December 8, 2014

The Day We Killed John Lennon

lennonj.jpg

We'd finished filming John and Yoko for the video a day or so before he was shot to death. It was their last video, but of course we didn't know it at the time. There was film of them holding hands and walking in Central Park in the place that would later become "Strawberry Fields." We'd filmed them rolling naked in bed together in a Soho Art Gallery where she looked healthy and ample and he looked small and slight, with skin that was almost transluscent. I remember being slightly surprised by the fact that Lennon's need for Ono was so constant and palpable. He was seldom more than two feet away from her side and had the disconcerting habit of calling her "Mommy" whenever they spoke.

My role was as "executive producer" which really meant that I was to stand around with a roll of hundred dollar bills and pay-off the teamsters and solve other problems with copious applications of money. It was an odd job in more ways than one, but I was grateful to have it at the time.

We'd sent the last of the film to the lab, and the director, Ethan Russell, had gone back to Los Angeles to begin editing. The crew had dispersed and I'd taken to my bed racked with pain. The job, this time, had been so tough and high stress that my neck had gone out. I could barely turn my head without feeling as if a sledge was hammering a hot-needle into the cervical vertebrae. I was lying carefully propped on the bed eating Bufferin as if they were Tic-Tacs and trying not to move. My neck was held in one of those tight foam collars. Not moving was the best thing to do at the time and I was doing it with all my might.

It was a small one-bedroom apartment on the East Side of Manhattan. My first wife and I were there after three years of living in London, Paris, the Algarve and other European locations. She was eight months pregnant with our daughter and looked as if she was trying to smuggle a basketball across state lines for immoral purposes. Her mood, never really cheerful, was not improved by her situation.

The apartment was on loan from her uncle's girlfriend. I was down to my last few thousand dollars and was looking for a job. The film gig had been a gift from my old friend Ethan, and I'd been glad to get it. But it was over and, with a baby banging on the door of the world, things were not looking up. At the time, the only thing looking up was me since my neck required me to lie flat and gaze at the ceiling. It had been a rough two weeks but I thought things would certainly improve.

And of course, that's when things got worse. It got worse in the way most things do, the phone rang and my wife called out, "It's for you."

Some New York wag once said, "Age fourteen is the last time in your life when you're glad the phone is for you."

I groped blindly to the side of the bed and picked up the extension. It was Ethan calling from an editing room in Los Angeles. "John's been shot. He's dead."

I think my reaction then was my reaction now when I wrote out the phrase above. I just stopped doing and thinking whatever I was doing or thinking and stared at the rough plaster ceiling above and blinked slowly in the silence.

Then I said whatever I said. I'm sure I expressed shock, disbelief, and something about how alive he'd been at the filming session the day before, or two days before... whatever it may have been. But Ethan, ever the professional, brought the call back to the reason for it.

"Here's what has to be done and done now. The footage we shot in the park is now the last footage ever taken of John. It is sitting in a film lab in Manhattan. We've got to get control of it, all of it, and secure it until everything is sorted out. There can't be a bootleg copy floating around for the tabloids and the television shows. It's probably the property of Yoko but we'll sort that out later. For now, you've got to get it out and safe."

The call ended and I stood up. Slowly. Dressed even more slowly and watched, as I dressed, the unfolding of the end of Lennon's life as reported, beat by beat, by all the television stations on the dial.

The next 24 hours are a blur. I remember sitting rigidly in the back of a limo learning to hate the potholes of the New York streets with a passion as each one slammed another heated needle deep into my neck. I somehow got the film out of the lab and took it to a midtown bank and placed it in a safe-deposit box. There were lawyers and paperwork to deal with, phonecalls and more instructions.

In the end, I took the keys to the safe-deposit box and the paperwork to the Dakota apartment of John Lennon to turn them over to Yoko's assistants.

The street in front of the Dakota was packed with people along both sidewalks and the crowd spilled into the street. The police were keeping it moving in a quiet way. Small seas of flowers flowed across the sidewalk and up the walls and gates of the Dakota. Pictures and scrawled messages of love and loss were taped to the walls and flung into the flowers. Widening puddles of melted wax where hundreds of candles burned lapped at the edges of the flowers. Some people held each other, others walked and wept openly. Some stood to the side and sobbed quietly. A path through the offerings had been cleared at the entrance to the Dakota and to get in you had to wade through the grief.

This spontaneous shrine was a harbinger, as so many things in John's life and death were. The same motif of flowers, pictures, candles, weeping and grief would be repeated on a vast scale across the entire city and country some 21 years later on 9/11, but that sort of thing could not have been imagined in December of 1980. This was the largest grief that could then be conceived by us - the killing of one of the Gods of music. "Our music." Which the "Man can't bust," but, as had just been proven by one of our lunatics, we could kill.

Taken large, this was the death of the music in the death of a man in whom we'd invested much of our misplaced faith. Taken larger it was the death of the 60s and all that we once "imagined" it might mean, might become. And all of it happening in a way that would be echoed in later years as the 60s died again and again - and always at the hands of those that lived it. I might have seen it then, if then I could have seen clearly, as a portent of so much that sprung from those fertile blindingly optimistic years that would go wrong and twisted in the years ahead, but "I am no prophet and here's no great matter."

On that day, I didn't see anything clearly -- nor would I for decades. I just walked into the courtyard of the Dakota, took the elevator up to the apartment, said some words to the small and aging Asian woman in the white room, dropped off legal papers and keys and went down the elevator, out to the car and had it drive me back to bed across the park.

That's what I did on that day. Just another walk-on part in the war.

Some days later there was a memorial service for John in Central Park. I went with an old friend from Berkeley, Jon Cott, who'd interviewed Lennon once or twice over the years for Rolling Stone. I don't remember much about the service. I'm sure "Imagine," that anthem of dubious distinction, was sung by all of us, and that there were more flowers and candles and crying as is the way of these things.

When it was over, I walked out of Central Park with Cott, one of my amigos from those diamond sky nights in Berkeley, the Haight, "swinging" London, and all the other scenes we'd flowed through in the 60s and 70s. I walked East out of the park towards what would soon become not just my first wife, but my family for 12 years -- a whole new life containing all the seeds, good and bad, of the old dead life.

I said goodbye to Jon Cott at the entrance to the subway that would take him downtown to the Village where he'd put aside writing about rock and roll and was now writing a book about children's fairy tales. Cott was always just ahead of the curve. I watched from the street as he went down under the ground.

I'd never see him again. But then I'd never see the 60s again either. On that day, it all went down under the ground.

johnkneeG2.jpg
You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.
Photograph ©, 2006 by Ethan Russell @ EthanRussell.com

Posted by Vanderleun at December 8, 2014 1:30 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Touching.

This was the most well written thing I've read all day.

Thank you.

Posted by: chris at December 8, 2004 12:12 PM

"Ed Moltzen @ Late Final notes that today is December 8, 2004 and remembers John Lennon (Dec. 3, 1938-Dec. 8, 1980) was shot to death on this date and then asks: "Where were you when you found out he had died?" "

**Huh? John Lennon was born October 9, 1940. Where in the world does Dec. 3, 1938 come from?

Posted by: Brad at December 8, 2004 1:12 PM

Ed Moltzen @ Late Final notes that today is December 8, 2004 and remembers John Lennon (Dec. 3, 1938-Dec. 8, 1980) was shot to death on this date and then asks: "Where were you when you found out he had died?"

***John was born October 9, 1940.

Posted by: Brad at December 8, 2004 1:16 PM

You are correct. I should have checked rather than cut and pasted. Corrected now. Thanks.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_lennon

Posted by: Gerard Van der Leun at December 8, 2004 1:21 PM
There was a lot of paperwork coming in by fax and more instructions

Fax machines in 1980?

Posted by: keggin at December 8, 2004 2:31 PM

Humm, you know you may have a point. I know there were fax machines around and that there were lawyers offices and documents and phone calls, but I really may have conflated technoeras in my memory. The 80s *were* the decade of faxing and ZapMail but 1980 is very early.

I'll take it as a mistake and correct it. Thanks

Posted by: Gerard Van der Leun at December 8, 2004 3:43 PM

By telex then?

Posted by: Stephen B at December 8, 2004 6:05 PM

As Tonto famously asked the Lone Ranger, "What you mean, WE"?

What do you mean, Gerard? Do you think you're culpable? Do you think I am? As best I know that SOB, Mark Chapman murdered John Lennon -- all by himself.

Well written piece, but poor lede.

Posted by: Norman Rogers at December 9, 2004 8:20 AM

What can I say? Do I think you and you and you and you and I did this up close and personal? No, no, no, no, and no...

But "permit me voyage" to say that certain times and certain mindsets and certain clusters of belief create a certain atmosphere in which lunacy can emerge in the shape of one individual who feels compelled and empowered in his strange way to act by the forces of his time and generation.

Last night I watched a bit of "Imagine" on cable. Interestingly enough (for me) I tuned in just at the moment when a very burned out "road hippie" had turned up at John's country estate compelled to be there through some sort of "message" he'd deciphered deep within the Lennon lyrics. He thought he was being addressed personally. Lennon was at some pains, and very gently, to inform this poor soul that his songs were written for him only and that if anybody heard anything in them personally that was, well, just the way it was but certainly not his intent. He then invited the scruffy refugee from the road in for a bit to eat.

Now, what is wrong with this picture?

First, it is on film so I think I can say with some conviction (based on other observations and first-hand accounts of John's personality and habits which I shall not go into.) that much of what we see here in this scene derives from John's knowledge that he was indeed on camera. He knew how to use a camera like soldiers know how to use hand grenades.

Second, for as much as it is done for the camera, the same is done by John out of a genuine feeling. He was a man for all that. But an *extremely* complicated one.

Third, the line concerning the songs not being intended to have any reach outside of his own noggin and life, is of course pure BS. Writers of pop songs, especially brilliant writers, know how to take their internal thoughts and make them into songs that are laced with hooks and, quite frankly, emotionally glib by intention.

The more glib the greater the hit.

The argument by John that "hey, it really is only about me" is probably more of a way of talking the guy down from his state of psychotic drug trip than anything else. Still, it helps John preserve a realm of deniability for the effects his music had on a large group of people over an extended period of time.

It was a way of being able to sing the truth and avoid the consequences. And so many consequences came John's way over the course of his life, I don't blame him for ducking them when he could.

But what you put into the ocean comes back in on the tide. John wasn't the tide, we were -- for good or evil.

But, if you insist, I hereby include you out. Anyone else who wants one also gets a pass.

Posted by: Gerard Van der Leun at December 9, 2004 10:30 AM
"But, if you insist, I hereby include you out. Anyone else who wants one also gets a pass." - Van der Leun

No offense intended, Gerard, but I'll take my pass and my out also.

I was not a fan. Not of the 60's, not of the Beatles, and definately not of Lenin or his music.

A tragic death, yes. Murder of an entire era and an Iconic figure that we all share a part in? No thanks - that's not something I'll own, nor is it something you'll sell me. Gimme me my pass.

Posted by: Ironbear at December 12, 2004 12:31 AM

ShrinkWrapped has an interesting post at his blog about what it was like to be the on-call psychiatrist who evaluated Mark Chapman prior to his admission to Bellevue.

http://shrinkwrapped.blogs.com/blog/2005/12/the_banality_of.html

I guess I must have been one of those weird kids who missed the '60s, even though I was in high school and college at the time-- I never found the Beatles all that interesting. It may have had something to do with taking organ lessons-- after Bach and Buxtehude, pop music just seemed shallow. Enjoyable in its own way, perhaps, but nothing to scan for personal messages or build a life on. Sometimes I think I may have been one of the lucky ones. Thank you again for your reflections-- they always give me something to chew on.

Posted by: Connecticut Yankee at December 8, 2005 4:09 PM

Interesting. I didn't really care then, and certainly don't now, I mean Lennon was old enough to be my dad when he died, so I missed all the hoopla of the 60's--All I ever saw was the debris it left behind, both in my own family and others, and the culture at large, but its always interesting to see how others saw it all.

Posted by: Eric Blair at December 9, 2005 7:25 AM

"Taken large, this was the death of the music in the death of a man in whom we'd invested the music. Taken larger it was the death of the 60s and all that we once "imagined" it meant."

Glib and ridiculous. Reads like something from a newspaper editorial.

John Lennon was a great musician and when pushed by Paul a great lyricist. "Imagine" sounds great until you think about it. Same with his Christmas song.

And, yes, I do know where I was when I heard he was shot. I hated it then and I hate that he's not around now. A quarter-century later, and one wonders what he would have done. But his death was not the end of the '60s any more than Janis Joplins, RFK, MLK, or Jerry Garcia. No one person encapsulates the '60s, and it'll all die away anyway, just as we, too, shall perish.

Posted by: Eric Blair at December 9, 2005 10:12 AM

Jeez. A lot of the comments here are worthless and uninformative. Hey folks, nobody cares if you didn't like Lennon. Living is easy with eyes closed. Go live somewhere else.

I went to school with a girl whose sister went out with Chapman before he lost his bean. Said he was a nice guy. Male schizos typically lose touch with reality in their late teens.

"But "permit me voyage" to say that certain times and certain mindsets and certain clusters of belief create a certain atmosphere in which lunacy can emerge in the shape of one individual who feels compelled and empowered in his strange way to act by the forces of his time and generation."

It's a seductive pitch. But, those who have dealt up close and personal with schizophrenics know that there really is no rhyme or reason for their actions and it is useless to try to rationalize them in terms of larger forces. It's just a random event, like a hurricane or a tax audit.

Posted by: mojo at December 9, 2005 1:47 PM

Well, Mojo, maybe you've nailed my beef with Lennonites: "Living is easy with eyes closed..." you quote, as if indicting us with blindness in comparison to Lennon's vast vision...

But in MY experience, people who over-program their experience trying to hold on to their self-chosen blindnesses with selective eye-closings, HAVE SEVERE TESTS on occasions, precisely BECAUSE they are trying to shelter a dysfunction, trying to hold to a non-working description of reality.

Reality has a habit of yelling 'Look out!' at the eye-closed among us, and if we really DO have eyes closed, we get hit with a bucket of sh*t, having closed our eyes!

Musician? Yes. Formative? Creative? Yes. Overblown and idealized by his Imagineers? That, too.

Posted by: Karridine at December 10, 2005 1:22 AM

As always a well-written and thought-provoking piece. Gerard has a personal stake in the anniversary of Lennon's murder that I do not share, so he gets a pass and an out for what seems a bit of an overreach. What is a moving and deeply touching experience for some (the lyrics to a pop song, or a remembered kiss from a hopeful date) can mean nothing to someone else. I have my own list of people and events that hold a special place in my heart as well, but each is personalized and customized to my persona.

The whole sixties swirl is a time best forgotten for many reasons, but the people who help us through turbulence are important for just that.

Dan

Posted by: Dan Patterson at December 10, 2005 8:46 AM

I'm with Eric Blair a few comments up. He was old enough to be my father. Nice pop music, but his death was no more important to me than, say, Freddie Prinze' suicide.
John Belushi's death in '82 is a better marker for the end of the 60's. Drugs like heroin & coke went from being a pretty normal experience of young adulthood to very, very bad almost overnight. 1982 was also the years that HIV was clinically identified and named.

Posted by: Terry at December 11, 2005 2:40 AM

I, too, agree with Mr. Blair and others who are somewhat nonplussed at the angst still churning away in the hearts and minds of the above commenters who actually consider the late Mr. Lennon some type of artist -- or even worse -- a prophet. Those of you who still suffer profound emotional distress at the untimely demise of Mr. Lennon will no doubt be equally distressed when -- and if -- you ever reach puberty.

Posted by: greg at December 12, 2005 9:26 AM

I have no doubt that John Lennon would be revolted by Gerard and his politics.

Posted by: Nigel at December 12, 2005 12:19 PM

I am not against being immersed in the death of Lennon as an icon of the Sixties, or something like that.
I just don't get it.
I have a fondness for the Sixties--the part I didn't get, as many have a fondness for the Christmas ideal we didn't and won't get--but Lennon...?
I was on campus in the Sixties, until I was in the Army beginning in Feb of 69. I had planned on enlisting, which set me apart from some of the other folks.
I was there but not of.
I kind of liked the early Beatles for jumping around at parties, but the Lettermen promoted close and slow dancing which was superior in every sense. An oldie station which happens to run a Lettemen song will take me back. Not the Beatles.
The later Beatles, with their trips to India and all the other New Age nonsense struck me as being over their heads or poseurs. In any event, their music was boring.

The proper breakfast for a Sixties morning was a tumbler of vodka and a dish of jalapeno peppers. I don't miss it, and wouldn't if I still had my two thyroids and competition level conditioning going for me. It was sound and fury signifying a stunning loss in the Cold War, a betrayal of allies, and claiming the bragging rights for a sexual revolution which had started a decade earlier.
Otherwise, little to praise.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at December 12, 2005 1:19 PM

Dear Greg,
That assumes you understand my politics and that Lennon would. I also assumes Lennon's politics would be the same in 2005 as they were at the time of his death.

You assume a lot.

Posted by: Gerard Van Der Leun at December 13, 2005 4:19 PM

He was born October 9, not October 30. Other than that, I loved it. Beautifully written.

Posted by: Jax at October 30, 2006 3:07 PM

The generation that came of age in the 60s was in a way the soul of the daemonic in nature gone berserk. It was a culmination of forces in western civilization beginning with the existential dichotomy that was the heritage of Christianity that a reality of perfection to which he "longs" to reach exists separate from man's mundane existence. This is analogous to the Jews being "brought out" of bondage in Egypt to a land flowing with milk and honey. The drug culture promised a key to immediate passage to blissful union with absolute reality. Of course, this is all a kind of insanity because whatever perfection exists in the cosmos is with us always and it merely remains for us to recognize it. So, yes, "we" are culpable for this murder because "we" bought into, as a generation, and gladly promulgated, the lies that support the insanity that was then and is now. And this is why "we", as a society, are so inept at dealing with the current crisis that faces civilization. For Islam too participates in this same schizophrenia only more so.

Posted by: John Hinds at December 8, 2006 4:00 PM

A moving piece.

Posted by: grow-a-brain at December 9, 2006 11:30 PM

1980 was not early for a fax, considering that the basic form of the fax was invented in Scotland around 1840[sic].

Posted by: ossian at December 15, 2006 6:22 PM

Imagine - biggs

Posted by: josh at January 9, 2007 10:31 AM

I too remember the 60's. During that decade I served two tours in Vietnam. I only imagined surviving.

The enemy (then) was using live ammo and while my aircraft was hit I survived spending 5 to 7 years in the Hanoi Hilton.

Screw Lennon -- he never imagined what hell is really all about! May he be reunited with his Mommy.

Posted by: ChiefTestPilot at December 8, 2007 5:11 PM

Gerard--

First off; well done.

The Xerox Telecopier, AKA the "mojo wire", was mentioned by Hunter Thompson wrt to various editorial communications pertaining to his "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" series, which first appeared in Rolling Stone magazine in 1971. You certainly were corralling faxes in 1980.

Ken Kesey wrote an excellent essay regarding Lennon's assassination (which I've recorded readings of, twice) which explores a theme very similar to your sweeping indictment of generational complicity. Found in his collection entitled "Demon Box".

We -- and by this I mean the pig-in-a-python bulge of the baby boom cohort -- made Lennon a target. By his work as an artist, and his subsequent pacifist activism, he compelled our attention. Whether some of your readers shared that compulsion is rather irrelevant; the Beatles dramatically transformed the cultural consensus at a time of unprecedented ferment, and Lennon himself personified the fiercely uncompromising standard-bearer for principled personal political commitment. If someone didn't "get it", they weren't paying attention at a time when attention was becoming the most significant agent of disequilibrium in a disruptive era. I'm not particularly impressed by their cognitive ineptitude, frankly.

Not to argue that the "60s" (by which we mostly mean the 70s) were an unalloyed good. In truth, the largest generation in the history of mankind achieved its emancipation during a narrow window when pregnancy could be prevented with a pill, abortion was without legal consequence, and every known STD could be cured with antibiotics. The convulsions of that era were largely a massive temper tantrum.

A great deal of good came from it. In particular, activism in the domain of civil rights, and the strengthening of rights generally, but especially with respect to freedom of expression and personal sovereignty, were massively benignant. Of course a lot of silly self-important horseshit was contravened in the process, and we're still trying to find that pony.

So it is not surprising that when an attention-deprived psychotic took it into his damaged cortex to lash out at a society he could not participate in, he should choose Lennon as its avatar. As a generation, we'd already done the heavy lifting; all Chapman had to do was pull the trigger.

Thank you for remembering, and sharing, your window on what was inarguably an epic tragedy. He was neither a martyr nor a saint. He was one of us, warts and all, and his senseless destruction taught an important lesson to every one of us who believed that "nothin's gonna change my world". A lesson we must revisit, apparently, every few years.

Best regards,

--Ax

Posted by: Alan Chamberlain at December 9, 2007 9:54 PM

Age fourteen is the last time in your life when you're glad the phone is for you.
It's also the last time in your life that you should be wasting your time listening to rock music.

Posted by: Voton at December 18, 2007 2:51 PM

We did not kill John Lennon. That horrid witch Yoko Ono did the deed.

I first saw a class 3 fax around 1980. I was working for a big corporation that had a room full of telex machines and operators. The fax was a clear signal of the intrusion of the future, but they were still quite rare for a few years after that.

Posted by: Fat Man at December 8, 2008 8:33 PM

I have worked behind perhaps 100 celebrity musicians and singers in Las Vegas. Lennon was not one of them; but I went to a small casino to cash a check between shows and walked by Lennon sitting at a slot in a foyer. I stopped for a moment and questioned myself, because if Elvis ever did that there would have been a mob.

But Lennon, to his credit, did not present any of the vibe that gives people the courage to even gawk. I never saw that before or since in a mega-star.
That is why he felt free to live without an entourage and walk alone.

I am sure he was a very strange man, but I admire him greatly for that.

Posted by: james wilson at December 8, 2008 8:33 PM

Thanks for the write-up, moving and useful. That basketball kid should be grown up; How is that kid now?

Do you still get jobs as gifts? Do you give jobs as gifts? I've never had either experience. They probably gave you the job because you were the best for it and they trusted you.

Posted by: Fred2 at December 9, 2008 6:21 AM

Nice personal story, Gerard. The range of commentary is extremely interesting. So many years have past, yet the resentment for counterculture then or one's hazy recollection of it now, bubbles to the surface upon mention of Mr. Lennon. Looking back it seems so black and white, yet it is no different with today's "icons". The times, they aren't a changin'.

Posted by: Phils57 at December 9, 2008 8:47 AM

Great post. I'm adding it to my scrapbook. Thanks for reposting. I don't think we do enough of that.

(Incidentally, the link to Pink Floyd lyrics no longer finds the mark. No big problem, but I know you're a stickler for details and might want to know.)

Posted by: John Ballard at December 11, 2008 5:53 AM

My infatuation with Lennon the man has waned over the years, but the night he was shot never dims. I picked up cigarettes again after 4 years, dropped out of Emory Law School (I was mulling whether to return after winter break), and went despondent for a year. Strange how we each remember that time. Well spoke, Gerard, well spoke.

Posted by: Velociman at December 12, 2008 5:18 PM

"Taken larger it was the death of the 60s and all that we once "imagined" it meant."

Truly, a beautifully written piece, Gerard.

I would only point out that the 60s only appeared to die and that the ideals for which they stood--what it 'meant'--are alive and kicking in the White House. It was only our imagination.

Posted by: ahem at December 8, 2009 6:05 AM

Not on the topic of Lennon but on Fax machines:

In a prior life, I worked for an insurance agency after college, in the 80's. Started in 81. No computers yet; (ah, the yoot of today will never experience the constant clakety clack white noise of IBM Selectrics in the background); a primitive and very slow copier; and certainly no fax machines. Anywhere.

My boss at the time, who was into the latest techie toys, installed a fax machine a few years later. Maybe 1983? 84? The only other business in town that had one, was a car dealership client. I snorted and sneered. "All this money, so that ONE client - the Olds dealer, and us can send letters back and forth over the phone lines, that get all blurry and messed up anyway. Just to save ONE day in delivery time. Sheesh. Like THIS expensive curiosity will ever catch on."

I am probably descended from people who thought horse-less carriages would also be a passing fad.

Mr. forward thinking - that's me.

Back to Lennon - Starting junior high in 1970 and getting out of college in 1980 - I was never that into the Beatles, or the sixties culture. Being a post-Viet Nam, class of '76, child of the Disco Era. Saturday Night Fever was about my Boomer "subset." We post-war boomers had and have a different cultural mindset than our elders who lived through it.

To wit: I'm not that proud to say it, but I'll say it anyway - I was more moved by Maurice Gibb's untimely death than by Lennon's.

Posted by: southernjames at December 8, 2009 6:14 AM

Mine will be the discordant note, I suppose. No offense intended to Gerard or anyone else here, but my take was very different. If you think I'm an a$$hole for it, so be it. Here goes.

When John was murdered, I was at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, toiling away as a lieutenant in the Army, just coming off another training exercise, trying to make sure my troops got ready for another bleepin' inspection. In Jimmy Carter's Army, which it would still be for another month and a half, with Reagan having been elected but not yet inaugurated, that meant covering shortages of all kinds with reams of paperwork. And not a word processor in sight. Oh joy. No fax machines either. My unit had spent the entire summer dealing with the Mariel Boatlift refugees, and now we were getting hammered with all the training that we missed. Smiles and good moods were hard to find.

When "Beatlemania" first landed on our shores and infected most of the kids I knew, I discovered that I had a natural immunity to it. I just didn't see what the fuss was about. So, upon hearing the news of the murder, I felt a twinge of sadness that a well-known entertainer had been gunned down by an apparent (later confirmed) whackjob. But that's about it. I certainly felt no grief for the passing of the era he represented.

Although already a young teen when the '60s ended, a bit too young to fully participate, but old enough to understand much of what was happening, I still never drank the Kool-Aid. In fact, I loathed much of what that decade stood for, especially what became known as the counterculture. I cheered for the police in Chicago (yes, I watched the Democratic convention at age 12; what a nerd I was), found the films of Woodstock nauseating, thought the Ohio National Guard should have spent more time at the range before they went to Kent State, and hoped an American bomb would find Hanoi Jane when was shilling for commies up in the North.

And I then chose to serve my country, at a time when this was not such a popular thing to do (there were only three other lieutenants commissioned in my ROTC graduating class at my mid-sized state university). So the death of someone who was known to me as a pie-in-the-sky pacifist who most likely would have detested everything I had sworn to defend was not something that I spent much time thinking about.

These days, I have a fair appreciation for Lennon's music, and have long since learned that his views were perhaps not as simplistic and diametrically opposed to mine as I thought them to be in 1980. But we're still reaping the whirlwind from the 1960s, and I feel no nostalgia whatsoever for that period.

Posted by: waltj at December 8, 2009 8:09 AM

I have nothing to add except to say that a few days ago I acquired a copy of the newly remastered "mono box," which has the Beatles' first 10 albums and all of the singles in glorious mono, just the way the Man on the Flaming Pie intended.

Interestingly, although most people have never heard these mixes (except for the first four albums), they were the ones approved by the Beatles. The stereo ones were considered novelties, and were completed days or weeks later, with no input from the Four. As such, there are some significant and many subtle differences, which make it interesting to hear the songs in a new way after all these years. For example, A Day in the Life is much more gripping with John's voice hovering in the center of the soundstage instead of emanating from the left speaker.

While the mono masters lose some of the inner detail of the stereo, they are much more powerful. Plus, they actually sound like a band instead of a studio creation. Especially powerful in the car. Some of the tracks you might think of as "arty," are much more rocking in mono -- e.g., Rain, Glass Onion, Tomorrow Never Knows.

Forget the connection to the '60s -- as Lennon himself said, "nothing changed except that we all dressed up a bit." Forget the obvious character flaws as well. The man was an Artist, both in conception and performance.

Posted by: Gagdad Bob at December 8, 2009 9:44 AM

My recollection was watching Monday Night Football when Howard Cosell announced John's murder. All I could think of was the numerous times (before the Beatles ever existed)I had passed the Dakota walking with my older brother (who by the way, became a murder victim) on our way to the Museum of Natural History and Hayden Planetarium. I used to remark to my broter, "what was a castle doing in NYC?" Both men were peaceful, passive, artist/intellectuals. While I still feel the hurt, I do not miss the 60s. I only miss the music. Like most social movements, it became politicized and ended up polarizing the nation even more. We are stll feeling the effects today. The Dems are the hippies and Repubs are the so-called silent majority, or fly-over nation, to coin a phrase - you have your choice. As for John, his best music by far came during his collaboration with McCartney. As a lifelong musician I have had this argument with my friends and collegues for years. In all honesty John was an extraordinary songwriter but needed other people such as Paul and George Martin to flesh out his work. He was a mediocre guitarist technically but knew how to get the most from the instrument given his talent. He is still missed in fact I watched A Hard Day's Night on the tele a few days back. What a bunch of lovable kids they were. That's how I like to remember John. A witty, funny, working musician.

Posted by: Pickett at December 8, 2009 10:45 AM

Well written as always Gerard.

We were in Japan visiting our friends in the Navy. We were huddled around their little table with a heater under it. The only heat in their WWII era apartment.

On armed forces radio was Howard Cosell doing the play by play for Monday night Football when he announced the shooting.

That very day we had been in a large Japanese department store looking a John Lennon albums. What I remember about that were the 4 or 5 store employees that wore white gloves as they handled the albums.

Can't wait for your autobiography to come out Gerald. You have led a interesting life.

Keep em coming..

Your friend in the PNW.

Posted by: DanO at December 8, 2009 11:56 AM

"But "permit me voyage" to say that certain times and certain mindsets and certain clusters of belief create a certain atmosphere in which lunacy can emerge in the shape of one individual who feels compelled and empowered in his strange way to act by the forces of his time and generation."
Gerard- excellent point. One only has to read a few of Dostoevsky's novels;e.g. Crime and Punishment, The Possessed, to understand the above.

Posted by: ken bc at December 8, 2009 12:44 PM

Vanderleun, now I understand you better. You were one of those swept up in the leftish delusions of the '60s. It explains the weakness of mind that allows you to be swept up in the rightish delusions of the '00s.

Show me someone who doesn't swish from extreme to extreme and I'll show you someone who can be trusted.

Posted by: Larson at December 8, 2009 6:43 PM

I prefer to think that once I was wrong but now I am right.

Posted by: vanderleun at December 8, 2009 6:47 PM

That much is obvious.

Posted by: Larson at December 8, 2009 6:49 PM

And it has the added benefit of being true.

Posted by: vanderleun at December 8, 2009 7:06 PM

waltj, if you're an a$$hole, so am I. But I could never write it as well as you.

Posted by: Bill at December 8, 2009 9:43 PM

Liverpool was a strange and quiet place that day.

Posted by: Thud at December 8, 2009 10:59 PM

You're pretty damn good at the retorts, too, Gerard. I likes dat!

These comments, spanning five years, are fascinating and probably worthy of their own examination, I suspect. Your POST A COMMENT quote, "It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood," stands out even more for me after reading the comments.

They reiterate that there are so many segments in our nation who necessarily come at our shared moments so uniquely. I'm thinking particularly of -- for example -- the country music fan circa December 1980, or the culture that created the Delta Blues. What did the senseless killing of John Lennon mean to them back then? Now?

Your piece cut through my curiosity (I've never quite known what to think of John Lennon or the Beatles) and serves as a pole star; I now know something of what his death meant, and means, to you. It makes the power of your piece, Gerard, all the more powerful and accounts for much of the visceral reaction. Good writing does that.

Thank you.

Posted by: RattlerGator at December 9, 2009 2:55 AM

Deal. You're out. Even if you are old enough to remember it, you're too much of a kid.

Posted by: vanderleun at December 9, 2009 2:59 PM

Thanks for sharing that painful memory. I will never forget that particular Monday night. I'm 57 years old now and the Beatles meant so very much to me and so many others of our generation. When Hendrix died, I shed a few tears. When Lowell George died, I was saddened, but his death was a long time coming. When John Lennon was murdered, I broke down and wept at our loss. He had the ability to cut through all of the bullsh*t.

Posted by: GeneralMalaise at December 9, 2009 6:45 PM

Oh let's give the fax machine another whack shall we......I had a summer job in the network sales office of a TV station in the mid-70's, and we had a fax machine to communicate with NYC. It had a large drum around which you wrapped your document, a viewing window to watch the drum go round and round, and a cradle for the telephone receiver which relayed the information. And it took about 10 minutes per page to transmit and the incoming result looked rather primitive, the printed page equivalent of the Pong computer game. Lawyers in NYC would most certainly have had them.

From wikipedia:
Prior to the introduction of the ubiquitous fax machine, one of the first being the Exxon Qwip[3] in the mid-1970s, facsimile machines worked by optical scanning of a document or drawing spinning on a drum. The reflected light, varying in intensity according to the light and dark areas of the document, was focused on a photocell so that the current in a circuit would vary with the amount of light. This current was used to control a tone generator (a modulator), the current determining the frequency of the tone produced. This audio tone was then transmitted using an acoustic coupler (a speaker, in this case) attached to the microphone of a common telephone handset. At the receiving end, a handset’s speaker was attached to an acoustic coupler (a microphone), and a demodulator converted the varying tone into a variable current which controlled the mechanical movement of a pen or pencil to reproduce the image on a blank sheet of paper on an identical drum rotating at the same rate.[4] A pair of these expensive and bulky machines could only be afforded by companies with a serious need to communicate drawings, design sketches or signed documents between distant locations, such as an office and factory.

Posted by: Boots at December 9, 2009 10:42 PM

Boots, if I remember correctly, those early fax machines also used special thermal paper on the receiving end, which was costly, faded quickly, and available only at well-stocked office supply stores. My Army unit first got one in 1982. Since I was an officer, I wasn't allowed to touch it: "Sir, you better let me fax that for you. It's pretty temperamental and you don't use it every day. I do." Sure, Sarge, knock yourself out. He was right, though. I did have to use it a few times without any NCO supervision, and it was a real pain in the ass if you didn't line up the paper exactly right or it slipped off the drum.

Posted by: waltj at December 10, 2009 6:56 AM

Thanks for reposting this, Gerard. It's always interesting to read about a moment in history by someone who was actually there.

I was only 22 in 1980, but I was much more interested in 60s music than the music that was contemporary at the time.

As other commenters have alluded, whether the Sixties ended in 1970 (Kent State, Janis, Jimi), 1980 (John), or 1995 (Jerry), we do seem to be living through the Zombie Sixties now.

Posted by: rickl at December 12, 2009 7:50 AM

Everyone loves the mop-top, "Money That's What I Want" yeah-yeah-yeah Beatles. But only an adolescent (or an adult with an adolescent mind) could like the self-absorbed, LSD-fueled, revolutionary Mustache Beatles.

Lennon's death upset me greatly. I was 15 at the time. I got better.

Posted by: B Lewis at December 8, 2011 9:18 PM

Chapman did more for music with a gun than Lennon ever did with the yowling.

Posted by: Vermont Woodchuck at December 8, 2013 2:22 PM

Upchuck, Lennon was an old fashioned musician who didn't feel the need to move with the times. Gilbert and Sullivan would have had him over for tea.

Posted by: james wilson at December 8, 2013 3:35 PM

I was one year out of high school when the Beatles first hit took the U.S. I certainly was of their era, all of it. To me about half their songs were good and about half were more about their politics or beliefs set to music and were mediocre. They may well be the best group ever but for me not so much. By the time Lennon died they were all painfully past their prime. The only reason Lenno lived in NY City was to avoid paying taxes to England but while sitting on his hundreds of millions he preached about everyone else being too greedy. His wife was/is a nut case, a rich nut case but a nutcase never the less. I suspect the worst doctor or nurse did more for humanity then any or all of the Beatles ever did. So what's with the reverence?

Posted by: GoneWithTheWind at December 8, 2013 4:22 PM

Sorry, John Lennon's death was no particular loss to culture. In fact him not being around spared us endless calls for the Beatles to reunite and the increasing likelihood of it happening. Lennon was a capable musician, and that's pretty much it.

Posted by: Christopher Taylor at December 8, 2013 5:22 PM

Oh yes Chris and not at all influential in life or work, right?

Posted by: vanderleun at December 8, 2013 5:57 PM

Mega stars are attention whores and are unnerved if people are not paying them attention. Lennon was quite the opposite. He wore the body language of an introvert well, and I had to stop and look twice to see that it was Lennon sitting at a stool in a lobby one day. I left him be as did everyone else. I'd be surprised if he cared that people were much affected by what he did or in what way, which is exactly how I feel about artist.

John Hinckley is a narcissistic punk. I wouldn't give him credit if he shot The One.

Writing a memorable melody is the rarest thing to be had in the art of music, and Lennon was one of a handful who could do it and do it often.

Posted by: james wilson at December 8, 2013 6:50 PM

I'm with Gerard, John left a very real legacy. He may have sung for himself,but we were all affected.

Posted by: edaddy at December 8, 2013 7:14 PM

Interesting how our personal views & politics evolve/devolve over time. Others have made my points as well as I could, so I'll just say "Thanks, Gerard!" Well said and well written, as always.

Posted by: SteveS at December 8, 2013 8:22 PM

I think the legacy and influence of the Beatles on music is extremely overstated by their generation. They were a very good pop band. Most of their stuff was basic boy band pop, some of it was quite good. But as musicians and writers, they weren't particularly enduring, and I suspect once the boomers die off, the Beatles will fade into history.

Posted by: Christopher Taylor at December 8, 2013 8:29 PM

By the time he was shot, the Beatles no longer existed, so the impact of his death was lessened. If only Jimi Hendrix had not died! I have always wondered what he would have done to top the songs he performed at Woodstock.

In my lifetime there have only been two extraordinary events in music history. Elvis and the Beatles and nothing since

Posted by: bgarrett at December 9, 2013 7:32 AM

Really Nice piece. I can't imagine how significant that event would have been to those within his circle. I think of Harry Nilsson and others who almost seem like they never recovered from it. I wrote about my own experiences of the event from the perspective of an 11 year old http://www.dogsoverlava.com/?p=341 -- it certainly changed me and stays with me today - especially as I am now 44 -- older than John was when he passed.

Posted by: Robert at December 15, 2013 12:52 AM

The 10 years of comments are almost more interesting than the original piece. This is an interesting exercise revisiting these.

Posted by: Eric Blair at December 8, 2014 7:31 PM

We were in the local neighborhood watering hole when the news came in. This guy comes in all weepy, sits down. "the hell's a-matter with you?" asks Herbie, bartender, WWII vet, bookie, cat-lover...the guy explains. Herbie rolls his eyes, shrugs and walks off. The patrons on that corner of the bar became violently animated, laying into him like nothing I'd seen in recent memory. "That fuggin' communist bastard, him and his crazy ass wife..." It was awful. I never saw him come in again.

Posted by: Will at December 9, 2014 8:49 AM

He's no better dead than he was alive.
Well, maybe. We don't have to give peace any more effing chances.

Posted by: chasmatic at December 10, 2014 7:22 AM

Personality is everything in art and poetry.~ Goethe

I like that you are willing to share yours.


Posted by: DeAnn at December 10, 2014 3:45 PM