RENATO REDENTOR CONSTANTINO
July 30, 2009
Three times ten is not so long.
Thirty years ago it seemed as if the discotheque flu spread by Donna Summers and the Bee Gees would sway in the roost forever, especially after Gloria Gaynor issued her cross-generational therapy for cross-generational anomie titled “I will survive.”
This was in 1979, the year “twenty-five of the first thirty weeks ... saw a disco dance number perched atop the Billboard charts. It seemed as if rock and roll was dead.” (1)
Then The Knack triggered a head-bobbing pandemic called “My Sharona” and forced the coroner to announce the demise of Tony Manero and Saturday Night Fever.
It's not such a long time.
The Clash finally smashed its way out of the UK in December 1979 with its third album named “London Calling,” with songs about restlessness, unemployment, the Spanish Civil War, race and nuclear power.
Around three months prior to its release, photographer Pennie Smith would capture with the final shot in her last roll of film the image that would immortalize the album: an angry Paul Simonon blowing a gasket and smashing his bass guitar, “framed by pink and green lettering” that echoed the cover of Elvis Presley's first LP. (2)
A portable universe was created in 1979, the year Sony introduced its handy cassette player – the Walkman – to an unwittingly ready public. The device reconfigured the daily life of the first lucky few wise enough to grasp the concept of existential mobility.
The Walkman’s original version was a bring-your-own-altar “audio player without a recording mechanism.” It came with headphones “associated with the hard of hearing” and was as “big as a paperback book.” (3) It challenged an entire industry’s thinking, which wondered incredulously “how many people would actually want to listen to music outside the comfort of their home.” (4)
Mobile music was indeed an anomaly but it was grand.
Beybe-beybe Rico J. Puno, bell-bottomed trousers and inch-thick pomade were still constitutional in 1979, the same year Tito, Vic, and Joey broke away from Bobby Ledesma's Discorama to set-up the protracted noontime party of the masses called Eat Bulaga, which would eventually dislodge Student Canteen. (5)
Schooled in Matutina-speak and petty delusion, the great Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was then stealing mostly just precious time away from unfortunate students she handled as an Assistant Professor at the Ateneo de Manila thirty years ago. (6)
In 1979, the Marcos dictatorship still held full sway over a pliant public through the holy trinity of America the All-Father, national burglary and violence.
It was an interesting period.
The grim Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was chosen man of the year by Time magazine in 1979. (7)
The publication described the Iranian cleric as a leader who “gave the 20th century world a frightening lesson in the shattering power of irrationality of the ease with which terrorism can be adopted as government policy.” (8) Which is kind of an interesting thing to say.
A nasty bemoustached chap installed himself as Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council of the Iraqi Ba’ath Party in 1979, becoming president of Iraq in the same year. He would enjoy the unrestrained support of the US for decades – particularly during the vile dictator’s war against Iran. His name was Saddam Hussein. (9)
In 1979, the dour chief of the USSR Leonid Brezhnev decided to send the Soviet army into Afghanistan, in an act of ultimate folly. (10)
Three decades later, the Pope of Hope, Barack Obama, sustains the lunacy by expanding America's war in Afghanistan with a familiar imperial twist – by announcing a limit on the number of US troops to be deployed to the war-ravaged country. Because “that's how escalation works,” the writer Norman Solomon reminds us. “Ceilings become floors. Gradually.” (11)
As the novelist Tariq Ali noted with characteristic clarity, "This is now Obama’s war. He campaigned to send more troops into Afghanistan and to extend the war, if necessary, into Pakistan. These pledges are now being fulfilled. On the day he publicly expressed his sadness at the death of a young Iranian woman caught up in the repression in Tehran, US drones killed 60 people in Pakistan. The dead included women and children.... Their names mean nothing to the world; their images will not be seen on TV networks. Their deaths are in a 'good cause'." (12)
Thirty years ago the US space station Skylab I plunged back to Earth, “scattering debris across the southern Indian Ocean and sparsely populated Western Australia.” (13)
The space laboratory was launched in 1973. Three teams of astronauts lived in Skylab for periods reaching 84 days. It's “final orbital path ... passed over the north Pacific.” (14)
Police in India's 22 states "were put on full alert and the civil aviation department was planning to ban flights across the sub-continent during the crucial hours of re-entry." (15)
Skylab tumbled back to Earth in 1979 in Esperance, Australia where authorities fined America's State Department $400 for littering, which the US never paid.(16)
Filipinos might consider Skylab lucky: at least it finally landed whereas the fortune of their country – it’s still plummeting. #
1. The Knack's website.
2. "The best album of all time," Tom Sinclair, Entertainment Weekly.com
3. Daniel Rook, "The Ascent of Walkman," South China Morning Post, 5 July 2009.
5. Nickee V. de Leon, "Isang Libo't Isang Tuwa: The Phenomenon that is Eat Bulaga," The Asian Journal Blog, 16 July 2008.
6. Website of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
7. Time.com Person of the Year
9. Renato Redentor Constantino, The Poverty of Memory: Essays on History and Empire (CFNS, 2006)
10. "Russians warn of Afghan parallels," BBC News, 14 February 2009.
11. Norman Solomon, "Escalation scam," Guernica, 10 July 2009. See
12.Tariq Ali, "Diary", London Review of Books, 23 July 2009.
13. "1979: Skylab tumbles back to Earth," BBC News, 11 July 2005.
16. Hannah Siemer, "Skylab remembered," Esperance Express, 16 July 2007.