Rich Wilhelm


In 1979, Music/Memory on May 9, 2016 at 2:30 am


I may spend the rest of my life contemplating 1979.

It’s not necessarily a nostalgia thing, but I bet most of us have certain years of our lives that we occasionally revisit in our imagination. We might pull out the old family photos, check out television shows from that year on YouTube, read about the exploits of our favorite sports teams that year.

As for me, this weekend I have pulled out a stack of record albums, all of which were released in June, July or August 1979. I was listening to them one at a time yesterday afternoon, though I’m currently stuck on Chic’s epic Risqué this evening. It contains their masterpiece, “Good Times,” a song of deep Zen contemplation masquerading as an escapist disco tune.

I am endlessly fascinated by 1979. I want to write about 1979. But 1979 looms so large in my mind, and it is so broad and deep–even in its apparent shallowness–that I don’t even know where to beginning writing, other than writing, “I want to write about 1979.”

If I wrote fiction well–and I do not–I would be mining my memories of ’79 to write a novel into which I’d somehow sneak about my feelings about the United States circa ’79 and how it relates to the United States circa 2016.

I want to write more about the aforementioned Chic and how much the jittery rhythm guitar of Nile Rodgers inspires me and oddly reminds me of the jittery rhythm guitar David Byrne plays on Talking Heads seminal third album, Fear of Music, released just weeks after Chic’s Risqué. Disco and new wave classics, both inextricably tied to late ’70s NYC, and thus to each other, though maybe no one wanted to recognize the connection at that point. But, oh to have Nile Rodgers co-produce that Talking Heads reunion album that most assuredly will never happen!

’79 feels so transitional, for me personally, but also for the country and for the world. A decade coming to a close. It is not a year many remember fondly, and yet I do.

’79 was the last year I wore a leisure suit (see above, taken on December 24, 1979).

’79 was the year I graduated 8th grade. The year we moved out of the house in which I grew up.

A song about ’79 is the only Smashing Pumpkins song I give anything resembling a damn about.

Right now my younger son Chris is almost exactly the same age as I was in ’79.

’79 is a pool, deceptively shallow, yet really kind of deep. And even though I am about as afraid of deep water now as I was in ’79, still I want to dive into this pool and see what I find. Not to wallow in the memories per se, but to see how ’79 connects me to NOW.

Make no mistake: for the most part, my head is very much in the present tense. And yet, there is part of my mind, part of my imagination, part of my soul, that is going to hang around ’79 for awhile. Until I figure it out, I guess.

Please consider this a work in progress. In the midst of a life in progress.



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Patrick F. O'Donnell

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