Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Spirits of '79: Apocalypse Then and Now

I can't exactly say why, but the way 2022 is shaping up reminds me a lot of 1979. It's more a feeling than anything else, but it's almost like you can sense the gaskets on the ship of state starting to blow in the same way you got back then. 1979 was a much darker and more violent year than anything a lot of people born afterwards might remember, but there are a lot of themes that seem to be repeating.

Where '79 resonates with today is not only the onrushing Cold War v2.0, but also the same general feeling of exhaustion and systemic collapse. The American Empire was on very shaky ground back then, and was facing a series of crises of a scope unseen since the Second World War. Some of the equilibrium was restored by the mid-Eighties, but in hindsight it seems the problems were simply put off rather than solved.

Since I'm about to embark on an absolute 1979 jamboree, I thought it would be a fine idea to serve up a general overview of the epochal year, as a primer for younger readers and a refresher for geezers like me.

Considering 1979 gave rise to so many genres - hardcore punk, synth pop, industrial, postpunk, NWOBHM, hip hop - that went on to exert outsized influence on the culture at large, this overview here is meant to illustrate a foundational Secret Sun maxim. That being that nothing comes from nothing: intense art emerges during intense times, weirdness during weird times and darkness during dark times.

And 1979 was most definitely intense, weird and dark.

It's tempting to equate Jimmy Carter with the present husk in the Oval Office but the two really couldn't be less alike. Biden is a fraudulent bullshitter and corrupt hack who learned from older Senatorial sleazebags how to manipulate the system for his personal enrichment. Carter was a moderately-conservative Southern Democrat and sincere Christian, who ran as an outsider and promised to clean Washington up in the wake of the Watergate scandal. 

Predictably, the Deep State responded to Carter's challenge in ways not entirely dissimilar to the treatment they gave Trump forty years later. Or Nixon himself, for that matter.

Carter had his defenders, but he couldn't withstand the onslaught of sabotage and subversion the permanent government constantly dumped on his Administration. For instance, Carter's so-called "Malaise Speech" sounds perfectly reasonable and rational today, but it got roasted and relentlessly thrown up in his face because he had the temerity to go after the special interests who were - and still are - sucking the marrow out of America's bones.

Someone should really do Carter's charts, because it's almost as if he got hit by a perfect storm of shit luck. For starters, the oil crisis of the mid-70s had come roaring back and the Cold War began getting rather hot. Throw in events like the core meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant - which occurred not two weeks after a similar event was portrayed in the movie The China Syndrome - and it's not hard to imagine the stars themselves were aligned against the man.

That impression was compounded in May when the worst aviation accident in American history - AA Flight 191 - killed over 250 people in Chicago. That numerology there is itching my brain, I might add.

But what really broke Carter's presidency was the Iranian Revolution, which saw US client Shah Reza Pahlavi overthrown and replaced by the Ayatollah Khomeini. That was all bad enough, but it went to Hell in a handbasket when a mob stormed the US Embassy in Teheran and kicked off a long and humiliating hostage crisis. At least we got Nightline out of the whole mess. Also, Argo.

Where Biden does resemble Carter is in the disastrous Afghanistan pullout and the recent botched color revolution in Kazakhstan (the clusterfark there has done nothing to assuage my suspicions that George Soros - the supreme color revolutionary mastermind - is either dead or incapacitated). 

Similarly, Carter would send in a Delta Force team in April 1980 to rescue the hostages, but they ran into a sandstorm and it all ended in catastrophe. That's the kind of fubar that goes down when you just know the gods have turned against you.

In one of those great historic ironies, Viet Nam went to war with both China and their murderous clients the Khmer Rouge in 1979, not even five years after the US had been bombing the living crap out of them. It would only be after the Viet Cong had kicked the tar out of Pol Pot and his blood-drenched cronies that the grisly truth about Cambodia's killing fields would finally come out.

We should never gotten involved in France's bullshit colonial war. 1979 - and the Vietnamese themselves - proved the Domino Theory wrong. The Viet Nam War was the worst mistake our corrupt and decadent elites ever made, IMO.

Another prolifically-murderous dictator - and Western client - named Idi Amin Dada would be deposed in a series of military actions between Uganda and its neighbors. After Amin was sent packing, the world would discover just how ruthless and genocidal the man who bizarrely imagined himself as the King of Scotland actually was.

Meanwhile, the government of Rhodesia (so named for Cecil Rhodes) was overthrown by a revolutionary junta, who renamed the country Zimbabwe and installed Robert Mugabe as dictator. Mugabe and his cronies lived large during the Cold War, but the country lapsed into decline soon after its end. The onetime "Breadbasket of Africa" became a basketcase, but Mugabe wouldn't be overthrown until 2017.

The Sandinistas came to power in 1979, with the overthrow of Anastasio Somoza. Carter was content to let the previous regime fall, but Reagan's NatSec team made taking the FSLN down one of its first orders of business. The Reagan/Bush crew eventually got them out of there for a while, but the Sandinistas eventually regained power. 

In between was the Iran-Contra debacle, but that's a story for another day.

Saddam Hussein would seize the reins of power in Iraq, just in time to act as a bulwark for the West against Iran. After having hundreds of his fellow Ba'ath Party members executed, Saddam would go on to enjoy the patronage and largesse of the Reagan Administration. But the Bush gang went after Saddam in the early 90s and then finally took him out in 2003, leading to a disastrous US occupation of the ancient sands of Babylon.

Political violence and terrorism were endemic in the Middle East and one of the more notorious events was the siege at Mecca, when a group of militants took control of the Grand Mosque. Lots of blood was spilled to resolve that particular situation. 

Lots of blood was spilled in 1979 in general, truth be told.

Carter's one foreign policy triumph - ostensibly, at least - were the Camp David Accords, which established a cease fire between Israel and Egypt, and was signed by the respective countries leaders at the White House. The truce would be kept in place with billions of tax dollars and the two countries remained the largest recipients of US foreign aid for a very long time to come. Unfortunately, Anwar Sadat wouldn't be around to enjoy the bounty; he was assassinated two years later.

The Troubles in Northern Island were heating up that year, and spreading across the Irish Sea with a series of major bombings in Britain. The Irish Republican Army also scored a major scalp in '79 with the assassination of Lord Mountbatten.

The Troubles and a series of crippling strikes brought down the Labour Government in '79, and brought ol' Pearly Thatcher to power with a Tory landslide. Thatcher and her cabinet went after the trade unions and set about cutting the cord on a whole host of fading British industries, resulting in a major recession and riots, as well as very deep economic pain all across the industrial heartland. The economy eventually recovered, however, and Thatcher stayed in power until deposed by a palace coup in 1990.

The Soviet Union decided to take a crack at cracking the Graveyard of Empires egg, and it pretty much went the way it always has. But their invasion of Afghanistan, along with the Iranian and Nicaraguan Revolutions, put a lot of wind in Cold Warrior sails. Carter was always much more of a foreign policy hawk than he was given credit for, but he went for the quiet walk-big stick approach. That most definitely fell out of fashion in '79 and Carter's successor would pursue a much different strategy.

The Religious Right began their rise in 1979, with the formation of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority. The movement was never nearly as powerful as the media painted them (note they did absolutely nothing to slow the secularization of the country or the coarsening of the culture) and they got next to nothing from the Reagan White House as far as their wishlists were concerned, but a lot of churches were planted and a lot of preachers got very, very rich during the gravy days. As did hairspray manufacturers.

At the same time, Pope John Paul II became one of the most powerful men in the world as he explicitly positioned the Church against the Soviet Union, in defiance of pro-Soviet factions within the Vatican such as the Jesuits and Liberation Theologists. JP2 seized the moment and went on tour like a rock star in 1979, appearing before massive crowds all across the world.

It's important to remember that both the Vatican and the Religious Right enlisted as Cold Warriors in good standing in 1979, giving the ratcheting tensions between the superpowers a distinctively apocalyptic flavor and intensity.

The Religious Right were in part spurred on by the social conservative backlash against the gay rights movement, which was highly visible thanks in part to the Dionysian Mysteries of Disco. The so-called "White Night" riots - inspired by the preposterously lenient sentence given San Francisco Supervisor Dan White for the premeditated shooting deaths of fellow Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone - probably didn't do much to quell said backlash. (White would later commit suicide after his release from prison). 

The overall grim mood of 1979 only deepened when several fans were trampled to death while scrambling for good seats at a general-admission Who concert in Cincinnati. The tour was The Who's first following the death of original drummer Keith Moon, who'd OD'd on a drug he'd been prescribed to alleviate withdrawal from alcohol abuse. He was replaced by Kenny Jones, formerly of The Faces.

Ironically, The Who were enjoying a very good year up until that time, with the release of the biopic The Kids Are Alright and a movie version of their 1973 rock opera Quadrophenia.

The practice of putting missing children on milk cartons would kick off following the 1979 disappearance of New York City schoolboy Etan Patz. It was later discovered Patz was kidnapped and murdered by a convicted sex criminal, who'd be sentenced to life for the crime in 2017. 

Strangely enough, 1979 and 2017 were linked together in another way: both featured total solar eclipses that were visible from the continental United States. In fact, the 1979 was the only one of its type until 2017. 

And Secret Sun readers certainly can't forget what all went down in 2017. In that light, I should also mention that the Cocteau Twins first formed in 1979. 

Because when else could they have?


Weirdness was all over the place in 1979. The 70s occult revival was tapering off in the greater culture, but was still going strong in the underground. Punk and postpunk bands, as well as alternative and underground cartoonists and filmmakers, were bringing occult themes and symbolism into their work. 

The conspiracy underground was still in full force, spurred on by developments surrounding the JFK assassination investigation, not to mention Vietnam and Watergate. Ever the early adapters, your more extreme conspiracy theorists made full use of amateur radio, photocopiers and mimeographs in those pre-USENET dark ages.

UFOlogy had peaked in the wake of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and was on the wane again by 1979. Even so, a number of highly weird UFO documentaries were released that year, films that blurred the boundaries between nuts-n-bolts UFOlogy and the Occult such as UFOs are Real, UFOs: It Has Begin, Attack from Outer Space, The Bermuda Triangle and UFO Syndrome. 

In Search Of, which originally grew out of an ancient astronaut documentary, was still going strong in '79, covering a whole range of occult and paranormal topics.

1979 also saw the publication of Jacques Vallee's landmark manifesto, Messengers of Deception. '79 was not a particular banner year for UFOlogy, but the book's deeper streams of paranormality and the supernatural most certainly fit right in with the apocalyptic tenor of the times. Most especially with all the proto-new Age California cultism Vallee covers, which was a very big thing back then and would get a lot bigger in the Eighties.

Messengers of Deception also introduced the Heaven's Gate cult to a wider audience, at least in the world of UFOlogy. With news cycles what they were the mass disappearances of Gaters that had become such a major news story in the mid-70s were ancient history by '79. No one realized it at the time but the Gate would quietly grow and eventually become a much bigger story nearly two decades later.

I guess Vallee's work on the Gate got Hollywood's attention, since a pilot for a series based on Gate leaders Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles was produced in 1979. The pilot went unsold and was released as a TV movie three years later.

1979 was also a landmark year, Secret Sun-wise, since Andrija Puharich's Council of Nine operation took control of the Esalen Institute. Control came in the form of a young and voluptuous British channeler named Jenny O'Connor, who Institute cofounder Dick Price seemed to fall under the spell of. Price had previously been involved with Osho's cult - already well-known for their free love doctrines - so it's not unreasonable to assume that maybe Price's interest in O'Connor wasn't strictly limited to her psychic powers.

I should add that the first Star Trek movie also premiered in 1979, not coincidentally.

Serial squeaked over the line for a March 1980 release, but it's as good a document of 1979 as any. The CIA cults and sex clubs that sprung up at the beginning of the decade were very popular in a lot of upper-income enclaves like Marin, and the film documents all the Esalen-born thought contagions that would soon gel and quickly evolve into the New Age movement. 

By the end of the follow decade the New Age would go mainstream, and eventually become so ubiquitous and totalizing no one even notices it anymore.

It's hard to believe today, but this MKULTRA expose aired on (pre-Disney) ABC. You still had at least a nominally free press in the 1970s, so you'd regularly see reports on programs like 20/20 or 60 Minutes that would get you put on a watchlist - if not thrown into prison - today. Same thing with the movies and (from time to time) TV dramas.


We saw how 1983 was Year Zero of the postmodern dystopia, with the introduction of a standard Internet protocol, the first commercially-available cellular telephone and the first Macintosh computer. So you shouldn't be surprised that 1979 was also a crucial year for the development of the Panopticon, with the introduction of the first electronic bulletin board service (CompuServe), not to mention an early prototype of USENET.


AT&T was the telecommunications company at the time and was working on systems of its own, such as the ill-fated "Viewtron."
Viewtron was AT&T's third attempt at a telephone-based information system that fed data to a terminal in the user's home. (The first was EIS, from 1979; the second, a CBS joint-venture test on a similar system). Viewtron was the next generation. This film gives an overview of the systems available internationally as well as profiling the features of Viewtron. Viewtron ran on your television, navigated via Sceptre terminal and fed via modem. 
It used a teletext graphical interface with basic, early multicolor 'paint' type graphics — on the NAPLPS standard (North American Presentation Level Protocol Syntax). The system was test-marketed in Florida by Viewtron, a company formed by the collaboration of AT&T and Knight-Ridder. It rolled out 4 years after EIS, in 1983. It offered many more services than EIS (which was limited to the phone book, Dr. Joyce Brothers' column, weather, headlines, and sports scores), including online shopping and games.
Ideas and plans for the Internet go back a very, very long way: Jules Verne conceived an uncannily prescient version of it back in 1895, complete with online retail. In fact, absolutely nothing of real value - not even a scrap - has been invented or conceived by Big Tech in a very, very long time.

Which is why our nascent technocratic dictatorship is ultimately going to fail, and fail spectacularly. Hubris is their sin, and Nemesis is coming for them all like an absolute motherfucker. You'd best stay clear, because it's going to get very, very ugly. Doubt it not.

With that cheery thought in mind, be sure to stay tuned. We are going to be setting off on a 1979 deep dive the likes of which has never been seen before. Put on your dancing shoes.

Then sound off on the Seven to the Nine in The Den of Intrigue.

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