Thursday, June 18, 2009

1977 - Summer of the Son of Sam

In The Summer of the Son of Sam Jeffrey Dean Foster remembers events from the long summer of 1977: New York City's historic blackout, the deaths of Elvis Presley and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and a radio telescope reception from deep space. The song also evokes some of the turmoil of the time: political kidnappings, murders, airplane hijackings, and the deaths of Andreas Baader and other members of the Red Army Faction; expulsion of the Gang of Four from the Chinese Communist Party; and conflicts between Anita Bryant and gay activists. It was a time of NASA launches and of wild enthusiasm for the first of the Star Wars films. We saw then the beginning of the disco fad. Early in the year the Episcopal Church ordained its first woman priest and President Carter pardoned draft evaders of the Vietnam War.

It was also the summer in which the "Son of Sam" killer, David Berkowitz was captured. Berkowitz claimed to be a Satanist, pursued by devils, including demon sent by a neighbor of his, Sam Carr.

Here are the lyrics to Foster's song followed by a Youtube performance and a brief chronology from wikipedia:
I was still in school, in the summer of the son of sam
The nights were cool, and nothin’ could have brought us down
The nights were long and the band played on
One long song, just to keep the power on.

All the light that shines on you is from a dying star
The star’s been dead a billion years
Now it’s shining off your car
The city was dark, in the summer of the son of sam
The devil left his mark
And the freebird hit the ground
All the light that shines on you is from a dying star
The stars been dead a billion years
And now it’s shining off your car

To light your way, I feel my troubles slipping away
I feel my troubles, I feel your troubles slippin away x2
All the light that shines on you is from a dying star
The stars been dead a billion years
And now it’s shining off your car
now it’s shining off your car
now it’s shining off your car
To light your way, I feel my troubles slipping away
slipping away.

Some events of the long summer of 1977 (May - Oct):
  • May 25 – Star Wars opens in cinemas and subsequently becomes the then-highest grossing film of all time.
  • June 26 – Elvis Presley performs his last-ever concert in Indianapolis, Indiana's Market Square Arena.
  • June 26 – Some 200,000 protesters march through the streets of San Francisco, protesting Anita Bryant's anti-gay remarks and the murder of Robert Hillsborough.
  • Keep the power on: July 13 – The New York City blackout of 1977 lasts for 25 hours, resulting in looting and other disorder.
  • July 19 to July 20 – Flooding in Johnstown, PA, caused by massive rainfall, kills over 75 people and causes billions in damage.
  • July 22Ellis Macon was born. – The purged Chinese Communist leader Deng Xiaoping is restored to power 9 months after the "Gang of Four" was expelled from power in a coup d'état.
  • July 24 – Led Zeppelin plays their last U.S. concert in Oakland, CA at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. A brawl erupts between Led Zeppelin's crew and promoter Bill Graham's staff, resulting in criminal assault charges for several of Led Zeppelin's entourage including drummer John Bonham.
  • July 30 – Left-wing German terrorists Susanne Albrecht[2], Brigitte Mohnhaupt[3] and a third person assassinate Jürgen Ponto[4], chairman of the Dresdner Bank in Oberursel, West Germany.
  • son of sam/The devil left his mark: August 10 – David Berkowitz is captured in Yonkers, New York, after over a year of murders in New York City as the Son Of Sam.
  • August 12 – The NASA Space Shuttle, named Enterprise, makes its first test free-flight from the back of a Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA).
  • light from a dying star: August 15 – The Big Ear, a radio telescope operated by Ohio State University as part of the SETI project, receives a radio signal from deep space; the event is named the "WOW!" signal for a notation made by a volunteer on the project.
  • dying star: August 16 - Elvis Presley is found dead at his home Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.
  • August 20 – Voyager program: The United States launches the Voyager 2 spacecraft.
  • October 14 – Anita Bryant is famously pied by four gay rights activists during a press conference in Des Moines, Iowa. This event resulted in her political fallout from anti-gay activism.
  • October 18 – German Autumn: Red Army Faction members Andreas Baader, Jan-Carl Raspe and Gudrun Ensslin commit suicide in Stammheim prison; Irmgard Möller fails (their supporters still claim they were murdered). They are buried October 27.
  • freebird hit the ground: October 20 - A plane carrying Lynyrd Skynyrd crashes in Mississippi, killing songwriter & vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and background vocalist Cassie Gaines.

{David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam; source:}

{The Gang of Four; source:}

{Blackout in New York City; source: Gothamist}

{Johnstown Flood of 1977; source:}

{The Wow! source radio emission entered the receiver of the Big Ear radio telescope; source:}

{Anita Bryant pied; source: wikipedia}

{Andreas Baader; source:}

{Lynyrd Skynyrd; source:}


There's a very interesting interview six-part Youtube conversation between David Berkowitz and Daniel Lefkowitz who was a teenage acquaintance. It took place on January 12th of this year. Here's the first part.

Compare this conversation to the 1977 coverage of the case from WCBS-AM radio in New York: From the Archive: Son of Sam.

In both, Berkowitz seems to be a normal decent human being and he explains that he was not himself when killing but rather was taken over by commands given him by his neighbor Sam Carr via his dog.

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