Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I'm not the only one


Imagine there's no heaven.
It's easy if you try.
No hell below us.
Above us, only sky.

Thirty years ago tonight I was out taking pictures of Christmas lights with my friend Roger. I was a junior in high school, Roger was graduating. We both loved cameras, and I loved his best friend who I thought was going to be joining us that night.

Austin was cold, in that good cold way --bundle up, see your breath, spike the hot cocoa with brandy stolen from Roger's parent's liquor cabinet. We were downtown where all the best Christmas lights were. It was only about a week until school let out for winter vacation, and we were already feeling lazy. Still young enough for Christmas to be a shiver-up-the-back morning of surprise and expectation. But old enough to envision of all of the new presents to unwrap when we finally escaped home, and high school, and the youth that we've probably spent most of our lives wishing we appreciated more at the time.

Austin has always been a music town. You can't walk around a corner without tripping over someone playing an acoustic guitar. Even the deepest of dive bars has a decent band. On that night, thirty years ago, Roger and I wondered why all we heard -- from every music joint downtown, from every car stereo driving by -- was a Beatles song.

"Jesus," Roger said, "Which one died?"

"I hope it was Paul," we both said together. And laughed.

We weren't serious. It was just one of those smart-assed things we always said about death. Death wasn't something faraway or unimaginable to our generation. They call us Generation Jones. Sandwiched between the very end of the Boomers and year Gen X was spawned, we were weaned on the Vietnam war. We grew up with nightly news calmly discussing mutual nuclear annihilation. Personally, I'd already seen someone I knew shot dead, and most of my peers had known people who had been taken young. Drugs. Car wrecks. Suicide. I don't remember those years as being carefree as much as being tinged with the possibility of destruction-- which is a kind of fuel for the teenage soul, already well-oiled with drama, and fearlessness, and the ace-up-the-sleeve secret knowledge that somehow you might be immortal, but the rest of the world just hasn't figured it out yet.

When Roger brought me back to my parents' house, he joined me inside for coffee. The family Christmas tree was lit. There were a few embers still struggling to stay alight in the fireplace. My parents were asleep, so when I turned on the stereo-- you remember the kind, one of those massive old pieces of furniture with speakers that took up an entire side of the room -- I made sure to turn it down low. Instant Karma was playing on the radio.

"Are the Beatles getting back together or something?" Roger said.

"I wonder who'll open for the reunion tour," I said.

"Blondie would be cool."

"They're too old to let Blondie open for them," I said.

I don't remember exactly when the DJ mentioned that John Lennon had been killed, but he was crying. It made me think of the TV footage I'd seen of Cronkite crying when Kennedy was shot. Roger and I just looked at each other. The Beatles were not the band of our generation. But they were part of our landscape -- like, well, like the moon, and the stars and the sun. They just were. And now the coolest, the most brilliant, the one we all would have liked to meet most, the one whose lyrics made Day in the Life poetry instead of just pop music, the one who seemed somehow redeemed from his own violent past and wise without being over-the-hill or out of touch, the cosmic, love-in, hippie shaman was dead.

Imagine if he'd have lived.

Imagine how he might have influenced our world.

Imagine.

20 comments:

Judy Williams said...

I too, did a tribute to John today, with one of my crazy edited images. I found this quote by him and really liked it:

"A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality."

To many, he was just a long haired Beatle, to to many more of us, he was a prophet for all time.

Cafe Pasadena said...

30years.

I was a young kiddo back then, & it didn't make sense. Yesterday & Today - still doesn't make sense.

Mister Earl said...

The Beatles changed our world. Picked us up after November 22, 1963. Gave us new hope that stayed and stayed and still stays. Like so many, I heard the news from Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football. I think John gave us his gifts, and I never think of what else he might have given. I'm lucky I had him ...

In My Life

Vanda said...

We're about the same age. The Beatles wasn't exactly my generation, but for some reason I latched onto their music. When Lennon died I was devastated.

Green Guy said...

This is another truly great bit of writing from you.

Beatles were my generation. I was shattered when Lennon was shot.

altadenahiker said...

They were part of our landscape...like the moon and the stars. So true.

Anonymous said...

I remember Cosell's announcement, and it seems like he quoted Dylan's "Forever Young." If so, I can't recall exactly how he related it to Lennon. I know he referenced the lyric to somebody. Incidentally, PBS recently had an interesting documentary--Lennon NYC, I think it was called--which was enlightening regarding his relationship to Yoko.

TheChieftess said...

Wow! An eloquent piece about an eloquent man...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xB4dbdNSXY

Laurie said...

Thanks, Green Guy.

You know, this really was such a defining moment in my life. I kept thinking, why would ANYONE want to shoot John Lennon? It seemed so surreal.

Mister Earl said...

On November 22, 1963, one of the students who worked in the principals office interrupted our sophomore English class to say, "The president's been shot." I was very involved in student government at the time and my first thought was, "Why would anyone shoot George Eisenberg?"

Mister Earl said...

But by 1980, I understood that anyone who was anyone could be a target.

Anonymous said...

I found this off your twitter feed. We're about the same age, and this sums up exactly how I felt too. I was stunned at a time in my life that already felt precarious. I really enjoy your tweets, now I want to explore your blog.

david said...

The Beatles definitely WERE my generation's music. I remember as an 11 year old watching them on Ed Sullivan and hearing my mother and a neighbor commenting, "They're not serious? It's a spoof! They can't be serious.." and on and on. Meanwhile, I'm watching, mesmerized, thinking "WHOA!" A game-changer for me and, as it turned out, the rest of the world.

Thanks for a wonderfully written piece. from a different perspective than mine.

Anonymous said...

I also found this from twitter. I am younger than you, so I don't really remember when John Lennon was killed, but his music and message has influenced my music and the way I live my life. Thank you for a beautiful essay. I really like the way you described him at the end.

San Diego Farmgirl said...

Discussions regarding the possibility that Lennon's killer was a Manchurian Candidate are pretty interesting. Some psychologists who interviewed him from prison seem to think so, plus the spaced out way he behaved right after the murder certainly fit the bill. Crazy to think that's even possible, plus the CIA reportedly had stopped investigating Lennon a few years before the murder, so who knows?
Of course, Lennon could have gone the way of Jane Fonda as he aged and turned Republican, too. ;o)
He was my favorite Beatle, I didn't care much for the Beatles when he died (I was only 10) but since then every Beatles song I've discovered and like was written and/or performed by him. RIP, John!

dbdubya said...

I was not a huge fan of the Beatles when they were together. I came to appreciate their music years later. When Lennon died, I was a patrol sergeant working in South Central Los Angeles. I don't recall how I first heard the news. It may have been over the police radio, or while in the station. I drove to fraternity row near USC and someone had painted a tribute to John Lennon in the middle of the intersection of 28th and University. That's when I began to realize the magnitude of his death.

Dixie Jane said...

I was privileged to see the John Lennon documentary in its entirety this week. I learned a lot of things I didn't know about him and also his relationship with Yoko. I didn't realize that she had had many miscarriages before giving birth to Sean. And what a father John was to Sean! John and Yoko had reached the epitome of happiness. Then it was all taken away. I was not of his generation but I have come to love his music more and more. And the summation of the documentary had him saying, "All We Need is Love" and he really meant it.I

TheChieftess said...

When they first became popular, I was in elementary school...about the 5th grade or so...I didn't like them, (I Wanna Hold Your Hand) but pretended that I did to my friends...and of course, while everyone was swooning over Paul, I decided to be different and prefer George.. Ah well, such is the state of growing up...I did grow to like and revere the Beatles, as they grew and became the icons that they are...

Laurie said...

Thanks for all of these comments, everyone. One thing I realize about the Beatles is that their music WILL prevail. They'll be talking about those songs in another hundred years. They are part of the Twentieth Century songbook.

But Lennon just moved me in a way that went beyond his music -- and like Farmgirl, I love his songs the most. Give Peace a Chance is one of the most profound statements, right up there with passages from scriptures or philosophical books. Give. Peace. A. Chance. Why can't we just GET it?

Thank you, everyone.

Shanna said...

I got in rather late on this one, but am glad I got in. The Beatles WERE my generation. I was in art school. It was a heady, heavy and happy time and their music was always pkaying at our parties.

A beautiful post.