Thursday, December 08, 2005


Twenty-Five Years Ago Today...

...the Grim Reaper forced the band to lay...

I'm a couple years younger, but like my colleague,
John Podhoretz (he in college; I in my senior year in high school), I was watching "Monday Night Football" (a cultural institution that ends in its present incarnation this year) , doing homework...when I heard the news, oh boy...

Pod had already bought Double Fantasy, John Lennon's comeback album (his songs alternated with Yoko's, which were...interesting). I don't think I had bought the album at that point, but I'm pretty sure I had the "(Just Like) Starting Over" 45 single -- and was playing it repeatedly.

It had a hook and an odd rhythmic feel that was different from anything else on the Top 40 at the time -- not in a New Wave sense either. (And God knows, I knew what the Top 40 sounded like -- Sundays found me hunched near a radio listening to Casey Kasem count down the hits.)

I hadn't been a huge Beatles fan at that point -- tho a good friend was. Janet immediately came to mind when I heard the news. Her love for everything Beatle was as obsessive as could be without being pathological (well, maybe a little pathological).

We were too young to have absorbed The Beatles when they first arrived, thus hers was not the nostalgic affection of a middle-age Baby Boomer mourning the death of an icon from one's youth. Janet was drawn to the music and immersed herself in all that was possible to know about the band, the members, everything. (A mutual friend reminded me Wednesday how Janet would -- back in the LP record days -- always listen to her Beatles records from beginning to end. She didn't want uneven wear to develop from cherry-picking through songs.)

It was too late to call her that night, but I did end up speaking with a mutual friend, Pat. We both knew that Janet would be devastated (all she had been talking about in the previous few weeks was the Double Fantasy release and the new music coming out; earlier that year, we had gone to see Elton John in Central Park. At the end of the concert, as we exited, Janet joked about whether we should just stroll over to the Dakota and see if "they" were around.)

The next day, the senior class was going to a see a local (our school was in Westchester County) production of Shakespeare. Janet's friend Pat -- who I had chatted with the previous night -- asked me if I had seen Janet.


No one had.

We ran to a payphone and called her house. She was there and her mom put her on. Pat and I passed the payphone back and forth and convinced Janet to come to school. She got there in time to make the bus for the trip to the play ("As You Like It"? "A Midsummer Night's Dream"?). She had, of course, been crying. And she was hardly the only one upset. On the bus, the three of us, with others coming in at different times talked...about Who knows what else? We saw the play and talked more on the trip back. Janet was in better spirits

In retrospect, the fierce emotions of teenagers at a certain moment in time seem almost quaint. However, that terrible moment -- which, of course, had the most profound impact on those closest to Lennon, as well as creating vast ripples across the country and the globe -- had the ironic effect of causing a good friendship to become a great friendship that still endures to this day. How many stand that test of time?

That was the impact of John Lennon's passing on a few people in a little Westchester County, New York, town. I never saw him play live and, in many ways, only got to know him postumously (I raced out and picked up multiple magazines, books and Beatles compilations -- "Blue"/"67-70" is better, in my opinion than "Red"/"62-66" -- I could get my hand on. True fact: My first Playboy was the one on the stands the week after the murder -- with a Lennon/Ono interview that issue's featured article).

A quarter-century later, the words to his most famous solo hit, "
Imagine" seem more naive and distant (and, for many, sacriligeous, to boot) than ever:

Imagine there's no countries,
t isn't hard to do,
Nothing to kill or die for,
No religion too,
Imagine all the people
living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer,
but Im not the only one,
I hope some day you'll join us,
And the world will live as one.

But I am still thankful for his imagination, inspiration and talent that created treasures for millions -- and a particularly enduring gift of friendship that remains precious to me to this day.

John Lennon, New Yorker.

I'll be listening to
The John Lennon Collection just about all day -- as I have since Wednesday afternoon.


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