apart from Dolly Parton's continuing double exposure, 1979 was not exactly a year for warm flesh. For whatever
reasons, the central players were either long dead (King Tutankhamun), sticky (oil), boring (gold) or a disappointing no-show (International Year of the Child). Simply put: away from the calendar, 1979 was a hard measure. Out stepped a prime minister from the pages of Rousseau; in stepped a prime minister from the pages of Archie. Jane Fonda, Oscar-winning actress, worried about bombs; Miss Piggy, a snub-nosed bomb, worried about an Oscar. Bob Dylan, a recording artist, found Jesus; Pope John Paul II, who’s supposed to point the way to God, discovered the recording industry. And he shortly discovered that the hit parade also works in mysterious ways—his album, Sacrosong Festival, was a bust in North America.
But still, personalities do soften the realities that people create. In 1979 it was easier to think of Mother Teresa accepting the salute and a $285,000 (Cdn.) Nobel Peace Prize than comforting a dying child half-eaten by rats in the slums of Calcutta. But that is simply human nature. More wonder will always be placed on how Brooke Shields manages to pass zit-less through puberty than how the recently deposed Emperor Bokassa I could slaughter 100 African children just because they weren’t keen on their school uniforms. Nor should it be any great surprise that the inside of Jimmy Carter’s head is of less public interest than the inside of Hamilton Jordan’s nose. Unfortunately Canadians may have to wait forever for Joe Clark’s first official visit to Washington to see the White House reaction when he asks for his usual Coke before turning in.
1979proved the public does have a death wish—expiration by mind shrinkage; (clockwise right to left) Miss Piggy the snub-nosed bomb and Kermit; Robin Williams as Mork; Margaret Atwood; Dolly Parton busting; Prince Charles getting bussed; John Diefenbaker’s last train trip
It may just be that there is no understanding a year like the one just past. Charles Windsor moves from royal pain to Prince Charming. The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards takes one hit too many in Toronto and ends up on a bummer in Oshawa. Patty Hearst, never one to follow her parents’ lead, answered their separation by getting married. The year began with a sure bet for Willie Mays when he was trumpeted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and it ended with his being drummed out of baseball simply for taking a job with a hotel that allowed gambling. Margaret Trudeau showed that it was possible to become a loser and a winner at the same timeall by selling her story to those who kept saying they couldn’t stand hearing anything more about her. Proof that the public does indeed have a death wishexpiration by mind shrinkage—was that Mork, a dreary and numbing television character played by Robin Williams, rose to the top of the ratings simply by holding one hand stiff and moving his ring finger away from his middle finger.
Fortunately, however, scratched records often have flip sides. Mork and television were balanced by two widely different movie directors giving that art significant new directions: Francis Coppola in Apocalypse Now and Ira Wohl in Best Boy. And beyond Henry Kissinger’s megalomaniacal, 1,476-page White House Years, there was other fiction, shorter and far more satisfying, from Kurt Vonnegut (Jailbird) and Margaret Atwood (Life Before Man). Speaking of books, just what was Nelson Rockefeller working on when he keeled over dead in January?
To be sure, the year 1979 ended with more people than it began, but there was still grieving for those who will not pass this way again. Some of it was short—Mafia don Carmine Galante gunned down in Brooklyn, French gangster Jacques Mesrine killed in Paris, reclusive heiress Barbara Hutton, the “poor little rich girl,” dying of a heart attack—and some of it embarrassingly overdone: the instant elevation of Thurman Munson, catcher for the New York Yankees, to sainthood. At least three deaths were genuinely moving: Earl Mountbatten of Burma, assassinated in Ireland; John Diefenbaker, to return by train to his Prince Albert constituency for the final time; John Wayne showing that death, too, can imitate art. There were other losses: the writing of Hugh Garner; the bass fiddle of Charlie Mingus; the 5'/2-octave range of Minnie Riperton; the spirit of America’s sweetheart, Canada’s Mary Pickford; the films of France’s Jean Renoir; the heart of The Wizard of Oz’s Tin Man, Jack Haley; the joy of Arthur Fiedler; and the sad, melancholy smile of Weary Willie, Emmett Kelly.
Some, not all, celebrated a return to the sexual values of the ’50s; Francis Coppola gave film a new direction; Bo Derek just smiled; Keith Richards paid up; Jane Fonda went preaching with husband Tom Hayden
Finally, this year, like most other years, ends as a collection of facts which fail to produce a meaning. If 1979 is remembered well it will be as the end of the ’70s, a mystifying decade which began with Germaine Greer publishing The Female Eunuch and ended with Bo Derek starring in a box-office hit 10 which celebrates a return to the sexual values of the ’50s. No doubt the year, like the thought, deserves to have the covers pulled up and the lights turned out. Sleep tight, ’79.
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