We’ve arrived once again at that sad anniversary for much of an entire generation, as well as for many music fans regardless of their age. This is not a date I have to look up or be reminded of. As far as sudden losses of individual well-known people go, this is the one of my life to this day, 38 years on. I was nine years old and in the fourth grade when John Lennon was murdered, and every year since then I experience a period of reflection about John and what his and the Beatles’ music means to me. It’s sad and celebratory at the same time. The odd thing about it to me is that the day of John’s death is on my mind more than his birthday, whereas with George Harrison I’m much more aware of his birthday. My only explanation is that it’s due to the shocking nature of John’s passing, which happened when I was at such a young age, yet a huge fan and highly impressionable already.
That fateful Monday evening, I watched the New England Patriots vs. the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football. My bed time on Mondays in the fall was extended to halftime of the games, in this case still not late enough for me to hear the announcement made by Howard Cosell. That’s probably a good thing.
The next morning I shuffled into the kitchen for a bowl of cereal before walking a block to school. Still waking up, I heard a reference to Lennon or the Beatles coming from the 12 inch black and white TV on our kitchen counter. I looked over to see footage of the Beatles stepping off a plane in Tokyo in 1966 wearing kimonos. It took a minute for what was being reported to sink in. Stunned, I walked to school. It’s so vivid in my mind. I recall a couple of other kids who had heard. I wondered what the teachers thought. I remember feeling very alone all day at school.
Two of my biggest music influences growing up, my oft-mentioned older brothers, were away at college, which was an adjustment for me. Fortunately, Christmas break was upon us and they returned for a few weeks shortly after the murder so I had them around to process things. I understand if all this sounds strange for a little guy like I was at the time, but this is how it happened for me. I remember Paul and me walking to downtown Fulton over Christmas break. I begged him to buy me one of the many magazines with John on the cover from a drugstore. He did so, but on the walk back home he explained to me how many of these magazines were just making money off of John’s death – probably my first real-life lesson about the sometimes dark side of capitalism. I remember him playing the Shaved Fish compilation LP over and over those few weeks down in the basement.
It’s so surreal to think about to this day: John had just released his fantastic comeback album, Double Fantasy (yes, despite having to hear Yoko’s tracks, it’s still a great album – and I don’t even mind Yoko’s songs on it anymore). As I learned years later, serious plans for a concert tour had been made. It was going to happen, and who knows how things would’ve gone down the road with a rejuvenated Lennon. An actual Beatles reunion, perhaps? We’ll never know. One thing is certain: Every year since then, I’ve felt a wistfulness during the month of December, but there is a sweetness to it. It’s a month I really dive back into John’s solo work, as I’m doing today. Some years are a little heavier than others, but not a year goes by without it to some extent.
About fifteen years ago, Paul shared a real surprise with me. In December of 1980, he was a freshman in college in southwest Missouri. When he heard what had happened, he had the presence of mind in his dorm room to flip his stereo receiver to AM. On winter evenings in the Midwest, one can pick up radio stations from Chicago to Dallas, from Denver to New York City. He popped a blank cassette into his player, hit record, and started scrolling up and down the dial, where he found WABC in NYC coming in quite clearly at times, then fading out. They had a reporter on the scene at the Dakota and were playing Beatles music. He found other stations back east doing the same thing, all creepily fading in and out with their tributes. Down the line, he had converted that cassette to CD, and he gave me a copy which I usually end this date with.
In two years, John will have been gone as long as he was with us. If I’m still blogging then, I’ll probably have more to say.