1979 at a glance:
- 1 million Iranians march in Tehran in a show of support for the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini, fundamentalist Muslim leader
- Patricia Hearst is released from prison for bank robbery
- Pink Floyd premiered their live version of "The Wall" in Los Angeles
- China invades Vietnam, marking the start of the Sino-Vietnamese War
- Sid Vicious' trial for murder of girlfriend Nancy Spungen begins
- Formation of Guardian Angels crime fighters in New York City
- Shah of Iran & family sentenced to death in Teheran
- Sony introduces the Walkman.
I was twenty-three and twenty-four 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.
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. In the photo at the right, I'd just finished petting and playing with a fully grown mountain lion that lived at the house behind me in a huge cage. There were about 3 of them in there. Their front legs are incredibly strong; when they swat at you, you know you've been hit. The summer as I recall was very hot. I was as lean as Turkey Ham, and skinny as a rail. At 6' 3" I weighed 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 actions of the Ayatollah Khomeni were 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 rationing.
The Color of Money
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 creating art. 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. I created a lot of designs on my own, including my best-selling design from the "Schludwiller Beer" commercials that saw full fruition in 1980. I did a caricature of the State Trooper.
I learned so much working at Advantage Industries, and often we got to buy misprinted, or customer rejected clothes at wholesale prices. The best purchase was an "Arctic Quilt" jacket that had a Weyerhauser logo printed on it. It was the warmest coat I've ever worn and it only cost seven bucks!
In space no one can hear you scream.
It seems that with each decade, some filmmaker raises the bar for excellence, and sets a new pace in filmmaking. The movie Alien was wowing audiences, and we'd been long overdue for some intelligent and compelling sci-fi. The movie was so technically dazzling, that it just blew my mind when I saw it. At the time, just about the only thing that came close to its technical razzle-dazzle was 1968's "200l A Space Odyssey." Everything about this film was just jaw-dropping. No other term describes it. The movie was something else too: it was nightmarish.
It's amazing at how close the plot 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. Hands down this was, and still is one of the best sci-fi movies on the market. The landing on the planet LV 426 is one of the creepiest parts of the film. 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. Christmas shopping was wonderful because I finally had lots of money to buy people things. I got my dad a polyester leisure suit (he really loved those), tools, and more that I can't remember now. The same with my mom and my friends. It was great to have enough money for Christmas.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. Now whenever I hear any song from "Phoenix", "Damn the Torpedos" or "The Wall" I am immediately reminded of that November, the Christmas shopping and the finality of 1979. When Christmas finally happened, and everybody had opened their presents, I noticed that HBO was running "Thunderball". That Christmas eve marked the first time in my life that I'd ever seen a James Bond movie.
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."
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.
"Apocalypse Now"Francis Ford Coppolla's new epic "Apocalypse Now" 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 all American audiences were ready for it. I thought it was basically a war movie; there wasn't enough press on it to tell me otherwise. What it really was was a two hour and forty minute descent into hell. I felt that the film was absolutely ahead of its time, and it was a visual masterpiece.
I had made the tragic mistake of taking a girl to see this; at the point in the film where Capt. Willard shoots the Vietnamese woman in the boat they were searching, She left the theater. I do have more on this movie on this page.
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.
At midnight on December 31st 1979, the great 70's era 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, some for the better and some for the worst. These years were great! The 70's were outrageous, wild, innovative, and, for the most part, fun. The decade marks 10 fabulous years of my life.