Hearing the news on December 9, 1980.
I will never forget the morning of December 9, 1980. The day before, my younger brother Micah had turned six. I trudged downstairs half asleep and dragged myself to the kitchen table where my Tri-Vi-Flor Vitamin C tablet awaited me.
The radio was on and for a moment I wasn’t sure what I had heard. For a moment I thought it was Jack Lemmon who had been shot. My mother corrected me but I still didn’t hear it right. “John Lemon?” I innocently asked. “No,” my mother snapped, “John Lennon!!!”
Then it hit me. Hard!!!
Even though The Beatles had broken up two years before I was born I was well aware of their music. My father frequently played Abbey Road on our stereo. Dad would also occasionally play Lennon’s Rock n’ Roll album. I remember him being partial to Lennon’s version of Gene Vincent’s “Be-Bop-A-Lula.” A month earlier, Lennon and Yoko Ono had released the Double Fantasy album. While we did not have that album I do remember “(Just Like) Starting Over” being played regularly on the radio.
And then John Lennon was dead at the age of forty. Not only was he gone but he had been brutally murdered outside his apartment building by a deranged fan. It just didn’t make sense. It still doesn’t.
When I arrived at school, I saw a girl who lived down the street from us leaning up against the wall. She was holding a portable cassette player to her ear listening to a Beatles song with the saddest look on her face. It was the one day at school where the teachers wanted to do school work even less than the students. They were as dazed and dumbfounded as the rest of us.
The radio was still on when I returned home. By now, however, the only thing that could be heard was a barrage of Beatles songs and Lennon solo material. It was as if the entire world had paused to remember John Lennon.
After supper that evening, Dad lit a candle in Lennon’s memory as his mother had done for John F. Kennedy seventeen years earlier. Normally such an honor would be reserved for a Jew. But as far as Dad was concerned, John Lennon was one of us.
In the months that followed, I spent a lot of time drawing pictures of Lennon as he had appeared on the cover of Abbey Road with long hair, beard, granny glasses and the white suit. They weren’t very good. I doubt if any of those drawings survive. Drawing came far more naturally to Micah and he could do things on paper I could never contemplate. Nevertheless, it was the only time in my life I made any kind of serious effort to exercise my creativity through drawing and it was inspired entirely by Lennon.
As such I cannot think of Micah’s birthday without thinking of Lennon’s assassination. I don’t know what thought, if any, he gives to Lennon when his birthday comes around. But in his early teens Micah would start taking guitar lessons. However, those lessons didn’t last long. He was more interested in learning Beatles songs which he taught himself to play. Before you knew it he was playing in bands with high school friends who also loved to play Beatles songs. About a decade later, he spent a couple of years playing bass with the Canadian indie band The Golden Dogs. I remember buying their debut CD in Sam The Record Man on Yonge Street in Toronto. I cannot tell what a thrill it was to go to a record store and buy a CD on which my brother played. I strongly suspect this would not have to come to pass without the Beatles and Lennon in particular. I can even hear Lennon in his voice.
Naturally, I think about what life would be like if John Lennon were still alive. I’m sure Lennon’s politics would not have changed. I’m sure Lennon would have been leading voice against the War in Iraq. I’m sure Lennon would have some choice words for President Bush. I’m sure I would have been annoyed at Lennon as I would have been at the long line of celebrities critical of both Bush and the Iraq War.
But I would have taken it. I would have taken it because I’m also sure Lennon would have had a lot more music to make. Some of that music would have great and some of it perhaps not so great. But it would have been ours for the listening. I’m sure I would have had the chance to see him in concert as I have seen Paul McCartney in concert (twice). And a splendid time would have been guaranteed for all. I’m also sure that John would have eventually agreed to come together with Paul, George, and Ringo. It certainly would have made for a more meaningful Beatles reunion.
My parents are now retired and presently spending the winter in New York City on the Upper West Side a short distance from the Dakota on Central Park West and 72nd Street. If Lennon were still alive it is not inconceivable my parents might have bumped into John & Yoko while walking in Central Park. I’m sure that Dad in his typical Bronx bravado would have had something clever to say and the Liverpudlian Lennon would have been equal to the task. I’m sure my mother and Yoko would have looked each other as if to say they couldn’t take their husbands anywhere.
So if John Lennon were alive, well and living in New York City I would happily put up with his political ranting if it meant more music and memories. But alas I can only imagine.
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