It was twenty years ago today when I was at the end of my well established getting ready for bed on a school night routine. My mom and I were watching Johnny Carson's "Best of Carson" monologue when NBC News broke in with a bulletin that John Lennon had been murdered. A feeling of loss like I'd never felt before welled up inside. I was sad at the world losing a great artist. I was even sadder having read many recent articles on John's musical return, how he had finally been able to find some inner peace against the demons that he had so courageously always shared in his music. It seemed doubly tragic that just as he found that peace somebody took his life away.
John and Yoko had newly released their first LP in five years, Double Fantasy (which I dutifully went out and purchased on its day of release). Listening to the LP today is a bittersweet experience- the music is happy and free, laying the foundation to a new beginning. John had taken time off to raise their son Sean, and his return to music making was much appreciated by a fairly new Beatlemaniac. I had become a Beatles fan two years earlier in eighth grade band. Our director, the sleepy eyed Mr. Kelly had us perform a medley of Beatles songs, "Michelle," "Eleanor Rigby," and "Yesterday." My new best friend Steve Olson and I soon began to collect all things Beatles. When I fell head over heals in love with our first clarinetist Susan Weiss, it was the Beatles' songs that walked me through the incredibly wondrous inspiration inside, and the eventual heartache of seeing her hold hands with another.
Steve and I always used to argue which one of us in our friendship was Paul and which one was John. We both wanted to be Paul because who wanted to be the "weird" one? At that stage of my life I would never have forced "Revolution #9" on my fans. And what was the deal of appearing nude with Yoko on the cover of Two Virgins? I loved John's cockiness and sense of humor but Paul's charming accessible appeal seemed quite the ideal for an increasingly depressed adolescent trying to find his way through the hallways of junior high and high school.
My most Lennonesque moment came on a bus ride home from a band field trip at the end of ninth grade. It was a dark and stormy night and we had just delivered a perfunctory performance of our unique reading of Dvorak's New World Symphony at another school. I don't exactly know what came over me that night, maybe the giddiness of performing, maybe the fear of knowing that Steve and possibly Susan (who lived on the border) were going to the "other" high school in our district, the dreaded and hated Alexander Ramsey Senior High, rather than my proud alma mater, Frank B. Kellogg. How was I possibly to survive without my partner in crime, the guy who understood my sense of humor and point of view better than anyone else ever had? How was I going to live without the girl who made my heart beohyoingoyng like it never had before? So I began to sing every Beatles song I knew (and I knew them all) not quietly either, but at the top of my lungs with my voice cracking quite audibly on the upper notes of my register. Call it a spontaneous primal scream therapy session. Steve soon joined me and Susan couldn't hide her amusement at our performance. Some of our bandmates on the bus joined in on the songs they knew. Others seemed more than a tad bit upset at our impromptu concert (especially that evil french horn player Janice Kinney who had always thought I was a bit immature).
This was before I knew of John's own cleansing therapeutic scream LP, his self titled album that followed the Beatles breakup. It remains perhaps the most emotionally devastating music I've ever heard (and respect). The LP is a harrowing listening experience- as John tears up his past, everything that's hurt him and everything that has made him who he is- from his mother's death to Elvis and Dylan to the Beatles. He spares nothing and no one, certainly not his fans. Painful in its vulnerable self expression and heart bare sparse backing, an elegiac musical pall is cast. The naked vocal performance on the LP is astounding. Ranging from a near whisper, to an agonizing howl, to the stark confessional cathartic cry in "God" it is a stunning oral tour de force.
Perhaps John's most endearing quality was his nonchalance about making an ass out of himself. If he believed in something whether it be world peace or his love for Yoko, he always took things to their fullest absurdity. With the news of his assassination my mom said she felt sad knowing how deeply John's music had touched me. I tried to say something about his devotion to family. It was that devotion that stirred in me a new found appreciation for my own family. My first nephew Nathan had been born just a few months before and watching the miracle of this newborn child's awareness of the brand new world always tempered my seeping blues. It was an odd (and perhaps indulgent) connection to feel with John but it was one I felt nonetheless. "Before you cross the street/Take my hand/Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans/Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful boy" John once said that unlike his former partner, he himself did not believe in yesterday. Unfortunately all too soon that became all that remains.