Monday, December 8, 2014

34 Years

I can still remember the little early-morning crowd who used to glom onto that one science teacher we thought was cool, hanging out before first period in middle school.  It was me, and TEO – still in my life today – the girl we called “Fuzz” because she had the then-ubiquitous tight curly perm, a couple other of the cool-nerds.  The teacher liked to impart to us wisdom beyond the classroom, particularly that of good music.

The morning my mom told me John Lennon had been murdered, forty seemed an incredibly advanced age to me.  That he was still important at that age, as a rockstar, was widely regarded as incredible back then.  Of course, now, with the Rolling Stones still relevant and what Beatles we have left literally institutionalized, and Jimmy Page enjoying a somewhat disturbing sainthood under the crown of silver hair and his crinkling eyes, aged rockstars are not the shocker they once were.  But in 1980, when John Lennon died, it was still a bit of a joke.

His murder was no joke to us.  I’d hardly even begun my juvenile career as a Beatlemaniac – and, you have to remember, back then, they’d only been split up for a decade.  Even as creakingly OLD as they seemed to someone my age … they were all still alive.  There was still this fantasy that they’d get back together, somehow.

Lennon’s death was the death of that dream, and the beginning of a self-seriousness about music I never got very good at maintaining, but which seemed a beacon in my life at twelve.

Holy crud, I was only twelve.

I remember, hideously, the offhand way my mom told me at breakfast, and the fact I had to go to school anyway.  We gathered at the foot of those short stairs in the green-tiled hall, devastated.  And there was hardly time to mourn together before homeroom.

For years after that, the two years of middle school in particular, I cultivated my fandom of the Beatles.  I still have the album I bought in Greece.  I still have them all.  I can remember adoring “Dizzie Miss Lizzie” because it was my own monogram, DML.  Any connection I could make, at that age.  It was important.

I never have had the heart to give away the “Fifteenth Anniversary” (!!!) tee shirt my brother gave me back then.  It’s still important, and I don’t even know why.

For all my memories of trippy music like Zeppelin or Pink Floyd … The Beatles were really my first real music, the first *I* cared about, the first *I* sought out and cultivated and cared for.  My dad’s music, and my mom’s and my church’s, have come to mean much over the years.  But The Beatles were the first musical interest I had that was only my own.

In a post like this, there’s a powerful desire to say, “I can’t believe it was thirty-four years ago” – but, the fact is, I can feel every moment in time between the heart I have today and the girl I was then, still even working to build a heart at all.  Things affected me so profoundly then entirely because I had hardly experienced profundity at all.

Thirty-four years later, the thought of Lennon at seventy-four is an exercise, a curiosity, a sadness, a new loss.  It’s like thinking about my dad, who would himself be not so much older than that.  It’s like every what-if and woulda-coulda-shoulda we come to know between twelve and forty-six.  It’s bitter, but not hard anymore.  Not bittersweet.  Nothing sweet in the senselessness that stole from us his voice, his mind.

Lennon was a prototype of the mouthpiece rockstar that’s become so ubiquitous since that it’s lost all meaning.  But his early, activist, earnest yearning – for peace, for peace in himself, for art and rock and roll and to be a good man – has a naivete’ about it most of the celebrity cause endorsers don’t quite have anymore.  Sure, they’re naïve, but not because they believe they can make a difference.  They’re just naïve about the fact they’re not actually important.

John Lennon’s naivete’ was something different.  It was honestly innocent – he wanted to use his mega-fame the same way they want to use it today, but he didn’t have all the algorithms and management on the job.  He just had this yearning, and some dizzy understanding that, accidentally, he’d become – well, bigger than G-d, to drag out the old horse even if not for a good beating.  (He was right in the sense of that statement, no matter how it read.  Can’t fault the guy for being dumb – only tone deaf, for one epochal moment.)

Thinking about that green-tiled hall, the polished cement floors, the girl with whom I mourned the murder most deeply – the losses of relationships and lives far closer to my own – over thirty four years, sentimentality over John Lennon’s murder is almost an indulgence.  For all the connection I wanted to feel, the older woman I’ve become knows that was not about me, and feels for the family left with media stories about anniversaries.  For the older son, whose relationship was not the one with the most fulfilment going on when his father was stolen.  For the younger one, who throughout his life has endured sharing his father – and his loss – with presumptuous strangers.  For a widow reviled before and after this terrible loss.  For those who learned they would never play with him again.

My loss was so dramatic, back then.  I was angry at my mother for dropping the news without sensitivity to How Very Important it was to me, and for all those fancies one has about idols at the age of twelve.

When I listen to Double Fantasy or the Beatles, if I do so this evening, it’ll be pretty dramatic again.

But only because, even if he died too young:  John Lennon did what he set out to do.  He affected people he never met.  He made music that means something ineffeable and something individual – incredibly intimate – the world over.

As epitaphs go, I don’t imagine a single media story will improve on that legacy; this anniversary, or any other.

1 comment:

Colin Smith said...

I remember hearing of Lennon's death and asking my parents, "Who was John Lennon?" He had a song in the charts, but I didn't get why they were making such a fuss over him. "He was one of the Beatles," came the reply, and nothing more needed to be said. You couldn't grow up in England in the 1970s and not know who the Beatles were.

I was barely in double-digits at the time, but within a month of Lennon's assassination, I went from being aware of the Beatles and their music to being a fan. On the heels of Lennon's death, the BBC showed all the Beatles' movies, and their music got a lot of air play. Already starting to take a serious interest in music, I soaked it up.

I wish I could say I was a fan before December 8th, 1980. But it took becoming a fan after the fact to realize how tragic this loss was, not just for Yoko, Sean, and Julian, but for all of us. I think the thing that hurts the most is listening to him on the last interview he did for the BBC just two days before. I heard it when it was first broadcast (played in serialized form, interspersed with Lennon songs, a short time after his death), and it struck me how happy he sounded. So content, at peace with himself, and full of music to share. (Someone has posted it on YouTube if you want to listen to it:

Well, there are my thoughts to add to yours, for what they're worth. :)