Thursday, December 08, 2016

Lennon Slain - 36 Years Ago

On December 8, 1980, I was 11 years old. I also had a paper route with the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. As such, I had to wake up bloody early in the morning. The 9th that year was a Tuesday morning. Thus, the night John Lennon was murdered, I went to bed early (on time), so that I could ride my beach cruiser and deliver papers before I headed off to 6th grade and still be somewhat attentive. My morning ritual as an 11-year-old boy was always the same: go straight out to the very end of the driveway where it met the black asphalt and grab the large bundles of unfolded papers that were bound by a thick plastic band. I would carry those into our garage, the old-school kind that wasn't attached to the house. It was an awesome garage, right next to the washing machine, we had a large basin sink, and next to the sink we had a shelf that housed my radio, something larger than a small transistor radio, but smaller than a stereotypical 80s boombox. I would plop the papers on the floor, and promptly turn the radio on. It was always tuned to 94.7 FM KMET. It was there, in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, December 9, 1980, with my back leaning against the cold metal of the washing machine, and my butt sitting on the even colder hard concrete floor, with my hands just beginning to turn black from the ink, that I first heard the news that John Lennon was dead. He was gunned down the night before. You need to know that this isn't hindsight nostalgia. Quite the contrary, no, this was the end of the world for a kid who, on that morning, had the walls of his room decorated with multiple posters of The Beatles and the four (then cardstock) photos that came from inside The Beatles White Album. I owned Beatles buttons that I would routinely pin to my jacket or backpack. This was a kid that had already bought the cassette version of Double Fantasy prior to its post-death popularity of 1981. Before the horrible shooting, I had been acutely aware that I was blessed to be living in a time where two of The Beatles had songs out. Heck, I was even in the fanboy mindset that Paul McCartney’s “Coming Up” and Lennon’s “(Just Like) Starting Over” were better songs than what were likely much more quality hits from the likes of Queen, Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson, Blondie, and even Bruce Springsteen that year! You must remember that, in December of 1980, Reagan had not yet even taken office, and, especially with the exuberant hope of an idea like starting over, this then-11-year-old, was still operating within the mindset that full-fledged Beatles reunion was still possible. I mean Ringo Starr and George Harrison were still putting out records too, not that year, but they were active, Harrison’s “Blow Away” from the previous year was a fantastic song. Yep, I was certain that the Fab Four would one day make new music together. But, that morning, as KMET informed me, a deranged gunman ended all that. Born in 1969, I had only heard the history of atrocities like the slaying of JFK in ‘63 as well as MLK and RFK in ‘68. However, I had not lived through them. Until now. In 1979 two things happened that profoundly shaped me. First, in July, at a Jimmy Buffett concert, I had my first exposure to drugs. That wouldn’t have been a big deal, except that it was my father smoking marijuana in the seat next to me. I was confused, mom said drugs were bad, my dad used them. Which was it? Second, one night at a drive-in movie theater, during a double feature of The Eyes of Laura Mars and Alien, my dad exposed me to one of his adulterous affairs for the first time. While he was enjoying himself in the backseat, I was left to contend with the betrayal of the woman I had accepted as a second mother, all on my own. Sworn to silence on both incidents, to borrow from a Kink’s song from 1983: I was in a state of confusion. So, as silly as it may sound to some readers, that cold December morning, sitting there all alone, hearing back-to-back Lennon records on The Mighty Met, had a profound impact on me. The manner in which the author of Give Peace a Chance had been taken out, said something about the world I was inhabiting. Heroes, in the case of my father, were incredibly flawed. Heroes, in the case of John Lennon, were vulnerable. The DJ’s announcement that Lennon was dead was the final nail in the coffin that contained my innocence.

"Should feel happy, should feel glad.
I'm alive and it can't be bad,
But back on planet Earth they shatter the illusion,
The world's going 'round in a state of confusion."
--Ray Davies