Rebel Waltz

A small nerve reaction in his arm must have caused him to lose his grip. The socket from the wrench the airman was using dropped 80 feet before colliding and piercing the skin on the fuel tank of the Titan 2 Missile he was carrying out maintenance work on, causing the fuel to leak and explode. The warhead was a thermonuclear weapon developed by the U.S during the Cold War and one of the most powerful weapons in their nuclear arsenal. The warhead landed about 100 feet from the complex’s entry gate; its safety features prevented any loss of radioactive material. The incident at Little Rock Air Force Base Complex 374-7 in September 1980 is little known. The site was subsequently destroyed, decommissioned and now sits on private land. A small, but true story from the fragments of history that contributed to the political turmoil of the time.

As today, the world was not a stable place in 1980. Right-wing Italian terrorists exploded a bomb at Bologna Station killing 85 people. 63 people were beheaded in a single day by the government of  Saudia Arabia. Government embassies around the world were under attack or subject to protests and occupation. The Iranian Embassy in the U.K was sieged by terrorists. Gunmen attacked the British Embassy in Iraq; The Dominican, El Salvador, Colombia, and Panama embassies were violently attacked. The Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City was peacefully occupied by those protesting against the kidnap and murder of civilians by elements of the Guatemalan Army. Against the wishes of the Spanish Ambassador about 300 armed state agents surrounded the building and cut the electricity, water, and telephone lines. 36 people died. The U.S failed in an attempt to rescue 52 hostages taken from the U.S embassy in Iran resulting in 8 deaths.

A major race riot in the U.S. resulted in 16 dead and up to 300 injuries.  The Afganistan government declared martial law on its people. A Jewish owned hotel in Kenya was bombed killing 18 people. Iraq declared war on Iran, a war that would last eight years and leave over 1m dead. In Poland, the independent Solidarity Union was established, which would ultimately bring to an end state communism. The incumbent U.S President Jimmy Carter sanctioned a £1.5 billion bailout for Chrysler Cars. The U.S, France, China, USSR and U.K governments waved their phallic weapons at each other and intensified their nuclear explosion tests. The U.K announced that Greenham Common would house U.S Nuclear Cruise Missiles. John Lennon, often projected as a hero to those on the left of politics was gunned down in New York.

Michael Foot

Unemployment in the UK  started to nudge towards 2m and inflation reached 21.8%. Margaret Thatcher made her infamous “The Lady is not for Turning speech.”  The Labour Party following its general election defeat in 1979 was searching for a new leader and was in political turmoil with factions personified by two political heavyweights. Denis Healey (from the right) and Tony Benn (from the left). The left were demanding revenge for what they considered betrayals of the previous Labour government. They sought to do this by establishing a mass party building from its trade union roots while calling for the replacement of MPs who had acquiesced to the previous Labour Prime-minister’s policies with left-wingers who would support unilateral nuclear disarmament, withdrawal from the Common Market, and widespread nationalisation. Michael Foot was finally elected leader after presenting himself as a unity candidate able to bring the two factions together into a coherent platform for Government. A formidable public speaker and fine intellect he was a staunch supporter of the Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament. Towards the end of 1980 all was looking good with one MORI opinion poll giving the Labour Party 50% preference and 25% ahead of the incumbent Conservative government. There was an expectation, dare I say, a momentum building for major change economically and socially. The left was in the ascendancy. Mass meetings were held, resolutions were passed, marches organised and slogans shouted.

The energy of punk had long lost its urgency and had given way to a resurgence of mainstream pop music, the synth had entered the recording studio in force and would-be robots resembling pale invaders from a stark, desolate future were enjoying success. The 100 top selling songs of 1980 resembled a Middle of the Road paradise with the likes of Don McLean, ABBA, Odyssey, Kenny Rogers, and The Detroit Spinners dominating sales. But a closer look exposes a more interesting story. Peppered amongst the deluge of conveyor pop music the observer will discover The Jam’s (Going Underground), The Specials (Rat Race and Too Much Too Young), UB40 (King), The Beat (Mirror in the Bathroom).

Don’t take away the music

It was against this backdrop, I stumbled into my local record shop and purchased the Clash’s fourth album, one of the most courageous releases in modern musical history. Sandinista by most measures is bonkers. Consisting of 36 tracks and over 2.5 hours of music spread across a triple album release for the price of a single album. It was simply a game changer and is equally as important as the Beatles 1968 White Album. By 1980 the Clash, like many bands which emerged from the UK punk scene were either turning into a parody of themselves or trying to fathom a future by diversifying and embracing a broader musical spectrum. The first inkling of what was emerging from The Clash during this period was the Bankrobber EP. With Mikey Dread the legendary Jamaican singer, producer, and innovator in reggae music engaged in the studio work a more roots-based sound started to unfold. The Clash went to extraordinary lengths to secure the release of the album in the triple album format, which included the surrendering of royalty payments until production costs had been covered. Upon its release, in December 1980 the album was met with mixed reviews.

The music contained had effectively anticipated the growing “world music” trend of the 1980s and featured tracks that are orientated towards funk, reggae, jazz, gospel, rockabilly, folk, dub, rhythm and blues, calypso, disco, and rap. The album title refers to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and the records catalogue number, ‘FSLN1’, relates to the abbreviation of Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, which is a Democratic Socialist Party of Nicaragua. The party is named after Augusto César Sandino, who led the Nicaraguan resistance against the United States occupation of Nicaragua in the 1930s.

The FSLN overthrew the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza Debayle in 1979 and ended the Somoza dynasty. The Sandinista Government instituted a policy of mass literacy, devoted significant resources to health care, and promoted gender equality. Tracks from the album reflect the political environment of the day, Something about England, Somebody Got Murdered, Police on my Back, The Call Up, Washington Bullets, Lose this Skin, Charlie Don’t Surf and a reworking of Career Opportunities from the Clash’s First Album. More to the point the album is increasingly relevant today.

Notes

Michael Foot led the Labour Party into the 1983 general election when the party obtained its lowest share of the vote at a general election since 1918 and the fewest parliamentary seats it had had at any time since before 1945. He resigned.

Side 2 track 1 of the Sandinista album is called The Rebel Waltz.

A Rebel: person who is opposed to the political system in their country and tries to change it using force.

The Waltz:  A dance in triple time performed by a couple, who turn round and round. 

The Clash: By 1983 had disintegrated Mick Jones (in 1983) and drummer Topper Headon (in 1982) had been dismissed from the band. By November 1985 Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon had soldiered on with new recruits and released the 6th Studio album Cut the Crap. It was generally ridiculed. The Clash fell apart afterwards leaving a lot of fond memories, but to this day hardly anybody mentions the final album.

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