A Quintessential Moment: December 8, 1980

Thirty seven years ago at 11:06 pm the phone rang. I heard my mother tell the caller “he’s asleep”.  I knew it was for me.

That entire day felt odd to me. Something weighed upon me. I was sad though I knew not why. I was depressed for no obvious reason. I was worried. I called a local radio station to request they play “I’m Losing You” from the just released Double Fantasy album. They didn’t have it, but offered to play the single  (Just Like) Starting Over. As I listened I heard something previously unnoticed before in all my listens. Well, I’d heard it, but paid it no attention. There’s a momentary fade out near the end of the song before a drum fill brings the music back in. A muffled voice is low in the background. A muffled voice that I heard say “Why did they kill my baby?” It does not say that. In fact, its an announcement in an airport. But, I heard what I heard.

Walking into my mothers dark room announcing I was awake, I picked up the phone sitting atop the television. After a sleepy hello, I recognized the voice on the other end as my brother-by-choice Paul.

There was no one I loved more; no better friend; no one I was closer to. I introduced him to Star Trek. He introduced me to The Beatles. Paul and I have been friends since we were in diapers; literally in diapers.

He forced two words, “John’s dead”.

Certain that I’d heard him wrong, I asked him who was dead.

“John Lennon is dead.”

HIs words reached my ears, but my mind rejected them. I told him “it’s probably just a rumor”.

Six weeks earlier I walked out of my neighborhood to the local shopping center where I bought Johns new single (Just Like) Starting Over.  I remember walking into McCroys in the Rodney Village Shopping Center (now a Goodwill) to see the center display filled with 45s of the first single off the album, (Just Like) Starting Over.  I remember wondering why the photo on the sleeve was in black and white. I remember noticing the Geffen label and wondering why it wasn’t an apple release.  I stared at the sleeve for minutes, turning it over front to back, then pulling this fresh new 45 from its sleeve, reading the title (Just like) Starting Over – John Lennon, turning it to the b-side title “Kiss Kiss Kiss – Yoko Ono”, just admiring what I was about to purchase.  It was my first John Lennon 45 I ever purchased. I played and replayed it again and again.

Less than a month earlier Double Fantasy was released. I returned to that same store to find another center display, but this time it was full of the new album. Again the black and white cover threw me, and I frankly expected it to be a double album. It didn’t matter. John Lennon had a new album out. My favorite Beatle, the guy I read every book on, the icon in my life released a new album. To be able to buy a ‘new’ John Lennon album as it was headed up the billboard charts thrilled me.  Again, it was the first time I’d ever bought a John Lennon album at the time of its release. This meant so many things to me. I could listen to the interviews of him promoting it on the radio. I could experience the songs at the same time other fans were hearing them for the first time. I could listen to them on the radio.  I could watch him on the talk shows promoting the album and maybe he’d perform a song or two live.  I could read the new interviews in the magazines. I could listen to Casey Kasum  say “and coming in at number one this week is  (Just Like) Starting Over” by John Lennon off his brand new album “Double Fantasy”. And maybe, just maybe, oh please, oh please, he would tour.

John Lennon could not be dead. This news could not be true, but I felt Paul’s tears through the phone.

I turned on the television. ABC news anchor Jim Gardner’s words destroyed me by confirming the worst. “The big story tonight on Action News, the world mourns the tragic and senseless death of John Lennon, the former Beatle shot dead outside his Dakota home in New York. Howard Cossell interrupted Monday night football …”

I fell back onto my mothers bed. I have no idea if she offered me some words. I have no idea if she hugged me. I don’t remember. There was nothing else in that moment but Paul and I in numb, silent shock with our shared tears. At some point,  we hung up.

The music of The Beatles inspired me to play guitar. I wanted to sing and write like John Lennon and play bass like Paul McCartney. His solo music like Imagine, Gimme Some Truth, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Woman is the N* of the World, Bring on the Lucie, Only People, along with his interviews helped shape my view of the world. John Lennon wasn’t a celebrity to me. Ok, he was, but he was more a mentor. I am who I am and think like I think today partly because of John Lennon.

Thirty seven years after his death, I still remember the day when the news could not be true.

Remembering John Lennon, still.

This song by Elton John dedicated to John Lennon still brings tears

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