Wednesday, December 08, 2004

It was 24 years ago tomorrow 

Yes, I know today is the 24th anniversary of the day John Lennon was murdered. But it happened long after my eight-year-old self had been put to bed. It was 24 years ago tomorrow that I found out he was dead.

I came downstairs Tuesday morning for breakfast, probably Cocoa Pebbles, or toast with butter and cinnamon sugar. Dad, smoking a Tareyton, asked me if I had heard who died last night. My immediate assumption was that it must be one of the Yankees. The team's captain, catcher Thurman Munson, had died on August 2 of the previous year when the private plane he was flying crashed in Canton, Ohio.

Munson's was the first death of a human being that had any real meaning to me. I was lucky enough to have all four of my grandparents alive until I was 14, and any other deaths among my relatives had taken place before I was born, or when I was too young to remember or understand. When I learned that Munson's plane went down, it was my first real existential moment. I remember relaying the news over the phone to my father, who was at work. At first he thought I was saying that the Yankees' plane had went down, and they were all dead.

So when this news of a famous person's death was thrust upon me on Dec. 9, 1980, I guessed it was a Yankee, until my Dad told me a few seconds later that it was John Lennon of The Beatles.

We had Sgt. Pepper in the house. In fact, we had two copies, because both of my parents had bought the record before they were married to each other. But strangely, the only other Beatles record in the house was the "Eleanor Rigby"/"Yellow Submarine" single. There was also John's Imagine on cassette, and his impenetrable-to-an-eight-year-old Some Time In New York City. That was the extent of my parents' Beatles collection. Yeah, we listened to Elton John, Billy Joel, Simon & Garfunkel, Donna Summer, and Meat Loaf more around the house. But The Beatles were in the family DNA. At least I thought they were, or that they should be. The Beatles were just there, in the air, on the planet, around. Like a force of nature.

I followed the media coverage of the Lennon assassination intensely. For years, I kept The Daily News' pull-out souvenir Lennon section in a bedroom drawer, until it got too tattered. This despite the fact that my own personal Beatlemania didn't blossom in full until 1986, the year I bought my first copies of Abbey Road, Rubber Soul, and Revolver, the year I entered high school.

I mourned Lennon all through high school. Sometimes I still do. Yoko says those who wish to remember John should celebrate his birthday rather than the day he was killed, and I agree with the sentiment; October 9 is a holy day as far as I'm concerned. But every time December 8 rolls around, I get a little misty-eyed and think a lot about a guy I never met, whose best work was done before I was born, and who still, despite all the twists and turns and tumbles the musical journey of my life has taken, remains my favorite singer and my favorite songwriter.

It used to be a tradition that I would spend all day listening to Lennon and Beatle music on both Oct. 9 and Dec. 8. This is no longer strictly the case, but more often than not it still is. Lying in bed trying to fall asleep last night, I decided to utilize my month-old iPod for a new kind of tribute. This morning, I made a playlist called Beatle John, and put every Beatles song that John sings at least part of on the list. I did it quickly, and I didn't check my work, so I probably left a couple out, and included at least one I shouldn't have ("Hold Me Tight"), but I came up with 99 songs. I know I duplicated "If I Fell," which is on both A Hard Day's Night and Something New; I have the U.S. Albums in the library, but not any of the anthologies, or the BBC stuff, or any solo John. Listening to it on random of course led to many great segues. I think my favorite was "Good Morning, Good Morning," with all those barnyard sounds, into "When I Get Home," which of course contains the line "I'm gonna love her till the cows come home."

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