My novel is set in 1980, and in my research I was reminded of some interesting events I thought I'd mention here.
The first Sony Walkman. (Do you think she's listening to ABBA?)
NEED ANOTHER REASON TO TIE ONE ON?
Or are you numb to the profusion of yellow, red, pink, rainbow, purple, etc., ribbons trumpeting support and sympathy for a seemingly limitless number of groups and causes? Has the ribbon’s ubiquity rendered it meaningless? And was it somehow more sincere when it was an actual ribbon and not a magnetic facsimile? In the great American tradition of taking a good idea, building it to its zenith, and then beating it into the ground until it’s a sad caricature of itself (cf, Michael Jackson), does the sight of a ribbon (magnetic or not) still engender reflexive sympathy or merely a reflexive eye-roll?
Has the ribbon jumped the shark?
As best as anyone can determine, the ribbon as a symbol was first mentioned in a folktale about a convict released from prison. The story goes that the man’s family couldn’t afford the long journey to visit him in prison. When he was ready to be released, in order to know where he stood with them, he wrote and asked them to leave a sign, a single ribbon, if he was still welcome at home. As his train pulls into the station, he sees a tree filled with ribbons.
Before you sigh and brush away a tear, recall that this guy was in jail for a crime, not held hostage against his will for doing nothing wrong. The message being, transgression can be forgiven, love conquers all, etc., etc. All well and good, and we wouldn't want it any other way. (Though I can’t help wondering what the guy did, because, like, that would have some bearing on whether he really deserved
to be forgiven...)
Meanwhile, the song that popularized the original ribbon story was recorded by Tony Orlando and Dawn back in 1973. Tie a Yellow Ribbon
became the number one single that year, and when the album was released, it also went to number one. The album spent over 5 months on the charts, and sold more than 7 million copies. Cover versions were cut by more than 100 other artists. Tony Orlando and Dawn performed together until July 1977, when Orlando shocked the audience (and his back-up singers) by announcing his retirement. (He then broke down on stage and was hospitalized.)
The original yellow ribbon displayed by Penne Laingen; better than a magnet.
In 1979, the Americans were taken hostage in Iran. In December of that year, Penne Laingen, the wife of hostage Bruce Laingen, hit on a brilliant way to raise awareness of the daily plight of the hostages. Inspired by the popular song, she posted a large yellow ribbon on a tree outside her home.
The ribbon symbol was taken up by humanitarian organizations, and 10,000 yellow ribbon pins were manufactured and delivered to union members, college students, members of hostages’ families…and TV weather forecasters. Throughout 1980, the ribbon grew to a national symbol of remembrance and reflected Americans’ continued determination to see the hostages released. The ribbon story was reinvented, the meaning of the symbol continued to evolve.
The song, as performed by Tony Orlando and Dawn, was revived during the hostage crisis because of the promotion of the yellow ribbon symbol and quickly became an anthem for remembrance of the hostages. The day of their release, January 20, 1981, it was played on radio stations across the country.
Now, the symbol has evolved again to include remembrance of soldiers sent to war, and awareness of the chronically and/or terminally ill, sexual orientation, research into chronic or terminal illnesses, and developmental disorders. Does the ribbon work because it’s instantly recognizable, or would these causes be better served by different symbols? Is it time for a new symbol? If you can think of one, let me know.
My friends are gonna be there, too.
1980: A Bad Year to Be Bon
No, that's not a typo. Bon Scott
of AC/DC sang Highway to Hell, and the song became a self-fulfilling prophecy, apparently. His successor, Brian Johnson, sang Back in Black as a tribute to Bon Scott.
The same year, the Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham
died. I won't bother with the gory details of either of these events. Let's just say you can guess.
Last month, Bonham's son Jason was Zepp's drummer on their reunion tour.
I don't mention John Lennon; not to slight him, but he's not a Bon, so he doesn't fit into my schema. But isn't this a strange convergence of events? A bad year to be Bon, indeed.
For more on 1980, check out the blog.
Who Is Barack Obama's Billy Carter?
He has to have one if he wants to be president. (Hmm, maybe it’s Ted Kennedy...?)
“I got a red neck, white socks, and Blue Ribbon beer.”
These were the words of President Jimmy Carter’s brother, Billy, whose homespun “witticisms” charmed the press corps, right up to the time he did a shady six-figure deal with Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi. Defending his trips to Libya, he argued that a “heap of governments support terrorists and [Libya] at least admitted it.” That comment was not so charming.
President Carter tried to disassociate himself from Billy, telling reporters that he hoped everyone would realize he didn’t have “any control over what my brother says [and] he has no control over me."
The money story broke in July 1980, right when President Carter was trying to build momentum going into the Democratic convention.
Billygate was a momentum-builder all right--for Ronald Reagan, who went on to win the election in a landslide.
Hillary Clinton has Hugh, Bill Clinton had Roger. Reagan had his daughter, Patty Davis. The family embarrassment may have become a presidential prerequisite.
Come on, Senator Obama—Who’s your Billy?
I for one would like to know in advance.
Gas Hits the $1.00 Mark
In March 1980, gas hit a high of $1.19 per gallon. Before you get too nostalgic, note that in current dollars, this isn't far from what we're paying now.
And, courtesy of CNNMoney.com, this statistic:
In 1980, the average American had to work 105 minutes to buy enough gas to drive the average car 100 miles, according to a senior economist at Standard and Poor's. Now, the average American needs to work only 53 minutes, thanks to better fuel efficiency and higher wages.
For gas to be as expensive today as it was then, as a percentage of income, we'd have to hit about $4.62 per gallon. We may get there yet. (Again, I didn't come up with these numbers, I just work here.)
Anyway, according to sources, gas prices have increased about 2.5X since 1980-81, but per-capita personal disposable income has increased by about 3.5X during that same period.
Now, don't you feel flush? It's a good time to buy stocks. I hear you can get a whole investment bank for just $2 a share...
Dr. Herman Tarnower. A face that, apparently, a lot of women could love.
On March 14, 1980, Dr. Herman Tarnower, creator of the Scarsdale Diet, was shot and killed at his home in Westchester, NY, during a struggle with his girlfriend, Jean Harris. Harris, the director of the Madeira School, an elite girls’ school in Virginia, was subsequently convicted of murder and sentenced to 15 years to life. The prosecution argued that Harris shot Tarnower in a jealous rage. Apparently, Tarnower’s diet, while limiting carbs, permitted an unrestricted number of female lovers.
I can only conclude that the extremely low-calorie diet made his conquests woozy, like a food-deprivation version of beer goggles. Diet goggles. Unless he was an incredibly good conversationalist? (And what's with the sinister "come-hither" stare on his book cover?)
Harris testified that she was not planning to kill Tarnower, but to kill herself, and that the shooting was accidental. In 1993, she was granted clemency by then-New York Gov. Mario Cuomo due to good behavior as well as her recurrent heart problems (find the metaphor!) requiring bypass surgery.
Apparently, 10 out of 14 prospective jurors at Harris’ murder trial had at some time been on the Scarsdale Diet. So, was protein bread available in the deliberation room? If it was Wednesday, did they eat tuna salad? Were the jurors more likely to convict Harris because they felt warmly toward a man who had helped them lose weight?
And, did they keep it off?
Some critics have called the Scarsdale Diet “bad science,” “extreme,” and “unsustainable.” (Or was that Bush energy policy?)
When I was a teenager, the Curiouswriter household was on the Scarsdale Diet. The murder scandal was a lot juicier than the ½ grapefruit I ate for breakfast every morning.
Eventually, Curiouswriter’s mother switched the family to Pritikin (tasteless soups dulled the appetite, resulting in weight loss). (Mom, you're an excellent cook. It's not you, it's Pritikin. Pritikin needs SALT.)
After Nathan Pritikin died as well, I became alarmed. But when Dr. Robert Atkins (creator of the low-carb Atkins Diet) died, I thought that a general warning to all creators of popular diets might be in order. Could my mother's diet choices mean doom for all diet gurus?
Coincidence or not? You be the judge.