Archive for October, 2011

Happy Birthday!

Posted: October 9, 2011 in Sounds
Tags: , ,

I’m no authority on the Beatles, or on John Lennon, or even on the period in which they all came to prominence. I also told myself that commemorating John’s birthday should be just that – a celebration of his joining the population – and not a dwelling on the much more negative aspects of his being removed from it. That could wait until a very different anniversary, I thought, and so my few online missives and passings-on were all more like simple attempts at lightness, albeit tinged with the sadness that his joyous and incredible life immediately calls to mind, whether I want it to or not.

But we can’t always control when the impulse to write bubbles to the surface, nor can we dictate what it might bring.

I was 16 in December of 1980. My friends and I were not die-hard Beatles fanatics, like some I knew, though we all appreciated great rock music, and acknowledged without argument that most everything we liked at the time was heralded in by those four. Being way into hard rock at the time, we gravitated toward “Come Together,” and “Revolution,” and anything else they’d done with a loud grungy guitar in it. I also devoured any “new” interview footage or previously unreleased recordings, though frankly my 16 year old self thought a lot of it, especially the early stuff, was a little dated and sounded like stuff my parents might have sock-hopped to. I didn’t begin to understand and appreciate the concept of an arc of relevance until much later, around the same time I was realizing that there were very few, if any, others who had successfully created such an arc.

It was gray and rainy that day, just like it is right now. I can’t remember if I first heard it on the radio or if one of my friends called me up, but I know I found out before school that day. I remember getting dressed, having breakfast, all the minutiae that crowds the start of the day for a school-going teenager, and being sort of numb. Again, I wasn’t anything like a fanboy at the time, but I knew – I felt it, I KNEW – that this was something serious. The world felt different to me.

Instead of going to school that day we drove to the section of beach in Boca where we usually hung out. The Haitian Watch, we’d so callously and ceremoniously dubbed it. It was still raining, but not hard enough to keep us inside. We smoked, drank a little, and mostly stayed quiet. I don’t remember a lot of talking. I remember a lot of sitting, and thinking, and wondering. I got the feeling that some or most of my friends that day were using the event as an excuse to skip school. Oh, sure, they realized the impact, and knew it was a big deal, but for some reason I got the impression that the connection wasn’t as strong in them as it was, surprisingly, in me. That didn’t seem to matter. We just hung out, not really wanting to be alone, and definitely not wanting to be in school.

I’ve talked to many friends since then about what they were doing that day. It was definitely our generation’s Kennedy moment. Most of those are Beatles fanatics, or at least the retelling of those memories seems to make them out that way. I’ve spoken to and heard about the memories of the folks just ahead of me in age, between my parents’ and my generations, who had experienced the phenomenon much more directly than I.

I was born just a few months after they first appeared on Ed Sullivan and shook the world to its foundations. I was four when they played for the last time on top of Apple HQ. It was over before I had any ideas about anything they’d been a part of.

But as I grew up and began to mainline rock music I couldn’t escape their influence. Bands I liked at the time would cover them, or talk about them. I’d see things in the news or in magazines about new projects of theirs, new concerts or causes they stayed committed to. I began to dig into the mainstream albums first, then the deeper and more obscure stuff, and finally the long diatribes written by what passed for the hippie intelligentsia, and I began to get it.

I won’t spend much time with a hyperbolic and much-overdone description of the impact that these guys had on the evolution of pop music, and rock and roll. But I will say that I sincerely believe that nobody making music today, or who is in the media spotlight for any other sort of celebrity, would be doing so if they hadn’t lived through it first.

John was always my favorite, but I quickly learned that none of it – the music, the movies, the press conferences that charmed the world, none of it – would have been possible if even one of them had not been there, had been represented by anyone else in the world. That’s one of the things that made it work so perfectly and (for them) so maniacally: each of the four had something to say, something to contribute to the sound and to the persona of the band. Nobody else in any of those four roles would have made it work nearly as well, or to the degree that it did.

But John was always my favorite.

Again, I learned much later why he might have been the more introspective, intellectual one. Nobody ever knows for sure, but I read about his formative years, and his mom, and wives and girlfriends and kids, and I fooled myself into thinking I understood.

I loosely followed their progress through the world and through Music, and it seemed that none of them ever really wavered from their beliefs that all you really DO need is Love, and that giving Peace a chance might not be such a crazy idea.

It astounds me that two of the most peaceful individuals to ever grace the planet would have such brutal violence crash into their lives when they were older. John’s proved to be fatal, but had to have been no less a complete shock and surprise to him than George’s stabbing must have been for him. Hippies? Really? You’re going to attack hippies, and Peaceniks, and (mostly) gentle souls who tried to make living in an unfriendly world a little more tolerable? Hitler will be roasting marshmallows in the heat from your private circles of Hell, you assholes, and applauding your ignorant, asinine efforts.

So, on the day after we noted the 10th Anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, which would no doubt have pissed off and disappointed a 71 year old John Lennon as much as all the other conflicts did for a much younger one, I’ll say for at least the 10th time today:

Happy Birthday, John.

As is often the case, the World did not know what to do with such wonder, such Love and Peace, such originality, such vision, such weirdness, such sound, such laughter, such Spirit, such clamor, such unorthodoxy, such fun, such pain, such catharsis, such volume, and such frustration as John represented.

So it killed him.