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Thursday, December 08, 2005

I heard it from Cosell

I broke up with my girlfriend at the time on December 1, 1980, a breakup full of drama. I’m not at all sure I would have remembered the date except what happened subsequently.

It’s not that she FORBADE me from watching Monday Night football, but it wasn’t something she liked to do, so I tended not to watch it that often. But with her gone, I practically HAD to watch MNF, just as I had to leave the dishes in the sink for HOURS before washing them, playing music that she hated, and so on.

So, it was in the throes of glorious "I’m watching football at 11 o’clock and you can’t say a damn thing about it" when I hear Howard Cosell announce that John Lennon had been shot and killed. Almost immediately, I flip on my radio station of choice, Q104, to hear what they had to say. The information, now well-documented, came out in dribs and drabs, as breaking stories usually do.

I had to call my friend Karen. Karen was/is my oldest friend, who I’ve known since kindergarten. She was a greater Beatleologist than I was. In sixth grade, she wrote a short story in our newsletter about meeting the Beatles which was very good, and not just by sixth grade standards. She’d been in the music industry ever since, from working in a record store to working for various record labels. She was thrilled that she would be promoting Double Fantasy, the new Lennon/Ono album that had been out for only a few weeks. But her line was busy.

I called my ex-girlfriend and told her the news, which she appreciated.

Periodically, I’d call Karen, while listening to the radio, but her line was still engaged. Finally at 2 a.m., I reached her. She heard my voice and just cried for ten minutes, then told me she’d call me back soon.

That morning, I went to the record store (Just a Song or Strawberry’s) to buy Double Fantasy, but there wasn’t a copy to be had. So I bought Rock ‘N’ Roll.

The following Sunday, Yoko requested 10 minutes of reflection at 2 p.m. The store I worked in, FantaCo, locked the door for those 10 aching minutes; a couple of the old-time customers who were Beatles/Lennon fans opted to be locked in as well.

That month, and indeed for several months thereafter, there were certain songs that were just too difficult to listen to. One was "(Just Like) Starting Over", the first single from the album that was rendered just too painfully ironic. The other was the song of the season, "Merry Xmas (War Is Over)". Whatever his failings, John was working for peace. In fact, it was rumored that in 1981, he would be working on the anti-nuke campaign. So his shooting death made the song unlistenable for a good long while.

The sudden deaths of people we don’t even know can have profound impact on most of us, different from the deaths we expected. We still can be surprised somehow by anticipated deaths, people slowly going into decline, and of course, we still grieve. But quick and violent deaths of people one has come to admire (for me, Lennon, ML King, JFK) always made me feel unsettled, as though life were just a random crapshoot.

As I indicated here, I had a great identification with John Lennon, more so than the other Beatles, more so than just about anyone that I did not know personally. So it wasn't just the death of an icon, or the end of my youth, or other such analyses that I read at the time. It ws as though a little of my own identity died.

There's a commorative publication that LIFE magazine put out recently of pictures throughout John Lennon's life, that I saw at the local drugstore rthis week. Many of the photos I had seen, but a few I had not. It was $10.95, and I almost bought it. But I really didn't need the reminder. Twenty-five years ago; I remember it as though it were 25 days ago.
Friend Fred, who was living just across the river from me at the time, also remembers.

Lennon covers to aid Amnesty International.

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