Sunday, December 8, 2013

It was 33 years ago today

Sunday, December 08, 2013

This is the day that John Lennon died – now 33 years ago.
Hank and I had a theory of numbers based on some of The Beatles out takes and Christmas fan club recordings, where like Number 9, 33 and 44 had some significance I can’t make heads or tails of all these years later.
Maybe it is the Christ-like concept of double threes – Three is a sacred number in mythology.
At the time of Lennon’s death, I was seated before my typewriter in my cold water flat in Passaic, trying to finish my daily dose of writing before retiring. I had WNEW-FM on in the background when the announcer interrupted the music to say that John had been shot – and within moments, verified his death.
The details didn’t emerge until the next day. But that moment like the shooting of Kennedy, and the attacks on 9/11 left an indelible memory in my mind, of where I was, what I was doing, and how I felt.
The DJ put on John’s “Working Class Hero” and didn’t bother to edit out the “fucks,” suggesting very much how he felt at that moment, too.
I had grown up with The Beatles and the mythology of their changing the world – more than Dylan or Elvis, they formed the heart of my beliefs, almost like a religion. I remember my rich neighbor who attended a private school in Passaic Park getting a haircut he could comb back to look straight enough for school, but when combed the other way, resembled a Beatle’s mop top.
Indeed, despite the outrage of my more than a little reactionary uncles, I grew my hair the same way without the bother of a disguise combing for school – something that irritated the nuns as well.
My punishment each time I got into trouble in school or out, was a trip to the barber for a haircut – a military style crew cut, when, of course, my uncles could actually get their mitts on me.
More than photographs, which were very few during the 1960s, Beatles’ hits became snap shots of my life (along with some of the Beatles imitators and of course, The Rolling Stones).
I changed as the Beatles changed, growing more complex and confused as reflected in their music. I remember my friends singing the songs from St. Peppers on the bus to high school. Hank and I sang most of those songs in the balcony of the theater where we worked as ushers, frustrating the manager who could hear the echo of our voices, but could not locate us to get us to shut up and get back to work.
 By the time the White Album came out in 1968, I had already embraced revolution with the likes of David Peal and Abbie Hoffman, temporary heroes I soon shed myself of when I finally developed opinions of my own.
When I took my own magical mystery tour across country (with the police and mob hot on my trail at times), cassettes of Beatles music kept me company, often through some of the loneliest moments. I took my first LSD trip to Beatles records and tapes, and these remained part of that sound track long after I gave up drugs.
The announcement of the breakup of the Beatles in 1970 crushed me – as it did Hank, and we working as messengers in New York City at the time, convinced ourselves that this was just a joke, like the one about Paul being dead. And even after that, we sold ourselves on the idea that the Beatles could sooner or later come back together.
We had a very long wait. But we waited.
And then, someone shot John.
Neither one of us ever got over it. This was a family member, someone who we loved as much as our closest relative, and someone we both mourned every year this time – even that last year just prior to Hank’s 45th birthday, when Hank and I both knew that he would not seen another anniversary of John’s death or even another birthday. Ironically, just after Hank’s death in March, 1995, the Beatles did get back together – using some old John recordings to release two new Beatles songs.
I still think Hank’s arrival in the afterlife had something to do with it.
These days, I can’t mourn one without the other, and so this day of mourning John, is also a mourning of Hank – who I miss just about as much as anybody, and who by singing in the streets with me, allowed me to sing inside myself and grow as an artist. He and John became models of living that I still embrace as artist and a human being.

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