In my previous post I referred to the one football game I ever attended with my mother. It turned out to be one hell of a game, one of the most exciting I’ve ever seen. The Dolphins shut down the league’s top-scoring offense for three quarters, fell behind in the fourth quarter, rallied for a late game-tying TD, and then, facing certain defeat, blocked a field goal to send the game into overtime. Where they won. Awesome. The greatest NFL game I’d ever been to up to that time. And did I mention this was a Monday Night game? The crowd was absolutely electric that night and when that winning field goal went through the uprights the Orange Bowl was shaking. Literally. What a great game and a great night. But no one was talking about it the next day. Nobody. I found out the next morning before school that while I was yelling and high-fiving and cheering on the Fins to victory, a lunatic had gunned down my hero.
Right before the game’s most dramatic moment, the New England Patriots’ attempt at a walk-off game winning field goal, Howard Cosell informed the audience of the murder of John Lennon. But the 80,000 of us actually at the game didn’t have a clue. We were screaming our guts out and rocking the stadium while everyone watching on TV suddenly could care less about the blocked field goal try.
For days afterward the news was filled with images of people deeply affected by Lennon’s death. People openly weeping about someone they’d never met. I didn’t have that reaction. Like I said, Lennon was my hero but I didn’t cry for him. I just felt weird. More than anything I was confused. I didn’t really know how to react. I didn’t know him and being a teenager, an introverted one at that, I wasn’t really given to openly expressing my feelings. But I knew I’d lost something.
When it comes to music I’ve always somehow found myself behind the times. While the rest of my peer group was digging disco and corporate rock and “Bruce, Billy and Bob” (as one of my friends put it), I was at home listening to my mother’s old Beatles records. My mother was a bit of a hippie and she had pretty good taste in music, assembling a nice collection of what we now like to call Classic Rock. And years after the group called it a day I played those Beatles albums over and over and over again. Their music meant everything to me. They were the Alpha and Omega of rock. My mother primarily owned the later period stuff, so when I wore those grooves out I got myself all their other records too. And I loved them all. I loved them so much that the music wasn’t enough anymore. I wanted to learn about the band too. I wanted to know the legend. Who were these guys and what made them so great? I needed to know. So I picked up a little book called The Beatles Forever and I read it so many times that it eventually fell apart. I’ve read plenty of other books about the Beatles but this one’s still the best as far as I’m concerned. You get the basic history, some fine writing about the music, especially the solo careers, but the author, Nicholas Schaffner, really gets across just how important the Beatles were to the generation that grew up with them. And those were the people shedding tears in the wake of Lennon’s death.
Back in 1987 I saw a show marking the 20th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper and the so-called Summer of Love and at the end each of the surviving Beatles was asked if they believed it was true that “All You Need Is Love”. George Harrison said he did. I can’t remember exactly what Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr said but in the Beatles Anthology McCartney said he did believe that was the essential message of the Beatles. Maybe that’s too simplistic a summary of the entire Beatles catalog but let’s stipulate that McCartney’s right, after all, the man wrote a lot of love songs and he’s surely more qualified than anyone else to say what the Beatles were all about. After all, the Beatle became the most loved band of all time for a reason, or reasons. And surely one of those reasons was their message. Another reason has to be the Fab Four (seemingly) lived their own message, being so close to one another and so appreciative of their fans devotion (at least in appearance). The Beatles Forever lets you see all this from the viewpoint of a fan who felt this connection to the band. And the connection didn’t stop with the band as a group. The Beatles were so famous that each member of the band had a public persona, so every fan had a favorite Beatle. And like so many mine was John Lennon.
Because the Beatles had called it a day by the time I started listening to their music, I learned about them from Schaffner’s book and subsequently from various interviews, mainly Lennon’s famous Playboy interview published shortly before his death. The biting wit, the uncompromising truth-telling (as he saw it), the crazy political stunts (trying to help stop a war). And his songs seemed to come from a more personal place than McCartney’s. He was real. All this strongly appealed to my teenage self. Here was somebody I wished I could be like. Now even then I knew Lennon was hardly, as McCartney put it later, the idealized “Martin Luther Lennon” figure he became after his I murder. He was too complicated and damaged an individual for that. But that didn’t matter. I loved his music and I loved what he had to say on matters both political and personal. I certainly wasn’t alone. And then some crazy person with a gun shot him to death for absolutely no reason. All these years later it’s still horrible to think about.
The day after the game I expected to be able to regale my friends with stories about the game. But that never happened. Nobody wanted to talk about it. Certainly not me, and for the last 30 years I’ve never thought about that Monday Night game without thinking about the death of John Lennon.