March 15, 2014

Radioactive Releases... ........... ......The Music of Three Mile Island

Root Boy Slim, doing the Meltdown?


Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburgh recommended that pregnant women and young children evacuate the area near Three Mile Island in March 1979. Maybe he should have included musicians too....

(Potter County Was Made By the Hand of God, But the Devil Made) Three Mile Island - Al Shade & Jean Romaine (Potter County PA 1979)

Tom Quinn (Lancaster-24 miles away)
Sean Kilcoyne (Hummelstown-8 miles away)

TQ: I was 10 years old on that day when we got news that something was happening at some place called Three Mile Island. I never heard of it at the time, but it was only about 24 miles northwest of our suburban Lancaster home. We were supposed to stay indoors with the windows closed. My parents remained calm, but I could tell my mom was really worried and there was a lot of talk about which way the wind would blow. When she dropped us off at my friend Corey's house, we ran from the car to the front door.
5 and 25 mile radii from TMI-2

SK: Three Mile Island had been spitting radioactive filth around central Pennsylvania for more than 48 hours when the governor issued his recommendation that pregnant women and preschool-age children evacuate. It was a Friday afternoon and I was in the first grade. My elementary school was slightly outside the five-mile evacuation radius, a measurement which provided little comfort when emergency sirens began screaming out in the late March air. My six-year-old ears heard one teacher tell another that we would all probably die. 

TQ: Until that day, I had never heard of radiation. I don't think I knew what nuclear power was. I just knew about the Bomb. We spent the day playing in the basement while my parents were at work, entertaining ourselves for a little while by running up to the little window by the ceiling and screaming RADIATION! I'm Meeeeltinnnng!
photo by Lose Kibler

SK: Within the space of an hour or two, most parents had collected their offspring, leaving the school eerily depopulated. My own family was missing in action and naturally I began to panic. Fortunately, a non-catastrophic explanation prevailed: we owned a single car and my father had been detained at work. Sometime later – the wait seemed interminable but was probably an hour or so – our red VW Beetle was wobbling through the Allegheny Mountains toward Altoona.  

TQ: The next day, we headed for the hills with my cousins and spent the weekend at their grandfather's trailer in the Poconos. I was worried about my dad, who stayed behind, but we picked blueberries, ran around the woods, and had a great time. If only all disasters could be this much fun.

SK: I distinctly remember the tension of the ensuing days, my group of adults nervously monitoring media transmissions for evidence of the situation back home. It was unthinkable that something called a hydrogen bubble could cause an explosion large enough to destroy our home and kill everybody that stayed behind....



1979

Radiation Funk - Maxwell (Columbia PA)
Radiation Sickness - Cinecyde (Detroit)
Three Mile Island - The Tyme-Aires (Etters PA)
It's a Meltdown - The Citizen Kafka Singers (NYC)
27.3 - Ice 9 (Portland OR)
Three Mile Smile - Aerosmith (Boston)
Three Mile Island - Jorge Santana
Three Mile Island Interlude - J.P. and the Reactors (Harrisburg)
Plutonium is Forever/Power - John Hall (NY)
No More Nukes - Joy Ryder & Avis Davis (NYC)
Shut 'Em Down / We Almost Lost Detroit at the No Nukes Concert - Gil Scott Heron (NYC)
Melt Down Boogie - Buzzards (Chicago)
No More Nukes - Roger Matura & the Niss Puk Band (Germany)
Three Mile Island - Joseph Aronesty aka Aaron Este (NJ)
Roulette (demo) - Bruce Springsteen (NJ)
Face the Fire - Dan Fogelberg (Nashville)
Radiation - Richie Gerber (ME)
The Beatles at Three Mile Island - Russell Hoffman (on Dr. Demento)
London Calling / Clampdown - The Clash (UK)
Three Mile Island - Jethro Jive & the Genetic Rejection
Microwave Radiation - Xterminators (San Diego)
Volcano - Jimmy Buffet
Radiation Nation on a Three Mile Isle - Mark Levy aka LEV (CA)
Overexposed - Rick Kirby and the Vigilantes (CA)
Is Your Radio Active? - Times 5 (San Francisco)
Atomic - Blondie
On the Beach - The Rattlers (w/Joey Ramone)
Take the Children and Run - Don Lange
Radiation Level - Sun (Dayton OH)
Nuclear Madness - Joseph Lee Hooker (DC or NJ?)
Nuclear Power - Angletrax (UK)
The Meltdown - Root Boy Slim & the Sex Change Band (DC)
Reactor No. 2 - Nash the Slash (Toronto)
Radiation - Digital Dance (Belgium)
Nuclear Night - Crystal Disco Band
Harrisburg - Mark Jones
Atoms on the Loose Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 - Seals and Clubs (LA)
Goodbye T.M.I. - Gary & the Outriders (York PA)
Radiation / Jimmy Carter - Styphnoids (Portland OR)
My Radiation - The Nukes (Bloomington IN)
Nukes Make Me Puke - Oz (Wilmington DE)
Living In the Cancer Zone - Lisa & the Escorts (Wilmington DE)
Three Mile Island - Andrew R. McGhie (Wilmington DE)
Nuclear Boy - Killing Joke (UK)
Three Mile Island - Frank Canna (NJ)
*TMI (after Sex Pistols EMI) - The Pleasure Dotz (York PA)
*Three Mile Island Blues - Alan Fox
*Radiationmasturbation - The Fall of Christianity (CA)
*Harrisburg Radiation Blues - Ernie Hawkins (Pittsburgh)
*No Nuke Blues - Vic Sadot & the Crazy Planet Band (Newark DE)
*Three Mile Island - Thomas Keegan (MI)
*Three Mile Island Blues - Barry Hyman
*Three Mile Island - Robert Schlipf
*Three Mile Island Shakedown - Jon Fonville (San Diego?)
*TMI - Julia Goldensohn (Philadelphia)
*Three Mile Island - Jeff Kalmar
*Now We All Live in Pennsylvania - Jesse P. Slocum (Bloomington IN)
*The Phantom Atom - Thomas J. Mantle & Julia F. Kooken (CA)
*TMI Blues - Debra M. Goodson
*Three Mile Island - Joe Wagner
*3 M.I. (it's what you need) - John Alan Connerly

*denotes songs yet to be found or salvaged 

SK: When Harrisburg wasn’t blown off the map we came down from the mountains of western Pennsylvania. My family adhered to a powdered milk regimen despite assurances that radiation exposures were within “acceptable limits...."




1980

Who Will Close Pandora's Box - Fred & the Jupiter Gypsies (Harrisburg)
Radioactive Nights - Syn (Philadelphia)
Nuclear Infected - Alice Cooper (Detroit)
photo by Donna Jean
Atomic Love - The Late Teens (Harrisburg)
Critical Mass / System Failure - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (TN)
Radioactive - Scott Wilk & the Walls (Chicago)
Radiation - Suicide (NYC)
Radioactivity - The Zips (Glasgow)
Meltdown (at Madame Toussaud's) - Steve Taylor (Denver)
I'm a Reactor - The Reactors (CT & NYC)
Radioactive Love - Wreck'n Crew (NY)
TMI - Reesa & the Rooters (Philadelphia)
Nuclear Toy - Hawkwind (UK)
All Clear in Harrisburg - Tom Paxton (NYC)
Radiation Squirm - The Judy’s (Texas)
Three Mile Island - Larry Coryell (NYC)
Radioactive - Terminal Mind - (Texas)
Rotten to the Core - Missing Persons (UK)

Nuclear Twist - The Hipsters (State College PA)
Anti-Nuclear Blues - Louisiana Red 
Harrisburg / Your Money and Your Life / Tell ‘Em No - The Fourth Wall (NYC from We Are the Guinea Pigs documentary)
Janitor - Suburban Lawns (LA)
TMI - Locksmith (Pasadena)
Give Me Nuclear Power - Mykel Board’s Art (NYC)
The Whole World Causes Cancer - The Ralphs (TX)
Nuclear Blues - Blood, Sweat and Tears (CA)
Reactor - Painterband (Chicago)
Strontium 90 - Six Minute War (UK)
Low Level Radiation - The Cardboards (Pittsburgh)
Radioactivity - The Aircuts (Vancouver)
Harrisburg Half Life - Ray Anderson (US)
Harrisburg - Søren Sidevinds Spillemænd (Denmark)
R-Love (is Approaching Critical Mass) - Transistors (CO)
Atomreggae Harrisburg - KSMB (Sweden)
Harrisburg / Metallo Electtico - Kaos Rock (Italy)
Tmi - Elliott Sharp (NYC)
Radiation Man - Fault 151 (UK)
I Wanna have a Nuclear Reaction - R.F. (Atlanta)
Half Life - Humans from Earth (NJ)
City of Fear - Rondos (Netherlands)
Mutant - K.T.H. Kill The Hostages (FL)
Radioactive Feelings - Outrageous (France)
Nuclear Love - Exits (LA)
Radiation Polka - Chicago City Limits (NYC)
Reactor #2 - D.C. LaRue
Meltdown / To the Core - The Reactors (San Bernadino)
She Glows In the Dark - The Bagazoid Brothers (Cincinnati)
*Don't Melt Down on My Baby / Nuclear Waste - Tru Fax & the Insaniacs (DC 1980?)

*Radiation - The Visitor (Netherlands)
*Three Mile Island / Call to Arms - Arcade (central PA)
*Need You - Presence (central PA)
*Three Mile Island Blues - Larry Downey and Teddy Felix

SK: Growing up, TMI was an inescapable feature of my domain, a 400-foot concrete colossus lurking at the periphery of my daily movements and vision. My imagination absorbed the forbidden interiors, the  massive control panels, the slope of the cooling towers, the vapor pillows spilling over their tops, merging with the atmosphere....

1981-1985

Nuclear Power - Fallout (UK 1981)
Three Mile Island - Fred Small (MA 1981)
Stop the Nukes - Joey Skidmore & the Cellmates (MO 1981)
Nuclear Meltdown - ? (198?)
Three Isle My Land / Meltdown Requiem - Heads in the Sky (Canada 1981)
Radiation Baby - The Form (Boston 1981)
Radioactive Love - Nathan-Coates (Chicago 1981)
Harrisburg - De Fabriek (Netherlands 1981)
Meltdown - Hermanos Gusanos (1981?)
Radio Active (Fun, Fun, Fun) - Deborah Galli (1981)
Harrisburg Today - Tim Craven (PA 1981)
Strontium 90 - Kreegah! (Norway 1981)
Radiation - The Mistakes (UK 1981)
Nuclear Song - Craig Carothers (Portland OR 1981)
Radioactive Love / Radiation - Gotham City (Australia 1981)
Three Mile Island - Steve Allen (1981)
Meltdown Situation - The 012 (UK 1981)
*Radiation - The Tom and Marty Band (VA 1981)

*Susquehanna Meltdown - Fly By Night (central PA 1981)
*Meltdown - The Chameleons (Portland OR 1981)
Radiationmasturbation - The Authorities (CA 1982)
Harrisburg - Buschband (Germany 1982)
Uh-Oh Plutonium - Anne Waldman & the Hyacinth Girls (NYC 1982)
Nuclear Reactor - Birth Control (Germany 1982)
Radiation Nation - Subverts (Chicago 1982)
Meltdown - Lipstick Stains (GA 1982)
The No Nuke Song - Serious Bizness (NYC 1982)
Atomkraft - Elektrisk Regn (Norway, 1982)
Nuclear Blues - Flashback (CA 1982)
Ballad of Three Mile Island - Jack Alves (AZ 1982)
Babylon - Driftwood (1982)
Here's to the Nukes - AJO Repertory Company (1982)
Caveat No. 23 - Rigsby and Lamb (1982)
Radiation Blues - Hans Olson (1982)
Nuke Blues (Melt Down Mama) - Richard Kaplan (1982)
Midlogue - Peter Cannon (1982)
Five or Ten from Now - Big Pete Pearson with the Magic Matt Blues Band  (1982
Shut Up - Sun City Girls  (1982)
Girl From Three Mile Island - Timothy J. MacDonald (LA 1982 on the Dr. Demento show)
*Anti-Nuclear Songbook - The Crustaceans (Seattle 1982)
*Radio-Active - Barry Ford (UK 1982)
Radioactive Chocolate - MDC (San Francisco 1983)
Nuclear Power (Yes Please) - Dave Greenfield & J.J. Burnel (UK 1983)
Radioactive Baby - The Turn-Ups (Harrisburg 1983)
Sister Cities - The Pawns of Society (Harrisburg 1983)
Harrisburg - La Banda Sin Futuro (Spain 1983)
I'm in Love With My Nuclear Reactor - Kelley and the Beachcombers (LA 1983)
Meltdown - Loverboy (1983)
Nuclear Love / Meltdown Dub - Annie G (1983)
T.M.I. - Spanish Dogs (Florida 1983)
Happy Mutants (For Nuclear Energy) - Killing Children (IN 1983)
Meltdown - Lives of Angels (UK 1983)
*Meltdown - Metro Youth (UK 1983)
Three Mile Island - Pinkard and Bowden (TX 1984)
Harrisburg - Midnight Oil (Australia 1984)
*Sister Cities -- The Screaming Lincolns (Harrisburg 1984)
Meltdown - Watchtower (TX 1985)
No Filthy Nuclear Power - Oi Polloi (UK 1985)

SK: ...the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allowed the undamaged Unit 1 reactor to go back online in 1985. This was not a welcome development for most central Pennsylvania households, but by that point in my own childhood I had spent the entire Reagan-era acutely fearful of the coming nuclear holocaust. When emergency sirens sounded in the dead of night to arouse volunteer firefighters from their slumbers, my juvenile pysche was pre-programmed for panic. After  the TMI-1 restart, the only formality was which flavor our nuclear death would assume: reactor or missile-based. 

TQ: By the time of the Chernobyl disaster I had gone from pretend meltdowns to musical meltdowns (Ha! These songs are getting to me; I succumbed to the hokey TMI metaphor! But "meltdown" came into widespread usage after 1979), playing in bands and listening to music with apocalyptic themes. I was pretty sure 1986 was the year World War III would start, based of course on all the scholarly evidence I had accumulated from pop psychics, episodes of Leonard Nimoy's In Search Of..., and the lyrics of the Minutemen and Dead Kennedys. I didn't bother to apply for colleges until the last minute, and then only one....



Post 1986: Chernobyl to Fukushima

Tell Me / Deadly Radiation Blues - Jayne Cortez (NYC 1986)
Nuclear Wastoid - Miser (Elizabethtown PA 1988)
Roulette - Bruce Springsteen (NJ 1988)
TMI - Rick Baker (Pittsburgh 1990)
Last Call - T.P.Y. (Hershey PA 1990)
Radioactivity - Kraftwerk (Germany 1991)
This Land - MDC (San Francisco 1993)
TMI / TMI (Unit 3) - Hex / L.U. Cipha (York PA 1999 / 2000)
Three Mile Island - Jerry Joseph & the Jackmormons (CO 2001)
Three Mile Island - Andy Middleton (Harrisburg 2003)
Three Mile Island - Kickland, Johnson & Martin (2003)
Three Mile Island - Stockholm Syndrome (2004)
Three Mile Island - Nuclear Forehead (WA 2005)
Just a Little Meltdown - Tom Neilson (2006)
Three Mile Island - Oh Shit They’re Going To Kill Us (Franklin PA 2007)
Three Mile Island - Clouds 10: Mushrooms (WI 2008)
Three Mile Island - Zone (Wales 2008)
Three Mile Island - Darius Brubeck & Gathering Forces (2008)
Nuclear Power Song - Environment Man (2008)
Three Miles Island - Nightmare (France 2009)
Good Times on Three Mile Island - The Durden Estate (Red Lion PA 2009)
Three Mile Monster Island - Divine Tragedy (Pittsburgh 2009)
Three Mile Island - Les Alstat & the Green Farmacy Gardeners (MD 2011)

Three Mile Island - Arms (2011)
Three Mile Island - Minushuman (France 2011)
Three Mile Island - Metalhead Motion Pictures (Long Island 2011)
Something in the Air - Three Mile Island Band (Middletown PA 2011)
A Catastrophe - Fukushima, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island - Miki Shunji and his Grand Orchestra (Japan 2011)
TMI-2 - Three Mile Island (UK 2012)
Three Mile Island - Andrea Molina (Italy 2012)
Three Mile Island: TMI - Suicide Squirrel (NJ 2012)
Harrisburg - Rusk (Lithuania 2012)
Three Mile Island - Grayscale (2012)
3 Mile Island - The James Taylor Quartet (2012)
Meltdown Stomp - The Meltdowns (Detroit 2012)

TQ: I survived Three Mile Island and the latter Cold War, went to college in Philly without much of a plan, and grew out of my sense of impending doom. But the impact of TMI was much bigger than I ever realized, certainly as little kids in our own worlds, but even as adults, for me anyway. The only lyrical references I was aware of at the time were on The Clash's London Calling

Once I started looking, I was surprised to find so many TMI songs. I figure any song about "radiation" in '79-81 had to be part of the reaction. The '79 tracks tend to be very literal, anti-nuke, some good black humor, and sometimes hyperbolic and some would say silly fear mongering. There are lots of people glowing in the dark, mutant fish, and nuclear explosions. The 80s tracks began to use nuclear accident lingo as metaphor in the best tradition of atomic bomb songs from the 50s and 60s with "radioactive" coming to mean "hot love" more often than not.  Reesa's You melt my heart like TMI is my favorite, and Syn's Radioactive Nights is the hands-down mathematical winner (15 distinct metaphors!). I held most of the later tracks to a higher standard. Most had to make direct reference to TMI to make the cut. There are at least 21 songs titled Three Mile Island or TMI from the 2000-2012 period, though interestingly, outside the US, "Harrisburg" seems to be the word most closely associated with the accident. Sean and I salvaged many of these tracks from the analog abyss, digitizing and archiving them for the first time, and I hope people can find an interest in their collective effect, weirdness, fear, and humor.

SK: As far as the impact goes, yeah, I would agree, it's hard to overestimate. It even informed how we discussed such events. Following from your point about the word "radiation", I bet "reactor", "control rod" and "meltdown" weren't even in some adult vocabularies before 1979. And for those that wrote all the earnest, politically engaged protest songs throughout the 70s in opposition to new nuclear plants, all of a sudden their worst fears are confirmed.

I appreciate that these songs and other assorted cultural detritus (even crassly commercial cash-in stuff) tell a story about how humans of different cultures and belief systems respond to complex, traumatic events. It really becomes a sort of unofficial "people's history." There are some scholarly articles I came across about Chernobyl describing how school kids were responding with these morbid nursery rhymes while skipping rope! Children talking matter-of-factly about leukemia or calling one another "dirty radioactive pigs" as a form of insult. It's amazing how deeply these terrors filter down to the individual level, shaping private experience. This would also indicate to me that whatever official explanation may prevail, whenever you've lived through a nuclear accident, radiation exposure is a nebulous, gnawing sort of psychic burden.


There are surely many more TMI songs that haven't been salvaged yet. If you find any, let us know!


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4 comments:

  1. This is pretty much the best post I've ever seen on a music blog, I'd been looking forward to it more than a month ... THANK YOU!

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  2. A tour de force. Or perhaps, de farce, in the case of some of these tunes. I'm surprised at the number of recent TMI songs.

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  3. I, for one also didñ't realize there that many songs about TMI either. The only one I was really aware of until I heard the two songs by The Clash you mentioned was a song called Harrisburg by Midnight Oil, which I didn't see on the list, though you can certainly be forgiven for missing one. On a kinda related side note, the day of the accident I was 8 years old and living with my family in North Cornwall Township just south of Lebanon and about 15-20 miles out from TMI at most, so I kinda feel you guys on a lot what you where saying.

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  4. Holy shit, man, this is fantastic. Thank you so much. It's gonna take me a while to dig through all of this.

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