Where were you on that tragic December night 29 years ago?
Where were you on that tragic December night 29 years ago?
On December 8, many people around the world will take time out again to remember the anniversary of the death of John Lennon.
“Where were you when John Lennon was shot” became just as poignant a question as the one posed by another generation when people asked, “Where were you when JFK was assassinated?” 17 years earlier.
For myself, I was a student at Southern Illinois University when I heard the news that fateful night in December 1980. I had been studying for finals in my dorm room in Freeman Hall, an off-campus dormitory, and didn’t think much of the block of Beatles’ songs being played by the local college radio station I had tuned in.
Only when I walked upstairs to the TV room to check the score on the Monday Night Football game when I learned of the news. Howard Cosell broke away from his usual play-by-play of the game to announce to the millions of viewers that Lennon had been shot.
I ran back downstairs and burst into my friend Paul Collin’s room to tell him the news.
“Now I know the world is coming to an end,” Paul said as he sunk down in the beanbag chair he had been sitting on, “someone shot a Beatle.”.
We tuned in the college radio station and listened to one Beatle song after another, too stunned to say anything.
And it did seem like the world had, at least for the moment, stopped. For the next few days, it seemed that the whole world was in mourning. It didn’t make any difference where you were, there was bound to be someone who had either grown up with the Beatles or who had been touched by Lennon’s music.
Even if you hadn’t been into his music or a fan of the Beatles, the fact that an entertainer, a musician—a person who tried to advocate peace through his music had been gunned down was tragic enough to make one stop and take stock of their own life.
What was it that brought so many different people together, then—when they gathered at Lennon’s Dakota apartment or other places to leave messages, flowers, album covers, candles and the like in memorial—and now, when people again gather around the world to remember? What was it about Lennon’s life and his subsequent death that affected so many people around the world? Why did his death in 1980 fill so many people with such an incomprehensible sense of loss?
Without question, Lennon’s death was the loss of an icon for a generation.
We always feel robbed and cheated when one of our icons, one of our generation’s spokespersons is taken away from us. Although one can argue that it’s unbefitting that he has been elevated to some cultural sainthood status, his contributions to modern pop culture, not to mention history as a Beatle and as a solo artist cannot be ignored.
Above all, Lennon’s life and the music he created represented not only this whole idea of rock and roll rebellion, but also to a much larger extent, the social and cultural consciousness that touched a sensitive chord in us all. Whether it was one of his and Yoko’s “Bed Peace” events or one of their “War is Over” posters, Lennon was dedicated to raising our social consciousness. His music became a medium to address these issues and perhaps explain our own social consciousness through his songs. Just listen to “Imagine.”
His death touched us all, and perhaps reminded us of our own mortality.
On the other hand, would we still be gathering and remembering Lennon, though, if he hadn’t been gunned down, if he had, say, died of a drug overdose or committed suicide, or even died of natural causes? Would such a death have had that much more significance? Would he have been just another rock and roll casualty?
The fact that Lennon was murdered in the prime of his life made his life and death that more significant. Likewise, he had just re-emerged from this self-imposed exile with a new album at age 40—proof that even forty-year-olds could still rock and roll. When that album came out in the fall of 1980, I think he was probably the most sober he had ever been in his life and that can be seen through some of the hopefulness and love (no matter how hurt he was he always managed to tell us all about the importance of loving oneself and others)
One more reason, which made a generation feel robbed, when he was gunned down outside his Dakota apartment that fateful night in December.. Whether you agreed with his politics, his self-righteous cant, understood his avant-garde leanings or not, Lennon influenced our collective cultural consciousness and raised our social awareness.
Lennon was different. He broke the rules and we forgave him. Lennon wasn’t always a smooth cookie, like many humans, but part of it was the role we put him in. He wasn’t comfortable with it. His friendship with Harry Nillson towards the end was a classic tale
Of course, there was always the music, too. Twenty-eight years after his death, his legacy, not to mention his music still resonates.
He wasn’t a Mother Theresa, a Princess Diana, or a Martin Luther King. He wasn’t a doctor who devoted a lifetime finding a cure for cancer or AIDS. He was just a musician, an artist who gave us all something just as important: the hope and the dream of a better world.
What do we really remember in the end? Is it just the passing of one our icons? Or, is it something more? I think the answer lies in our need for some connection with are own permanence, are own mortality.
Remembering Lennon is our own memorial for our permanence and humankind, and our hope for a better world.
I got an email from my very good friend Paul Collin the other day. It’s been awhile since we last exchanged email and it was really good to hear from him. Although he was a bit pressed for time to write a longer email, (he promised he would write again soon) he did mention his band Rizing Tide’s MySpace profile (check it out).
And then out of the blue, I thought about the movie Return of the Fly.
So, what’s the connection?
Now, if my memory serves me right (and I hope Paul will back me up on this) after I left SIU (after I briefly dropped out) in early 1981 I returned later that summer when I was working with The Jerks. Paul and his Freeman Hall roommate Mark had moved out and gotten an apartment not too far away. When Paul and Mark knew that I was in town, we hung out one afternoon and watched The Fly.
Now, here comes the part I am going to need some help with from Paul. The next time I came back was later that summer—with The Jerks—(for a few nights before heading down to Atlanta) and I stopped by to see Paul and Mark again, and this time the movie that was on was Return of the Fly.
Was it all just some weird coincidence, or what?
Paul, a little help on this one.
I am not sure what I am going to do with this. At first I thought it might be a great introduction to a collection of short stories or a story in itself or something like Hemingway’s In Our Time to transition from one story to the next. Maybe it could be a long prose poem or just an essay.
What would college life be without some craziness to add a bit of variety and spice to one’s academic endeavors?
For me, it was the three semesters I spent at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale—in the summer and fall of 1980 and again in the fall of 1983.
Although I didn’t know it at the time when I first started attending classes in the summer of 1980, SIU had a reputation for being one of the top party schools in the nation. Not that it would have made any difference when it came time to choosing a university to attend when I got out of the Air Force in May 1980, but I most certainly would enjoy that so-called party school reputation to the fullest. I might have been a film major, but what I really majored in was having a good time.
I might have only attended SIU for three semesters, but I packed in a lot of memories to last me a lifetime. I also got to meet some really cool and special people like Paul Collin who I was able to track down a few years ago and now we stay in touch quite regularly. Other than David Siegfried (from David and the Happenings), there’s no one else from that period of my life that I keep in touch with.
I first met Paul in the autumn of 1980 when we both were living in Freeman Hall, an off-campus dorm not far from the university and, interestingly enough not far from, believe it or not, Beveridge Street where there was always one party or another happening on the weekends.
Freeman Hall was one bizarre, wild place to live. Paul lived next door to me on the ground floor, which was where most of the zaniness happened. It was your typical off-campus dorm where your die-hard party animals were usually on the first floor. Maybe that is why some people in Freeman Hall often called the ground floor the zoo. The weekends got pretty wild.
Sometimes when I came back to my room after another wild night out, I might have played my music just a little too loud which usually prompted Paul or his roommate Mark to start banging on the wall to get me to turn down the music. Or maybe it was the other way around. The walls were not that thick.
If I am not mistaken one of us might have even punched a hole in the wall allowing us to see into each other’s rooms.
Paul was one of the actors in my first student film, which was pretty lame when I think about it now. I am surprised that I was even able to talk him into even being in it.
In the movie, which also starred Miles, one of my suite mates, Paul pushed Miles around in a shopping cart. I swear after I finished the film I kept on seeing shopping carts everywhere. If I am not mistaken, one day someone had rolled one up to my dorm room. I have often wondered if Paul had done that.
It was Paul’s room that I burst into on December 8, 1980 to tell him that John Lennon had been shot and killed in New York. Paul, who was sitting on a beanbag chair studying, looked up at me and said, “Now I know the world is going to end. Someone shot a Beatle.”
no doubt a freight train coming into Daejeon. I hear the sound of the ancient locomotive growing louder and louder as it and the cars it is pulling rumbles through town.
There’s familiarity in the discordant rumble of the diesel locomotive pulling its weight in freight, which reminds me of another place, another time, another lifetime. For a moment, with eyes closed and memories unlocked, I could have been sitting at the kitchen table in my grandparent’s home east of LaSalle with the windows open late one summer evening listening to the far-off sound of a Rock Island Line freight train moving through the night; through the sleepy Midwestern towns along its path. It’s funny what you suddenly remember and recall when you are so far away from your home and everything that you used to be.
Got an email the other day from one of my old friends from high school Bob Patelli. Haven’t heard from him in years and haven’t seen him since 2001; the last time I saw him before that was in 1990 right before I left for Korea. Funny, I was just thinking about him the other day. It was thirty years ago when we ran into each other during the Oglesby Celebration Days. I was home on leave from the Air Force. After I got out of the Air Force in May 1980 we hung out for awhile and then I went back to college and didn’t see him until 1990.
The years adding up and going by so fast.
“Can you believe we are going to be 50 next year?” Bob writes.
A half-century. The first half of my life. Act I. Part I.
Looking in the mirror in the morning and seeing an older you. There are more lines, creases, and wrinkles than there were a year ago. I cut my hair short and everyone tells me that I look young for my age. Go figure.
Sitting at my desk, a cup of coffee and gazing out the window. I am happy that I can see some mountains in the distance. It is something to focus upon.
It’s another Sunday. Another Sunday in Daejeon. Another Sunday in Korea.
How many more Sundays will be spent like this? How many more Sundays will I be sitting at this same desk and gazing out the window and feeling the way that I do today?
I think about a year ago…two years ago…three years ago. Where I have been, where I have come from and how I ended up here.
At school I hardly see anyone. Most of the time it is just passing a teacher on the street and saying hello or bumping into someone in the hallway. Sometimes I can go a week or longer without seeing any other teachers and this at a school where there are over fifty foreign teachers. I teach a class and then leave. Come back a few hours later or the next day and teach again. It’s a lonely way to make a living.
Got an email from Paul Collin yesterday. He talked a little about Carbondale and SIU. Something else that seems like a million miles away; far, far away in another lifetime. Paul banging on the wall at Freeman Hall. Paul pushing Miles in a shopping cart for my first student film. Paul and I finding out that John Lennon had been shot.
The nights are getting cooler. Soon the leaves will change into their vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows.
I wonder how many people read my blog and for those who do, why hardly anyone leaves me any comments. Who are my readers? I wonder if I make a difference in anyone’s life?
Today I will go to the market and then spend the day watching movies.
I hear another train rumbling into town. I wish I could be on a train headed somewhere, anywhere.