This was the most well written thing I've read all day.
"Ed Moltzen @ Late Final notes that today is December 8, 2004 and remembers John Lennon (Dec. 3, 1938-Dec. 8, 1980) was shot to death on this date and then asks: "Where were you when you found out he had died?" "
**Huh? John Lennon was born October 9, 1940. Where in the world does Dec. 3, 1938 come from?
There was a lot of paperwork coming in by fax and more instructions
Fax machines in 1980?
Humm, you know you may have a point. I know there were fax machines around and that there were lawyers offices and documents and phone calls, but I really may have conflated technoeras in my memory. The 80s *were* the decade of faxing and ZapMail but 1980 is very early.
I'll take it as a mistake and correct it. Thanks
As Tonto famously asked the Lone Ranger, "What you mean, WE"?
What do you mean, Gerard? Do you think you're culpable? Do you think I am? As best I know that SOB, Mark Chapman murdered John Lennon -- all by himself.
Well written piece, but poor lede.
What can I say? Do I think you and you and you and you and I did this up close and personal? No, no, no, no, and no...
But "permit me voyage" to say that certain times and certain mindsets and certain clusters of belief create a certain atmosphere in which lunacy can emerge in the shape of one individual who feels compelled and empowered in his strange way to act by the forces of his time and generation.
Last night I watched a bit of "Imagine" on cable. Interestingly enough (for me) I tuned in just at the moment when a very burned out "road hippie" had turned up at John's country estate compelled to be there through some sort of "message" he'd deciphered deep within the Lennon lyrics. He thought he was being addressed personally. Lennon was at some pains, and very gently, to inform this poor soul that his songs were written for him only and that if anybody heard anything in them personally that was, well, just the way it was but certainly not his intent. He then invited the scruffy refugee from the road in for a bit to eat.
Now, what is wrong with this picture?
First, it is on film so I think I can say with some conviction (based on other observations and first-hand accounts of John's personality and habits which I shall not go into.) that much of what we see here in this scene derives from John's knowledge that he was indeed on camera. He knew how to use a camera like soldiers know how to use hand grenades.
Second, for as much as it is done for the camera, the same is done by John out of a genuine feeling. He was a man for all that. But an *extremely* complicated one.
Third, the line concerning the songs not being intended to have any reach outside of his own noggin and life, is of course pure BS. Writers of pop songs, especially brilliant writers, know how to take their internal thoughts and make them into songs that are laced with hooks and, quite frankly, emotionally glib by intention.
The more glib the greater the hit.
The argument by John that "hey, it really is only about me" is probably more of a way of talking the guy down from his state of psychotic drug trip than anything else. Still, it helps John preserve a realm of deniability for the effects his music had on a large group of people over an extended period of time.
It was a way of being able to sing the truth and avoid the consequences. And so many consequences came John's way over the course of his life, I don't blame him for ducking them when he could.
But what you put into the ocean comes back in on the tide. John wasn't the tide, we were -- for good or evil.
But, if you insist, I hereby include you out. Anyone else who wants one also gets a pass.
"But, if you insist, I hereby include you out. Anyone else who wants one also gets a pass." - Van der Leun
No offense intended, Gerard, but I'll take my pass and my out also.
I was not a fan. Not of the 60's, not of the Beatles, and definately not of Lenin or his music.
A tragic death, yes. Murder of an entire era and an Iconic figure that we all share a part in? No thanks - that's not something I'll own, nor is it something you'll sell me. Gimme me my pass.
ShrinkWrapped has an interesting post at his blog about what it was like to be the on-call psychiatrist who evaluated Mark Chapman prior to his admission to Bellevue.
I guess I must have been one of those weird kids who missed the '60s, even though I was in high school and college at the time-- I never found the Beatles all that interesting. It may have had something to do with taking organ lessons-- after Bach and Buxtehude, pop music just seemed shallow. Enjoyable in its own way, perhaps, but nothing to scan for personal messages or build a life on. Sometimes I think I may have been one of the lucky ones. Thank you again for your reflections-- they always give me something to chew on.
Interesting. I didn't really care then, and certainly don't now, I mean Lennon was old enough to be my dad when he died, so I missed all the hoopla of the 60's--All I ever saw was the debris it left behind, both in my own family and others, and the culture at large, but its always interesting to see how others saw it all.
"Taken large, this was the death of the music in the death of a man in whom we'd invested the music. Taken larger it was the death of the 60s and all that we once "imagined" it meant."
Glib and ridiculous. Reads like something from a newspaper editorial.
John Lennon was a great musician and when pushed by Paul a great lyricist. "Imagine" sounds great until you think about it. Same with his Christmas song.
And, yes, I do know where I was when I heard he was shot. I hated it then and I hate that he's not around now. A quarter-century later, and one wonders what he would have done. But his death was not the end of the '60s any more than Janis Joplins, RFK, MLK, or Jerry Garcia. No one person encapsulates the '60s, and it'll all die away anyway, just as we, too, shall perish.
Jeez. A lot of the comments here are worthless and uninformative. Hey folks, nobody cares if you didn't like Lennon. Living is easy with eyes closed. Go live somewhere else.
I went to school with a girl whose sister went out with Chapman before he lost his bean. Said he was a nice guy. Male schizos typically lose touch with reality in their late teens.
"But "permit me voyage" to say that certain times and certain mindsets and certain clusters of belief create a certain atmosphere in which lunacy can emerge in the shape of one individual who feels compelled and empowered in his strange way to act by the forces of his time and generation."
It's a seductive pitch. But, those who have dealt up close and personal with schizophrenics know that there really is no rhyme or reason for their actions and it is useless to try to rationalize them in terms of larger forces. It's just a random event, like a hurricane or a tax audit.
Well, Mojo, maybe you've nailed my beef with Lennonites: "Living is easy with eyes closed..." you quote, as if indicting us with blindness in comparison to Lennon's vast vision...
But in MY experience, people who over-program their experience trying to hold on to their self-chosen blindnesses with selective eye-closings, HAVE SEVERE TESTS on occasions, precisely BECAUSE they are trying to shelter a dysfunction, trying to hold to a non-working description of reality.
Reality has a habit of yelling 'Look out!' at the eye-closed among us, and if we really DO have eyes closed, we get hit with a bucket of sh*t, having closed our eyes!
Musician? Yes. Formative? Creative? Yes. Overblown and idealized by his Imagineers? That, too.
As always a well-written and thought-provoking piece. Gerard has a personal stake in the anniversary of Lennon's murder that I do not share, so he gets a pass and an out for what seems a bit of an overreach. What is a moving and deeply touching experience for some (the lyrics to a pop song, or a remembered kiss from a hopeful date) can mean nothing to someone else. I have my own list of people and events that hold a special place in my heart as well, but each is personalized and customized to my persona.
The whole sixties swirl is a time best forgotten for many reasons, but the people who help us through turbulence are important for just that.
I'm with Eric Blair a few comments up. He was old enough to be my father. Nice pop music, but his death was no more important to me than, say, Freddie Prinze' suicide.
John Belushi's death in '82 is a better marker for the end of the 60's. Drugs like heroin & coke went from being a pretty normal experience of young adulthood to very, very bad almost overnight. 1982 was also the years that HIV was clinically identified and named.
I, too, agree with Mr. Blair and others who are somewhat nonplussed at the angst still churning away in the hearts and minds of the above commenters who actually consider the late Mr. Lennon some type of artist -- or even worse -- a prophet. Those of you who still suffer profound emotional distress at the untimely demise of Mr. Lennon will no doubt be equally distressed when -- and if -- you ever reach puberty.
I have no doubt that John Lennon would be revolted by Gerard and his politics.
I am not against being immersed in the death of Lennon as an icon of the Sixties, or something like that.
I just don't get it.
I have a fondness for the Sixties--the part I didn't get, as many have a fondness for the Christmas ideal we didn't and won't get--but Lennon...?
I was on campus in the Sixties, until I was in the Army beginning in Feb of 69. I had planned on enlisting, which set me apart from some of the other folks.
I was there but not of.
I kind of liked the early Beatles for jumping around at parties, but the Lettermen promoted close and slow dancing which was superior in every sense. An oldie station which happens to run a Lettemen song will take me back. Not the Beatles.
The later Beatles, with their trips to India and all the other New Age nonsense struck me as being over their heads or poseurs. In any event, their music was boring.
The proper breakfast for a Sixties morning was a tumbler of vodka and a dish of jalapeno peppers. I don't miss it, and wouldn't if I still had my two thyroids and competition level conditioning going for me. It was sound and fury signifying a stunning loss in the Cold War, a betrayal of allies, and claiming the bragging rights for a sexual revolution which had started a decade earlier.
Otherwise, little to praise.
That assumes you understand my politics and that Lennon would. I also assumes Lennon's politics would be the same in 2005 as they were at the time of his death.
You assume a lot.
He was born October 9, not October 30. Other than that, I loved it. Beautifully written.
The generation that came of age in the 60s was in a way the soul of the daemonic in nature gone berserk. It was a culmination of forces in western civilization beginning with the existential dichotomy that was the heritage of Christianity that a reality of perfection to which he "longs" to reach exists separate from man's mundane existence. This is analogous to the Jews being "brought out" of bondage in Egypt to a land flowing with milk and honey. The drug culture promised a key to immediate passage to blissful union with absolute reality. Of course, this is all a kind of insanity because whatever perfection exists in the cosmos is with us always and it merely remains for us to recognize it. So, yes, "we" are culpable for this murder because "we" bought into, as a generation, and gladly promulgated, the lies that support the insanity that was then and is now. And this is why "we", as a society, are so inept at dealing with the current crisis that faces civilization. For Islam too participates in this same schizophrenia only more so.
1980 was not early for a fax, considering that the basic form of the fax was invented in Scotland around 1840[sic].
I too remember the 60's. During that decade I served two tours in Vietnam. I only imagined surviving.
The enemy (then) was using live ammo and while my aircraft was hit I survived spending 5 to 7 years in the Hanoi Hilton.
Screw Lennon -- he never imagined what hell is really all about! May he be reunited with his Mommy.
First off; well done.
The Xerox Telecopier, AKA the "mojo wire", was mentioned by Hunter Thompson wrt to various editorial communications pertaining to his "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" series, which first appeared in Rolling Stone magazine in 1971. You certainly were corralling faxes in 1980.
Ken Kesey wrote an excellent essay regarding Lennon's assassination (which I've recorded readings of, twice) which explores a theme very similar to your sweeping indictment of generational complicity. Found in his collection entitled "Demon Box".
We -- and by this I mean the pig-in-a-python bulge of the baby boom cohort -- made Lennon a target. By his work as an artist, and his subsequent pacifist activism, he compelled our attention. Whether some of your readers shared that compulsion is rather irrelevant; the Beatles dramatically transformed the cultural consensus at a time of unprecedented ferment, and Lennon himself personified the fiercely uncompromising standard-bearer for principled personal political commitment. If someone didn't "get it", they weren't paying attention at a time when attention was becoming the most significant agent of disequilibrium in a disruptive era. I'm not particularly impressed by their cognitive ineptitude, frankly.
Not to argue that the "60s" (by which we mostly mean the 70s) were an unalloyed good. In truth, the largest generation in the history of mankind achieved its emancipation during a narrow window when pregnancy could be prevented with a pill, abortion was without legal consequence, and every known STD could be cured with antibiotics. The convulsions of that era were largely a massive temper tantrum.
A great deal of good came from it. In particular, activism in the domain of civil rights, and the strengthening of rights generally, but especially with respect to freedom of expression and personal sovereignty, were massively benignant. Of course a lot of silly self-important horseshit was contravened in the process, and we're still trying to find that pony.
So it is not surprising that when an attention-deprived psychotic took it into his damaged cortex to lash out at a society he could not participate in, he should choose Lennon as its avatar. As a generation, we'd already done the heavy lifting; all Chapman had to do was pull the trigger.
Thank you for remembering, and sharing, your window on what was inarguably an epic tragedy. He was neither a martyr nor a saint. He was one of us, warts and all, and his senseless destruction taught an important lesson to every one of us who believed that "nothin's gonna change my world". A lesson we must revisit, apparently, every few years.
Age fourteen is the last time in your life when you're glad the phone is for you.
It's also the last time in your life that you should be wasting your time listening to rock music.
We did not kill John Lennon. That horrid witch Yoko Ono did the deed.
I first saw a class 3 fax around 1980. I was working for a big corporation that had a room full of telex machines and operators. The fax was a clear signal of the intrusion of the future, but they were still quite rare for a few years after that.
I have worked behind perhaps 100 celebrity musicians and singers in Las Vegas. Lennon was not one of them; but I went to a small casino to cash a check between shows and walked by Lennon sitting at a slot in a foyer. I stopped for a moment and questioned myself, because if Elvis ever did that there would have been a mob.
But Lennon, to his credit, did not present any of the vibe that gives people the courage to even gawk. I never saw that before or since in a mega-star.
That is why he felt free to live without an entourage and walk alone.
I am sure he was a very strange man, but I admire him greatly for that.
Thanks for the write-up, moving and useful. That basketball kid should be grown up; How is that kid now?
Do you still get jobs as gifts? Do you give jobs as gifts? I've never had either experience. They probably gave you the job because you were the best for it and they trusted you.
Nice personal story, Gerard. The range of commentary is extremely interesting. So many years have past, yet the resentment for counterculture then or one's hazy recollection of it now, bubbles to the surface upon mention of Mr. Lennon. Looking back it seems so black and white, yet it is no different with today's "icons". The times, they aren't a changin'.
Great post. I'm adding it to my scrapbook. Thanks for reposting. I don't think we do enough of that.
(Incidentally, the link to Pink Floyd lyrics no longer finds the mark. No big problem, but I know you're a stickler for details and might want to know.)
My infatuation with Lennon the man has waned over the years, but the night he was shot never dims. I picked up cigarettes again after 4 years, dropped out of Emory Law School (I was mulling whether to return after winter break), and went despondent for a year. Strange how we each remember that time. Well spoke, Gerard, well spoke.
"Taken larger it was the death of the 60s and all that we once "imagined" it meant."
Truly, a beautifully written piece, Gerard.
I would only point out that the 60s only appeared to die and that the ideals for which they stood--what it 'meant'--are alive and kicking in the White House. It was only our imagination.
Not on the topic of Lennon but on Fax machines:
In a prior life, I worked for an insurance agency after college, in the 80's. Started in 81. No computers yet; (ah, the yoot of today will never experience the constant clakety clack white noise of IBM Selectrics in the background); a primitive and very slow copier; and certainly no fax machines. Anywhere.
My boss at the time, who was into the latest techie toys, installed a fax machine a few years later. Maybe 1983? 84? The only other business in town that had one, was a car dealership client. I snorted and sneered. "All this money, so that ONE client - the Olds dealer, and us can send letters back and forth over the phone lines, that get all blurry and messed up anyway. Just to save ONE day in delivery time. Sheesh. Like THIS expensive curiosity will ever catch on."
I am probably descended from people who thought horse-less carriages would also be a passing fad.
Mr. forward thinking - that's me.
Back to Lennon - Starting junior high in 1970 and getting out of college in 1980 - I was never that into the Beatles, or the sixties culture. Being a post-Viet Nam, class of '76, child of the Disco Era. Saturday Night Fever was about my Boomer "subset." We post-war boomers had and have a different cultural mindset than our elders who lived through it.
To wit: I'm not that proud to say it, but I'll say it anyway - I was more moved by Maurice Gibb's untimely death than by Lennon's.
Mine will be the discordant note, I suppose. No offense intended to Gerard or anyone else here, but my take was very different. If you think I'm an a$$hole for it, so be it. Here goes.
When John was murdered, I was at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, toiling away as a lieutenant in the Army, just coming off another training exercise, trying to make sure my troops got ready for another bleepin' inspection. In Jimmy Carter's Army, which it would still be for another month and a half, with Reagan having been elected but not yet inaugurated, that meant covering shortages of all kinds with reams of paperwork. And not a word processor in sight. Oh joy. No fax machines either. My unit had spent the entire summer dealing with the Mariel Boatlift refugees, and now we were getting hammered with all the training that we missed. Smiles and good moods were hard to find.
When "Beatlemania" first landed on our shores and infected most of the kids I knew, I discovered that I had a natural immunity to it. I just didn't see what the fuss was about. So, upon hearing the news of the murder, I felt a twinge of sadness that a well-known entertainer had been gunned down by an apparent (later confirmed) whackjob. But that's about it. I certainly felt no grief for the passing of the era he represented.
Although already a young teen when the '60s ended, a bit too young to fully participate, but old enough to understand much of what was happening, I still never drank the Kool-Aid. In fact, I loathed much of what that decade stood for, especially what became known as the counterculture. I cheered for the police in Chicago (yes, I watched the Democratic convention at age 12; what a nerd I was), found the films of Woodstock nauseating, thought the Ohio National Guard should have spent more time at the range before they went to Kent State, and hoped an American bomb would find Hanoi Jane when was shilling for commies up in the North.
And I then chose to serve my country, at a time when this was not such a popular thing to do (there were only three other lieutenants commissioned in my ROTC graduating class at my mid-sized state university). So the death of someone who was known to me as a pie-in-the-sky pacifist who most likely would have detested everything I had sworn to defend was not something that I spent much time thinking about.
These days, I have a fair appreciation for Lennon's music, and have long since learned that his views were perhaps not as simplistic and diametrically opposed to mine as I thought them to be in 1980. But we're still reaping the whirlwind from the 1960s, and I feel no nostalgia whatsoever for that period.
I have nothing to add except to say that a few days ago I acquired a copy of the newly remastered "mono box," which has the Beatles' first 10 albums and all of the singles in glorious mono, just the way the Man on the Flaming Pie intended.
Interestingly, although most people have never heard these mixes (except for the first four albums), they were the ones approved by the Beatles. The stereo ones were considered novelties, and were completed days or weeks later, with no input from the Four. As such, there are some significant and many subtle differences, which make it interesting to hear the songs in a new way after all these years. For example, A Day in the Life is much more gripping with John's voice hovering in the center of the soundstage instead of emanating from the left speaker.
While the mono masters lose some of the inner detail of the stereo, they are much more powerful. Plus, they actually sound like a band instead of a studio creation. Especially powerful in the car. Some of the tracks you might think of as "arty," are much more rocking in mono -- e.g., Rain, Glass Onion, Tomorrow Never Knows.
Forget the connection to the '60s -- as Lennon himself said, "nothing changed except that we all dressed up a bit." Forget the obvious character flaws as well. The man was an Artist, both in conception and performance.
My recollection was watching Monday Night Football when Howard Cosell announced John's murder. All I could think of was the numerous times (before the Beatles ever existed)I had passed the Dakota walking with my older brother (who by the way, became a murder victim) on our way to the Museum of Natural History and Hayden Planetarium. I used to remark to my broter, "what was a castle doing in NYC?" Both men were peaceful, passive, artist/intellectuals. While I still feel the hurt, I do not miss the 60s. I only miss the music. Like most social movements, it became politicized and ended up polarizing the nation even more. We are stll feeling the effects today. The Dems are the hippies and Repubs are the so-called silent majority, or fly-over nation, to coin a phrase - you have your choice. As for John, his best music by far came during his collaboration with McCartney. As a lifelong musician I have had this argument with my friends and collegues for years. In all honesty John was an extraordinary songwriter but needed other people such as Paul and George Martin to flesh out his work. He was a mediocre guitarist technically but knew how to get the most from the instrument given his talent. He is still missed in fact I watched A Hard Day's Night on the tele a few days back. What a bunch of lovable kids they were. That's how I like to remember John. A witty, funny, working musician.
Well written as always Gerard.
We were in Japan visiting our friends in the Navy. We were huddled around their little table with a heater under it. The only heat in their WWII era apartment.
On armed forces radio was Howard Cosell doing the play by play for Monday night Football when he announced the shooting.
That very day we had been in a large Japanese department store looking a John Lennon albums. What I remember about that were the 4 or 5 store employees that wore white gloves as they handled the albums.
Can't wait for your autobiography to come out Gerald. You have led a interesting life.
Keep em coming..
Your friend in the PNW.
"But "permit me voyage" to say that certain times and certain mindsets and certain clusters of belief create a certain atmosphere in which lunacy can emerge in the shape of one individual who feels compelled and empowered in his strange way to act by the forces of his time and generation."
Gerard- excellent point. One only has to read a few of Dostoevsky's novels;e.g. Crime and Punishment, The Possessed, to understand the above.
Vanderleun, now I understand you better. You were one of those swept up in the leftish delusions of the '60s. It explains the weakness of mind that allows you to be swept up in the rightish delusions of the '00s.
Show me someone who doesn't swish from extreme to extreme and I'll show you someone who can be trusted.
I prefer to think that once I was wrong but now I am right.
And it has the added benefit of being true.
waltj, if you're an a$$hole, so am I. But I could never write it as well as you.
Liverpool was a strange and quiet place that day.
You're pretty damn good at the retorts, too, Gerard. I likes dat!
These comments, spanning five years, are fascinating and probably worthy of their own examination, I suspect. Your POST A COMMENT quote, "It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood," stands out even more for me after reading the comments.
They reiterate that there are so many segments in our nation who necessarily come at our shared moments so uniquely. I'm thinking particularly of -- for example -- the country music fan circa December 1980, or the culture that created the Delta Blues. What did the senseless killing of John Lennon mean to them back then? Now?
Your piece cut through my curiosity (I've never quite known what to think of John Lennon or the Beatles) and serves as a pole star; I now know something of what his death meant, and means, to you. It makes the power of your piece, Gerard, all the more powerful and accounts for much of the visceral reaction. Good writing does that.
Deal. You're out. Even if you are old enough to remember it, you're too much of a kid.
Thanks for sharing that painful memory. I will never forget that particular Monday night. I'm 57 years old now and the Beatles meant so very much to me and so many others of our generation. When Hendrix died, I shed a few tears. When Lowell George died, I was saddened, but his death was a long time coming. When John Lennon was murdered, I broke down and wept at our loss. He had the ability to cut through all of the bullsh*t.
Oh let's give the fax machine another whack shall we......I had a summer job in the network sales office of a TV station in the mid-70's, and we had a fax machine to communicate with NYC. It had a large drum around which you wrapped your document, a viewing window to watch the drum go round and round, and a cradle for the telephone receiver which relayed the information. And it took about 10 minutes per page to transmit and the incoming result looked rather primitive, the printed page equivalent of the Pong computer game. Lawyers in NYC would most certainly have had them.
Prior to the introduction of the ubiquitous fax machine, one of the first being the Exxon Qwip in the mid-1970s, facsimile machines worked by optical scanning of a document or drawing spinning on a drum. The reflected light, varying in intensity according to the light and dark areas of the document, was focused on a photocell so that the current in a circuit would vary with the amount of light. This current was used to control a tone generator (a modulator), the current determining the frequency of the tone produced. This audio tone was then transmitted using an acoustic coupler (a speaker, in this case) attached to the microphone of a common telephone handset. At the receiving end, a handset’s speaker was attached to an acoustic coupler (a microphone), and a demodulator converted the varying tone into a variable current which controlled the mechanical movement of a pen or pencil to reproduce the image on a blank sheet of paper on an identical drum rotating at the same rate. A pair of these expensive and bulky machines could only be afforded by companies with a serious need to communicate drawings, design sketches or signed documents between distant locations, such as an office and factory.
Boots, if I remember correctly, those early fax machines also used special thermal paper on the receiving end, which was costly, faded quickly, and available only at well-stocked office supply stores. My Army unit first got one in 1982. Since I was an officer, I wasn't allowed to touch it: "Sir, you better let me fax that for you. It's pretty temperamental and you don't use it every day. I do." Sure, Sarge, knock yourself out. He was right, though. I did have to use it a few times without any NCO supervision, and it was a real pain in the ass if you didn't line up the paper exactly right or it slipped off the drum.
Thanks for reposting this, Gerard. It's always interesting to read about a moment in history by someone who was actually there.
I was only 22 in 1980, but I was much more interested in 60s music than the music that was contemporary at the time.
As other commenters have alluded, whether the Sixties ended in 1970 (Kent State, Janis, Jimi), 1980 (John), or 1995 (Jerry), we do seem to be living through the Zombie Sixties now.
Everyone loves the mop-top, "Money That's What I Want" yeah-yeah-yeah Beatles. But only an adolescent (or an adult with an adolescent mind) could like the self-absorbed, LSD-fueled, revolutionary Mustache Beatles.
Lennon's death upset me greatly. I was 15 at the time. I got better.