The December day a cold, dark world became a little darker
December 7, 2005
Dec. 8,1980. I was still a newborn to my 20s. I was lifting weights in the basement of my parent’s home in Utica, N.Y. The world outside seemed lifeless, enveloped by a blackness that even light was too weak to penetrate. Even the snow and ice that pressed against the basement windows cracked in revolt of the near-zero temperature.
But only the biting cold was strong enough to battle the black pitch of night. It was the kind of coldness that tears through your clothes, chokes your lungs, and stalls your heart.
As I lifted a barbell over my head, the DJ of the top local FM station broke through a song. “This is hard to believe, but we just received a wire report from New York City that a man identified as John Lennon was shot in front of his apartment … .”
I stiffened. I slowly lowered the barbell. My eyes were without motion or sight as they fell on the radio and remained there like the eyes of a mannequin. I could no longer hear anything but the noise of the silence around me. Then the DJ returned. John Lennon was “… pronounced dead.”
One of my very few life-long heroes was dead. The man universally known as the most talented member of The Beatles (the immeasurably influential rock band that he formed and named) was shot and killed by a fan – one Mark David Chapman – who only hours before had asked Lennon to autograph a copy of his new album, “Double Fantasy.” By the hand of an obsessed and possessed fan, the murderous sense of humor that is irony had struck a final and fatal joke.
Yes, Lennon was one of my truest heroes. His songwriting was a gift very few musicians can boast. And it came equipped with one of rock’s purest, rawest, and strongest voices. And Lennon was one of the most quotable celebrities of ANY kind. His quotes could (and do) fill a book. In interviews, Lennon’s choice of words were as penetrating as stilettos through a melon, and just as unmistakably accurate. When asked what he thought of the death of Elvis Presley, Lennon replied, “Elvis died when he went into the Army.” Those same stilettos would split the melon just as precisely, so many times.
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Lennon exposed his thoughts of religion, war, politics, and the world on both of his sleeves, in his heart, and in his words. He felt them in his soul. Because of that, he was also often labeled “… the most misunderstood Beatle.” His proclamation on March 4, 1966, that the Beatles were “… more popular than Jesus …” was miserably misinterpreted by hypocrites around the world (with the possible exception of England). Beatles records were burned in huge mounds as petroleum-fed smoke sacrifices.
But the real suffocating stench was not from molten plastic. It was from plastic of a different kind – the plastic of hypocrisy – the same hypocrisy that struck the first match of those bonfires in 1966. The message of Lennon’s seemingly irreverent and indolent statement now burns with greater truth than ever before. Even the Archbishop of Boston at the time admitted that there was a good chance Lennon was right; but as hypocrisy usually mixes its compass arrows, he still refused to forgive him for what he said.
Lennon’s intended message behind that infamous statement? Kids – people – would rather see their favorite band in concert than go to church. But even as adults, what would people do if they had a choice between being at the Super Bowl or attending Mass? How about the World Series? A hot date?
Agree or not, the message is very strong indeed. And Lennon’s message also implied that most people universally knew the lyrics of a Beatles song more so than the words of a prayer.
It is sad to think that one of John Lennon’s most famous and often used quotes came in the form of a song lyric written for his son, Sean, just before he died. In the lyric to the hauntingly lovely, “Beautiful Boy,” Lennon’s fatherly and protective wisdom to his beloved little boy is, “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”
As John Lennon’s bloody body lay in the arms of his disbelieving wife, Yoko Ono, on that cold night in New York, 25 years ago, the life of a hero was fading quickly as an uninvited intruder called death interrupted with plans of its own.
n John DiMambro is publisher of the Nevada Appeal. Write to him at email@example.com.
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