My Mom’s Music & Pol Pot: Happenings in January 1976

by Megan Volpert

bob dylan desire


My mother turned eighteen years old on the same Monday Pol Pot presided over the ratification of Democratic Kampuchea’s new Constitution. She was one year short of drinking age, with no other legal freedoms worth claiming except the delayed gratification of a right to vote against Ford that following winter. Cambodia’s new regime had little to say about the right to vote, except in Article Six, where the distribution of representation among members of the legislative body is outlined as 150 for the peasants, 50 for other working people, and 50 for the revolutionary army. Those 250 people get to elect the administration, as long as they elect Pol Pot. This was Year Zero, where everybody not eligible to vote was eligible to assist the Khmer Rouge in its grand new vision of communism by marching off to dig themselves a slice of mass grave. This is because, as Article Twelve explains, there is absolutely no unemployment in Democratic Kampuchea.


The same day mom is eating birthday cake and a million Cambodian undesirables are starving to death, Dylan launches his new album, Desire. Ours is a nation founded upon the stubborn flipping of the bird, the right of dissension, the pride of independent thinking. There’s nothing neutral about it. The Prince of Cambodia said his country was neutral, and Nixon secretly bombed the hell out of it. Excuse me, sir, we’re just rooting out your communists. Too bad they’re not as easy to spot as black people. Despite the wave of publicity from Dylan’s number one single, Hurricane Carter’s re-trial ended in a guilty verdict. A federal judge finally let him go ten years later, and ten years after that, Carter was briefly arrested for dealing drugs when he was mistaken for some other black guy.


station-to-station-david-bowie larger


What’s coming out of England at this point is David Bowie. There was that whole photo-op thing where he appeared to be giving a Nazi salute and endless speculation about was he or wasn’t he doing that. Who cares if he really meant to do that move instead of a proper waving—the issue is that people’s judgement of The Thin White Duke was that he plausibly could have been a Nazi. Bowie himself says that when he listens to Station to Station, it sounds like it was made by somebody else. Is the other guy a Nazi? It sucks that your Golden Years are sprung from the mind of a persona so far gone that it might as well not even be you at all.


Meanwhile, in the parking spot adjacent to Naziism, these United States are vetoing a United Nations resolution calling for Palestinian statehood. A couple countries abstained, but we were the only ones who voted it down. Now that’s independence. Everybody gets a vote, as long as you vote with us. If you don’t vote with us, our vote means everything and all of yours mean nothing. But on the upside, please do keep going about your international business because we’re not interested in doing the mass grave thing right now, and that’s what makes us a morally superior form of governance when measured against the rising star of Pol Pot.


Photo credit: Rob Friedman

Photo credit: Rob Friedman

Megan Volpert is the author of five books on communication and popular culture, most notably about Andy Warhol. She has been teaching high school English in Atlanta for the better part of a decade, is currently serving as her school’s Teacher of the Year, and edited the American Library Association-honored anthology This assignment is so gay: LGBTIQ Poets on the Art of Teaching. Predictably, is her website.

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31 Comments on “My Mom’s Music & Pol Pot: Happenings in January 1976”

  1. June 13, 2014 at 1:36 am #

    Thanks Megan. Good to read views expressed so trenchantly. Regards from Thom at the immortal jukebox.


  2. June 20, 2014 at 5:15 pm #

    Check my poetry


  3. June 20, 2014 at 6:10 pm #

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.


  4. June 20, 2014 at 6:17 pm #

    So glad you’re writing books! We need history and context that grabs in such an intimate voice. Rock on!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. June 20, 2014 at 6:17 pm #

    This is especially powerful: This was Year Zero, where everybody not eligible to vote was eligible to assist the Khmer Rouge in its grand new vision of communism by marching off to dig themselves a slice of mass grave. This is because, as Article Twelve explains, there is absolutely no unemployment in Democratic Kampuchea.


  6. June 20, 2014 at 6:48 pm #

    Pol pot was bad pot


  7. June 20, 2014 at 7:59 pm #

    Thought-provoking. You made me think, which I gather is a field of your expertise.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. June 20, 2014 at 11:07 pm #

    Please read and share my first blog. World Cup Round up – Friday 20 June 2014. RTs appreciated.


  9. June 21, 2014 at 3:24 am #

    Beautifully reflective, Megan.
    After almost fifty years of listening to Zimmerman, the Apostle of Hibbing, and watching the chameleon who always changes into a rock icon, it just comes naturally to associate so much of the music that has stayed with me over the years to the times and mindsets they reflect.
    “Miracles”, by the pop resurrection of the psychedelic Airplane, will always be “our song” for my wife and me.
    John Fogerty’s “Fortunate Son” will always be “our song” for the boys over in the rice patties and for me, who was lucky (fortunate) enough to avoid being there with them.
    “Ohio” will always be “our song” for me as a college student losing four brothers and sisters fighting the same war I was, and for me as a parent still watching some of my brothers and sisters losing their children under similar inhumane circumstance.
    “Pet Sounds”, our songs breathing the last vestiges of pure, total innocence.
    Really enjoyed this post.


    Liked by 1 person

    • June 21, 2014 at 11:44 am #

      If it’s the songs that grab you, Prodigal Orphan, let me suggest you read the two pieces I wrote for Frontier Psychiatrist, about the Ramones and Rush (


      • June 21, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

        Will do. Let you know what comes to mind.
        Gonna pass the one about the Ramones on to my daughter too.



  10. June 21, 2014 at 11:12 am #

    Really enjoyed this. I was young teenager at the time and your post brought back some great memories
    The Science Geek


  11. June 21, 2014 at 12:33 pm #

    I enjoyed this greatly – and made me think about my mom’s favorites and what that might mean – she has two camps: the traditional/classicists like Barbara Streisand or Sammy Davis, Jr. and the edgy outcasts like Bowie (she goes bonkers when she hears his Cat People theme) or Dorie Previn or even Bjork. All of them have a consistent theme of fierce independence which I especially admire in my mom as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. jimobewon
    June 21, 2014 at 1:26 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this. It brings back a lot of thought-provoking memories.


  13. June 21, 2014 at 8:45 pm #

    Poor Rubin Carter. Such a great piece of writing; I enjoyed it immensely.


  14. June 21, 2014 at 9:11 pm #

    Great post! A lot of interesting ideas here…

    Liked by 1 person

  15. June 22, 2014 at 8:52 am #

    Reblogged this on raclain's Blog.


  16. June 22, 2014 at 11:47 am #

    Really interesting post and take on 1976. I like the ties between the music, politics and personal events.

    Where do you teach in Atlanta? I’ve lived there off and on for a long time and did some teaching there.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. June 22, 2014 at 2:33 pm #

    Hey guys read my blog have interesting post on sex, black culture, youth culture, religion. I keep it short and sweet with a twist.


  18. June 23, 2014 at 9:13 am #

    Very much enjoyed, thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. June 23, 2014 at 5:15 pm #

    My memories of 1976 in England? An everlasting heatwave, riding my Chopper bike through the dust, and being the most excited 11 year old ever buying my first Bay City Rollers record…


  20. w8screens
    June 24, 2014 at 9:13 am #

    Wünsche einen schönen Dienstagabend ❤


  21. June 24, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

    Hey my name is Christina parrish. I head born in this year. My real dad died six months after I was born.


  22. June 24, 2014 at 2:00 pm #

    Reblogged this on Apps Lotus's Blog.


  23. mattthomas444
    June 25, 2014 at 12:41 am #

    Interesting post


  24. June 25, 2014 at 11:18 am #

    In January, 1976 I also had a birthday. I was also completing a forced TDY (temporary duty re-assignment to another military installation) in remote (“what the hell am I doing here?”) Goose Bay, Canada (Labrador), while at the same time contemplating the end of my enlistment within 30 days. I had been married a year and a half (no kids at the moment). The world was my oyster as the Vietnam Era was fading. The last thing on my mind was Pol Pot and beleaguered bash from Kampuchea. Selfish bastard I was, but unquestionably human. Good post.


  25. June 27, 2014 at 3:44 am #

    In 1976 I was 17 and fed up of Bowie, Dylan and Elton John. But salvation came with the arrival of Punk Rock. The Sex Pistols and Clash from this side of the Atlantic and the Ramones from your side gave me music to enjoy and look forward to. Sadly, the powers that be in the music industry decided they would not lose control again (if they ever did). Now we have music ruled by satellite TV and the music video, epitomised by safe unthreatening boy bands like One Direction. A new form of rebellious music is long overdue.


  26. June 30, 2014 at 1:18 pm #

    1976 was a eventful year, I was 12 years old. My father bought a house in Antigua, Guatemala two years before that. My musical tastes were eclectic; CCR, The Who, ABBA, Paul McCartney And Wings, Donna Summer, and Elvis, to name a few.

    I remember walking down the cobble street roads and being amazed by the colonial architecture the Spanish built when they conquered the Americas. I made it a point to learn what these buildings represented, who lived in them, and why. The tourism was constant with North Americans and Europeans wanting to catch a glimpse of Colonial Guatemala. Antigua, is truly spectacular shadowed by volcanoes, lush green mountains, and impeccable Mediterranean weather. It was no wonder why the Spaniards built one of the first colonial cities there.

    There I was, like a sponge, learning culture and Guatemala’s colonial history. I taught myself the history of this picturesque town. At the entrance of the city, coming from Guatemala City, was a ‘garita’. It was a police check point, were young Guatemalan men trained by the ministry of tourism would stand in their green polo shirts, seeking work as tourist guides. They were the de facto city’s docents, who for a tip, explained in their broken English the history of Antigua. I had a leg up on these guys, I knew perfect English and was a hustler too. I asked my mom to buy me a green polo shirt, because I was going to work. The North American tourist would see me standing there, dwarfed by the older men, and asked me some questions. They were normally stunned that I replied in English without an accent. This little exchange would almost always get me the job. I made money, sometimes $20 USD and once in a while $100 USD, I was 12 years old, and that was big money back then. Apparently, a few satisfied customers left thank you cards at the Ministry of Tourism Headquarters and mentioned what a fine job I did guiding them. That led the mayor of Antigua Guatemala to contact my parents and invite us over for a fancy dinner. It seemed that I was good for business and he wanted to show his gratitude.

    I remember the fateful night when Guatemala cried, the earthquake of 1976 was devastating. We owned a colonial house near the river Pensamiento, it was steel reinforced. The surrounding homes were not, and they crumbled like ginger bread houses. The quake was so tremendous, all I could do is climb under our dinning room table with my mom and sister and pray. I had grown up In California and was well trained in earthquake safety we had practiced at my elementary school back in the States. After the quake subsided, the wailing started and did not stop for two days. I helped unbury the dead, neighbors and friends who died in their sleep. That was the first time I saw dead bodies and smelled the stench death, I’ll never forget that dreadful experience. For the remainder of our time in Guatemala, we lived in a tent my father bought for camping. Thus, we became earthquake refugees in 1976 that is until we returned back to the States.


  27. July 4, 2014 at 11:44 am #

    I remember this well. Thanks for the trip.


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