I'd trained in, and like most jobs, the best ones are always to be had by networking. A friend from art school worked there and recommended me for the job. So, I was no longer behind a grinding wheel, but a draftsman's table.
For some reason, my true recollections of 1979 seem to be of the fall and winter. Perhaps it was then that I was the most settled and happy. The summer as I recall was very hot, and I was doing a ton of bicycling at the time. I was as lean as Turkey Ham. I was in fact, as skinny as a rail. At 6' 3" and weighing in at 164 lbs, I was in the heavyweight class at martial arts competitions, but I didn't come close to most of the heavyweight guys in the divisions who were often in excess of 200 lbs.
I do remember highlights such as syndicated reruns of Saturday Night Live with host Gary Busey's insanely hilarious impressions of Billy Carter, and Mansonite Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme taking aim at President Ford. World events turned to the serious during the Iran hostage crisis, 444 days of terror and the Ayatollah Khomeni was completely unacceptable. Meanwhile, many rock heroes took the stage for the live "No Nukes" album calling the issue of nuclear energy into serious question. Gas shortages happened with frequency, and rationing took over. The Kinks' 1979 song "A Gallon of Gas" is based on the world pandemic.
In space no one can hear you scream.
The movie Alien was wowing audiences, and we'd been long overdue for some intelligent and compelling sci-fi. It's amazing at how close it resembles the sci-fi classic "The Thing." The movie made a star out of Sigourney (Susan) Weaver, and Swiss artist and chief alien designer H.R. Giger. This was one of the best sci-fi movies ever, and the special effects were out the roof. The landing on the planet LV 426 is one of the creepiest moments ever, and of course, its aftermath with the alien bursting out of the chest, was way over the top and freaked out a nation of movie-goers.
What I liked the most was how confining the movie was. There was nowhere to run to, and it was amazing just how small a giant cargo ship could be with an 8-foot drooling, jaw-snapping alien running loose. A great touch was how the alien blended in with everything. The panels, walls, ceilings, all looked like the same "carved" technique of H.R. Giger's art. Even the planet surface was the same. "Alien" was no-holds-barred science fiction where anything was possible. More interesting was the fact that the only hero of the movie was the surviving female, Science Officer Ripley.
In November of 1979, I was completely submerged in Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and Dan Fogelberg. The album Phoenix was a great LP and I tried to learn as much Dan Fogelberg tunes on guitar as possible. His acoustic guitar work was a bit more complicated so I had my work cut out for me. Francis Ford Coppolla's new epic "Apocalypse Now" had hit the theatres and I went to see it as soon as it came out. I always felt that it was a monumental masterpiece though I don't think American audiences were ready for it. We all thought it was a war movie, when in reality, it was a winding two hour and forty minute descent into hell.
Pink Floyd managed to squeeze out one more album before technically calling it quits. Like The Beatles' White Album, bad vibes were all over this record. The album "The Wall" though, instantly became my favorite post-dark side Floyd album. For me, Pink Floyd has two distinct categories: early psychedelia, and the post-dark side of the moon studio tech days. My favorite tune on the album was "Goodbye, Blue Sky," followed by "Hey You," "Comfortably Numb," "Vera," and "One of My Turns." In fact, all of side 3 is impeccable.
Sony Walkman $79.99
Music to go. 80 bucks was all it took to have a personal stereo with fantastic sound to travel with you. It was worth every single penny too. I got my first Sony Walkman in the winter of 1979. This was perhaps one of the singlemost important inventions (after the VCR of course) to ever emerge in the 20th century. All you needed was a cassette to pop in, and you were ready to walk, listen, and take your tunes anywhere. They came with a set of headphones, which at the time, were of very high quality. This is what made it the "personal stereo."
The Pacific Northwest
The great Pacific Northwest was famous for freezing rain and some record snowfalls about every 9-10 years. It was on a late night during the week that the snow began to fall hard and fast. By morning it was several feet deep and frozen. Much like 1969, the great blizzard and silverthaw of 1979 again shut the city down and had everyone housebound. 1979 was leaving in the same manner in which the 70's came: with walls of frozen snow. I eventually became involved with photography, and wanted to learn how to use a completely manual 35mm. So, I bought a Pentax K-1000, and took some very decent pictures with it. The opportunity for my best photos came with a trek behind the campus of Reed College. Armed with a tripod, shutter release, my Pentax, and my Sony Walkman loaded with Pink Floyd's "The Wall," I took some grand snow pics.
It was as big as a microwave... It sat on top of the TV...It weighed close to 2,000 pounds...It devoured small animals and some children. When the top opened, a metallic clunk of machine parts sounded as a bulky tape was exposed...
It was then, and only then that you reached inside to retrieve the impossible: a TV show or movie recorded onto a tape to be viewed later. Such miracles were rare in 1979. This particular miracle was an RCA Video Cassette Recorder otherwise known as either a "VCR'", or "VTR."
The first movie I ever recorded was a rerun of the great 70's TV movie "Gargoyles." This beast of a machine cost me $1395.00 at Cohn Brothers Furniture Store in November of 1979. This was not a Betamax, but a newer, more diverse version known as "VHS." A blank VHS tape cost $24.95 on sale. $26.95 at Jafco.
It took about six months for the prices to begin to drop on blank tapes. Little, by little, the prices became more manageable as more VCR's made their way to American living rooms. Long about this time were some interesting movies. "The Lathe of Heaven" debuted on PBS and the made for television mini-series called "The Martian Chronicles" was visually interesting, but the story lagged at times. I remember liking it though. Also more notably, "Shogun" premiered as a lavish epic that ran in several installments. The VCR was indeed a miraculous invention providing hours of the best TV and movie watching time at one's leisure.
was a new adventure for me in 1979. Luckily all the bicycling put me in better shape, for martial arts training was rigorous. Everything felt awkward, and the most important thing of all was the 60's myth-shattering belief that a person could get a black in 6-10 weeks! The only black belt in karate that I knew of at the time was Bruce Lee. It was during this training period that I learned that Bruce wasn't doing karate at all, but his own style of "Gung Fu." This period of karate training was interesting, humbling, fun, and kept me in pretty decent shape. For my size, it would have been helpful to have about thirty more pounds on me. Looking back on those days, it was so much fun, but now, I barely think of it. And yes, I did have to use it, but only once, and it worked. I was attacked once in the 90's, and whereas before I could have been slaughtered, it was vice versa, and the idiot was left helpless and writhing in probably less than 5 seconds. Not a brag, just a note to say that all the monthly fees paid off and saved me a hospital bill.
And now, the great 70's had come to an end.
Many interesting and beautiful things lay in store for the future. I spent these years with many wonderful people who indeed altered the course of my life.
Nobody could have said it better than Jim Morrison: "this is the end, beautiful friend."