The ’80s weren’t quite the ’60s when it came to protest music, but nonetheless there were plenty of musicians who were concerned with the fate of the planet and advocates for the environment. So today we look at an awful event in history which resulted in a memorable benefit concert and album. The Rainbow Warrior ship was sunk, deliberately by the French government on this day in 1985.
The Rainbow Warrior was a 131-foot long ship that was the flagship of environmental organization Greenpeace. At the time it was docked in Auckland, New Zealand and it was planning a trip to the South Pacific to observe, and protest French nuclear tests. For nearly twenty years, France had had nuclear bombs and tested them fairly regular in the beautifully South Seas. This of course, couldn’t have been good for the environment nor the atmosphere…or the health of the small number of residents who lived on the islands. Stopping it, and whaling as well, were two of the main goals of Greenpeace.
This day 37 years back, the boat was rocked by two explosions and quickly sank in the harbor. Though ten crew members got off more or less safely, a Dutch photographer, Fernando Perreira died on the boat. New Zealand correctly termed it an act of terrorism, and their investigators soon found bombs had been placed on the ship by two French scuba divers who worked for that country’s secret service. They charged them with murder, among other things, while France tried to deny any involvement. First they claimed to know nothing at all, then they admitted the arrested men were their employees but were only supposed to be watching the boat to take notes. Eventually a British newspaper got access to French government papers – labeled “Operation Satanique” no less! – with that country’s President, Francois Mitterand authorizing the bombing.
The United Nations were brought in to mediate. The two French bombers eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received 10 year prison sentences, but got returned to France after about one year. The French government paid New Zealand about $10 million in damages and settled privately with Greenpeace and the Perreira family, while at home, there was little fall-out beyond a handful of political resignations – Mitterand not being one of them. He in fact was re-elected in 1988.
That was the end of the news story, but not the reaction. Many people were outraged, understandably…including many musicians. Early in 1986, a Greenpeace benefit concert was organized in Auckland which was headlined by Jackson Browne and Neil Young, and as a special treat for the home crowd, a reunion concert by Split Enz two years after their enz had split. (Sadly, no one seemed to tape the show, or at least archive it online.) Three years later, a major double-album was put out on Geffen Records to raise funds for Greenpeace, entitled Greenpeace Rainbow Warriors. No wonder it took awhile to organize and get to shelves… it contained 31 songs that came close to being the definitive package to remember the ’80s by.
Among the many, varied artists who contributed to it were some predictable ones who’d always been environmental advocates – Peter Gabriel (“Red Rain”), U2 ( a live version of “Pride”), Sting (“Love is the Seventh Wave”) and R.E.M. (“It’s the End of the World As We Know It”) for instance – but they were joined by quite an impressive array of other artists who were apparently appalled by the bombing. Those included Bryan Adams (“Run To You”), Bryan Ferry (“Don’t Stop the Dance”), the Pretenders (“Middle of the Road”), Simple Minds (a live cut of “Waterfront”), the Thompson Twins (“Lay Your Hands On Me”), Robbie Robertson (“Somewhere Down the Crazy River”), the Grateful Dead (“Throwing Bones”) and on and on…Huey Lewis and the News, John Mellencamp, the Silencers, Sade. It was an impressive collection, and show of musical solidarity with the environmental agency.
Last but not least, in 2005 a supergroup of New Zealand’s artists recorded a song called “Anchor Me” to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the bombing It hit #3 there.
The good news is that perhaps the ongoing bad publicity eventually led France to stop testing nukes; last detonating one in the Pacific in 1996.