It's hard to believe it's almost been 30 years since I heard Howard Cosell deliver the news on Monday Night Football that John Lennon had been killed.
I was still in high school when John Lennon died so I was too young to remember the Beatles as anything more than a former band.
When the Beatles invaded America, I was less than a year old.
Three summers later, when Sgt. Peppers transformed popular music and America's culture, I was still a toddler.
But regardless of my late start, John Lennon and the Beatles still changed my life in a way that few others have. I didn't see the Fab Four introduced to America by Ed Sullivan, or endure the pain of a breakup to the strains of "Yesterday," or drop acid with my friends while listening to Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. But I did have their music, and in the end that's all that mattered.
My transformative moment with the band came on the last day of 8th Grade when my friends and I rode our bikes home from school in Upstate New York. When we reached the mall, we dropped our bikes and ran into the record store. One friend bought the latest Kiss album and another grabbed something by AC/DC. Instead of buying something in my decade, I settled on the Beatles' 1967-1970 "blue album." That decision would change my life.
By the end of that first weekend, I was hooked. I spent the next four or five years hunting down every Beatles album, bootleg, solo album and documentary. I'm not sure why I had so much trouble tracking down albums like Let it Be during the mid-1970s. Maybe it was because Elmira, New York record stores had limited stock or maybe it's because Capitol Records hadn't figured out yet that they could sell more albums by a band that broke up years ago than a new band exploding on the scene.
Regardless, all I know is that this Beatles scavenger hunt made my obsession with the band all the more exciting. My friends and I would spend our time on vacations with our families running into record stores trying to find Beatles albums and rare imports that escaped our grasp.
Let it Be was the hardest to find and was soon viewed among my small band of friends as the Holy Grail of Beatles recordings. And though I found and devoured that album years ago, I still haven't gotten my hands on the damn movie! (Come on, Paul. Release it already.)
Soon after buying that first Beatles album, I began writing music. I learned to play the guitar and bass. I started recording my songs. I locked myself in my room almost every night, put on my headphones and got lost in the music. I melted into the second side of "Abbey Road," "You Never Give Me Your Money," the White Album, "Happiness is a Warm Gun," Rubber Soul, "Norwegian Wood" and that wicked twist McCartney added to Lennon's song about burning down a snob's cherished home.
The Beatles gave me a love for music that got me through one heartbreak after another. When my parents moved our family from New York to Florida at the end of 9th Grade, it was music that got me though that tough transition and it was music that helped me find new friends and navigate a new high school.
Halfway through my senior year, I was watching Monday Night Football with my dad when Cosell broke the news that John Lennon had been shot dead in New York City. I stared at the TV unable to speak. My father stayed focused on the football game on the screen while my mother tried in vain to offer consolation. But there was nothing she or anyone could say.
I couldn't explain to them how much this hurt. After all, how do you explain to anyone that some guy I had never met, never spoken to, or never even seen in concert, had taken a more central role in my life than many people I dealt with every day?
Nor could I explain it to my friends (who had always thought I was more than a little bit strange for refusing to listen to anything recorded after 1969 unless it was a Beatle's solo album.) So I did the only thing I could do. I walked quietly back to room, slipped on my headphones and began listening to "Plastic Ono Band." Then "Imagine." Then "Walls and Bridges" and "Shaved Fish" and "Somewhere in New York City" and anything else I could get my hands on.
I listened to Lennon's last BBC interview with Andy Peebles. I read the Rolling Stone tribute issue that told me how my hero's last word was "yeah." I remember watching Elton John singing "Empty Garden." I remember listening to Paul's tribute "Here Today." But nothing really helped in a murder as senseless as this one. Nothing, sad to say, but the passing of time.
Almost 30 years later, I still can't believe what happened that cold night in December 1980. But tonight, I will kiss my 6-year-old daughter goodnight under the sign on her wall that reads "All You Need Is Love." Then I'll be listening to Lennon on my iPod when I walk a few blocks over to 72nd Street and Central Park West. When I reach the Dakota, I'll keep pushing my iPod's button until "Merry Xmas (War is Over)" starts playing in my ears.
I'll say a prayer and walk back home.
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