Wednesday, December 8, 2010


December 8, 1980. I was 14. I was laying on the couch in our living room, alone, waiting for -- or watching -- a rerun of Johnny Carson (I can't remember which). I was thinking about how bored I was.

And an announcer broke into whatever was on to say that John Lennon had been shot and killed.

I lay there and cried and cried. There was no CNN, no 24 hour news and, for the general public, no Internet, so I had to just lay there and cry and wait for more news. My brother came in and I told him what happened. I don't remember him saying anything - just looking shocked and walking out of the room.

I was a HUGE Beatles fan -- still am. Geesh, how can you not be?! I couldn't afford to buy all their albums (I had just two), so I did my best to hit "record" on my cassette tape player whenever a Beatles song came on, and I can't believe I didn't wear those tapes out with playing them again and again. Their songs were the first I played on my guitar. I didn't just know their mainstream songs by heart; I knew the Beatles Christmas records for their fan club by heart. And I was big fan of all the post-Beatles music by the various members as well. More than that, there's no question that "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" and Imagine influenced the person I am now.

Over the next weeks, following his murder, I watched every John Lennon-related news story I could find on TV, listened to every John Lennon retrospective I could find on the radio, and read every news story I could find about what had happened. I probably spoke less words in that first week after his murder than I had since I first started blabbling as a baby. For the first time in my life, I didn't have anything to say. Everyone had been so abuzz about John Lennon releasing a new album at long, long last, and while reviews were mixed, everyone I heard on the radio had been excited about it -- and about what might come next. But now, nothing was going to come next.

My parents hated the Beatles, and my Mom had made disparaging comments here and there about them being communists, anti-American and drug users. She had never liked me sitting in my room for hours on end, listening to so much Beatles music (or my Star Wars story albums). Now I was spending even more time doing it. I wasn't close to my parents, and we never discussed anything personal. I don't know how many days it was after John Lennon had died, but my Mom came into my room, sat on my bed, and said, "When James Dean died, I felt like the world was ending. I felt like all us teenagers had lost our representative, our voice. It felt a lot like this." And the she got up and walked out of the room. She never made a disparaging remark about the Beatles in front of me ever again.

Over the years, I found out John Lennon could be a huge wanker, a snarling, mean person that was not at all full of love and peace every moment. He could be downright cruel. It was good to learn. Between that and the not-so-great things I learned about another hero of mine, Martin Luther King, Jr., I learned never to think a man could be perfect, to never think of a man as God-like. There are no saints, not really. There are just men -- and women -- who have moments of being extraordinary.

26 years later, I was at campsite in Thurso, Scotland, on the Northern coast. I was in the camp kitchen washing our supper dishes. Another woman was there and we chatted, as one does when washing dishes in a camp site. We were talking about how I had ended up in Europe. I told her I had moved to Germany from Austin, Texas, the "live music capital of the world." And she said, "Oh, then I bet you like the Beatles. I went to art school with John Lennon." I felt like fainting. My knees were weak. I asked her what he was like. She said she was afraid of him, that she had gone to all-girl schools up until that point and that she had never been around the intensity of teenage boy angst and anger, qualities he was oh-so-full of. She said he had a very large chip on his shoulder. She said he also could have been a professional cartoonist, he was that talented. She added, "But, then we all were!"

It's my two-degrees of separation from John Lennon story.


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