Monday, December 8, 2008

A Post That Should Be Unnecessary

In the 1970s, Top 40 radio from Chicago was my sole source of new music. One positive thing about Chicago Top 40 was that, if a crummy song came on WLS, I could switch to WCFL, and in a pinch there was Oldies WIND and even Country WMAQ.

Another positive about the tight rotations of Top “40” was that, after awhile, I could learn to like songs I had dismissed at first. One such song was “Lady” by Styx; I had to get used to Dennis DeYoung’s voice. Another was “Bad Time” by Grand Funk; I heard the repetitive chorus a few times before I heard the intro and verse melody.

Two others that took time to cook in my head were “Fame” and “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night.” I wasn’t a Bowie fan until then, and the wocka-wocka guitar of the latter song made my ears hurt. Not even the sax could overcome that and the not-so-fun vocal collaboration of Lennon and whoever was singing the harmony.

What those two song have in common, of course, is John Lennon, who was involved as writer and vocalist on both. I own those two 45s now. I learned to love the songs before they disappeared from the record stores.

I should not have to write this post because, as is the case with John F. Kennedy, Lennon’s birthday, October 9, should be the significant date we commemorate. Had he lived out his lifespan, the anniversary of his death would someday be of smaller note, and October 9 would matter more.

But it was seen to that Lennon would not be allowed to continue his artistic trajectory, that his wee son Sean would have to grow up fatherless, and that his wife would be a widow for more than a quarter of a century. It’s not fair, to him, or to us.

On December 8, 1980, I was in my third year at university. It was a Monday night, near the end of the semester. Rather than studying or sleeping, I was working. I had a job making pizzas for a national chain, and we were fairly busy that evening, thanks to hungry students who were finally cracking the books. Soon thereafter, the owner of the company would ban radios in his stores, because he called one and heard heavy metal blasting. But we could listen to the radio legitimately on December 8, 1980.

And so it was that, while I was tossing slices of pepperoni onto a pizza, the announcer on the Indianapolis rock station we always listened to, WFBQ, stopped the music and told us that John Lennon had been assassinated. It was shortly after 11pm. My boss, Keith, looked at me, his mouth open. I don’t know what I looked like. I remember thinking that this was a moment that we would mark as history. I feel guilty for not recognizing immediately all of the ramifications, all of the loss entailed in this act.

We left the radio on, in hopes of hearing more news. There really was nothing more to say. John was dead. Not quite instantly, which is awful. It had to cross his mind that he had said goodbye to his son and gone to work, and now he wasn’t coming home.

When we closed the shop, I went back to my dorm. My roommate, Ray, was asleep. On nights when there was big news to share, I woke him. In the early hours of December 9, he woke up enough to hear that John Lennon had died.

The next morning, I was awake and moving around when he sat up in bed, looking confused. He asked if I had told him anything the night before. I confirmed that I had, and a look that I remembered from the night before, at work, crossed his face. We were all stunned. Everyone in the dorm, in classes, at work. We had all been glad to hear John Lennon’s voice on the radio again, especially in a song as great as “(Just Like) Starting Over,” which had debuted in the Top 40 on November 1. Now, he would disappear again.

But he has not disappeared. I don’t have to tell you that. I’m glad we cherish him as he deserves. I know this Monday post will eat into the reading of my Saturday post, but I don’t care.

I was going to tack up “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” to accompany this piece, but since I have started a series of posts about nontraditional Christmas songs, it occurs to me that Lennon came up with a fine one of his own. Happy Christmas to you, John, and thanks for this song.

I won’t leave it up long, as you really should buy this if you don’t own it. Back to scheduled programming on Wednesday. Thanks for reading.

John & Yoko and the Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir, Happy Xmas (War Is Over)


Lizzle-ba-Dizzle said...

"I should not have to write this post because, as is the case with John F. Kennedy, Lennon’s birthday, October 9, should be the significant date we commemorate."

Ack. That's one of those sentences that strikes me as so true it hurts. Thanks for yet another well-written post.

In 1980 my parents had not yet decided to have children, so I have no "Where Were You?" story of my own, but on Dec. 8, 1990 my mum told me that she was sad because a musician had been killed 10 years earlier, and that he had been a really important man. Then she played me a couple of Beatles songs before sitting me down in front of the TV to watch a documentary about John Lennon.

Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas said...

Really lovely writing.

Yah Shure said...

What a wonderful post! To borrow a George Harrison song title, "thanks for the pepperoni."

Your roommate's reaction was so touching. Perhaps he was hoping that the news had just been a bad dream. Didn't we all? I hope that we never have to go through anything like that again.