In 1990 the top three billboard songs, starting at number three, were “Hold On” by Wilson Philips, at number two, “It Must Have Been Love” by Roxette, and holding down the number three spot was “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinead O’Connor. In 1990, a huge tribute concert was held at Wembley Stadium. The performers included Anita Baker, Tracy Chapman, Peter Gabriel, the Neville Brothers, and Neil Young, and the event was broadcast to 61 countries around the world. The question is, who was this tribute held for? The answer is in the podcast.
For a moment, I want to take a look at the current year of 2016. I just learned that Paul Simon says (and yes, just at the moment my fingers touched the keys I heard it also: “Simon says”) he’s ready to hang up his guitar and quit music. He has been on tour and his latest album, Stranger to Stranger, is getting rave reviews with the single “Wristband” getting the most plays. His current tour ended July 1 in Queens, the New York borough where he grew up. Following that, as he put it, he intends to drift and travel for a year, perhaps with his third wife, Edie Brickell. Paul is quoted as saying “It’s an act of courage to let go…. I am going to see what happens if I let go. Then I’m going to see, who am I?” Me? I totally understand. I am one who has let go so many times it feels like holding on.
In 1990 I again found myself outside the so-called exciting world of radio broadcasting and went to work for a mental health company that ran group homes for adults suffering from what was then called mental retardation. Many had spent their lives institutionalized and in many cases under very bad conditions. As a result of deinstitutionalization, a process begun in the 1920s and increased during the 1950s and 1960s, many intellectually disabled people were placed in these group homes. When I started doing this type of work, a priest told me that he had also done this work and the burnout rate was very high. If you lasted three years, you were considered a long-time employee. I lasted five years, becoming a program coordinator the last three years. I carried a pager that rested by my bed at night, and if it went off in the middle of the night, it meant one of the clients was having an episode that could last for hours. I was heading for violence, and the restrictions on what we could do to control our clients was justifiably very strict. In the podcast, I do have a funny story about one of these episodes. After five years, I was called to the main office where with deep apologies I was laid off due to budget cuts. I almost did a happy dance. I wasn’t burnt out, I was fried.
One of the major events of 1990 that stands out in my mind was the release of a man who fought against a system of racial segregation in South Africa and because of his determined resistance spent 27 years of his life in jail under very harsh conditions. Nelson Mandela and his fellow prisoners were routinely subjected to inhumane punishments for the slightest offenses. While in confinement, he earned a bachelor of law degree from the University of London and served as a mentor to his fellow prisoners, encouraging them to seek better treatment through nonviolent resistance. He also smuggled out political statements and a draft of his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, published five years after his release. After he was released, he continued his fight for human rights and eventually became the first black president of South Africa.
I will have more music news and history, that funny story about my days in mental health, and the answer to the trivia question all in the podcast on the shores of Rambling Harbor. Join me there.