Like many, I heard the news from Howard Cosell. Sometimes I think that getting word from Cosell took the emotional power out of the moment. It was impossible to fathom that, during Monday Night Football, such horrible news, news that John Lennon had been shot and killed, could be delivered in between a draw play and a square out. Howard, in his inimitable fashion, sucked all the horror out of it.
I was the Beatles guy in High School, knowing more about them than anyone (except maybe Jim M.). I graduated early, in January 1980, and there was a surprise party for me. The most memorable things about that night were the giant hamburger and the engraved plaque with all my friends' names and "Beatles Forever." I haven't seen it in awhile, but it's around here someplace. At parties I would have everyone going with the Paul is Dead stuff, pointing out images of skeletal heads in the Magical Mystery Tour booklet.
There was an outpuring of concern for me after Lennon's killing, which I found incredible. I knew where my friends and family were coming from, but, oddly, I was unfazed by it. No tears, no nothing. Maybe I was already beginning to move away from idolatry, I don't know. I do know I was turning from a John-centric to Paul-centric view of Beatle-y things, for sure part of a journey from empty idealism to practicality. After all, it was the beginning of the Reagan years, I was headed for a job of some kind in the near future, and shouting slogans didn't hold the same appeal anymore.
Double Fantasy had come out in November. I'm pretty sure my brother bought it for me, which always surprised me. One, that he bought it for me at all. Two, that I didn't rush out to get it on the first day of release. I did that for George's 1979 album, why wouldn't I do it for John's first record in 5 years? "Starting Over" was a crap song, although I liked that John put himself in a '50's context. I remember eating at the Red Jacket Quad cafeteria at SUNY-Buffalo and hearing "Woman," which I loved. Honestly, I didn't dig John's material on the whole, though I liked most. I thought Yoko's tunes had more balls. I was 18 then. Now, I'm 47 and I find that the 40-year old John's songs are more meaningful. This is particularly true of "Watching the Wheels," which I live.
Still, my next door neighbor Congo and I talked about seeing Lennon in concert if he toured and we were very excited at the prospect. All that ended on the night of December 8, 29 years ago. The ensuing martyrdom and canonization of John Lennon irked me to no end. The two guys across the hall, who had zero musical knowledge, dashed out like so many to buy Lennon solo albums and, once they heard them, complained to me how much Sometime in New York City sucked. Well, just 'cuz he's dead didn't make it a good album. And why was I responsible for their wasted money? (Oh yeah, I'm the Beatle guy). It was the start of a real anti-John period for me. I couldn't stomach the "John Lennon and The Beatles" take on the group, which lasted into the mid-'90's when a Paul resurgence began. Pays to be the last one standing, don't it.
Now, I often find myself thinking about John Lennon. In researching for the Maybe Baby blog (which you should all read this Friday), I've watched hours of Lennon material - Dick Cavett interviews, Tom Snyder interviews, etc. John was quite a complex character and so much fun to watch, even when he's a hypocritical, haranguing, pain in the ass.
As Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, the Rolling Stones and a few others have proven, rock stars can age well and produce fine material. That wasn't the case in 1980. Chuck Berry wasn't out with a new album of songs that could compare well with his masterpieces. Many icons of the 1960's have shown they still have a great deal to offer. It's in that context that I find myself missing John Lennon the most. Can you picture him as he would be today, older, wiser, more mature, and still rocking. See him? Now you miss him too, and it hurts.