Chanukah memories: We all shine on.

Oh, John.  

I suppose some of my writer’s block with these Chanukah memories is because, after the lights, this one is the strongest.

Chanukah was early in 1980, like it is this year. I was 14 and what I remember being obsessed with were Anne McCaffrey novels and the Beatles. My best friend and I listened to them over and over, singing along. When we snuck away from campus heading over to Marcus Dairy during free periods, we walked by the long stretch of figures that bordered the Danbury Fair Grounds — and inevitably would start singing “Rocky Raccoon” when we reached the humungous raccoons in coveralls. She was partial to Paul, but for me it was John. Solo work especially. The others were fine, but.

I grew up with Beatles music. I sort of inherited that obsession from my older brother, who might have absorbed it from our mother. There was always music in our house, and it was rarely what was on the radio (unless it was one of the classical stations). I can’t hear “Help!” without remembering the night my older brother was babysitting us and we were listening to that when the power went out. It’s one of the few uncomplicatedly pleasant memories I have of the childhood he and I shared. I believe he made us macaroni and cheese. Watching “Yellow Submarine” on channel 5 every New Year’s Eve. And then there’s riding my tricycle in the carport singing “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” — I’d turn to the wall on cue, and loved the “two foot small” line. Even for a tiny child, I was a tiny child. And, of course, “I’m So Tired” is more or less my personal theme in life’s soundtrack (sure, I’ll share).

I had to catch a godawful-early bus for school, so I was deep asleep that night when my older brother came in to tell me that John had been shot. It made it into my consciousness, though, because when I woke to hear the Beatles on the radio, and what the DJs said, I wasn’t shocked. I barely felt the impact —  I was still floating in dreamspace. The whole day, really, was like that. I caught the bus, went to school, I remember talking to people about it. When I came home, Mom told me she was surprised I hadn’t skipped school — it hadn’t occurred to me that that was an option. I did stay home the next day, though. As much because “hey, Mom said I can!” as to give myself a day to immerse myself in the canon of music that was now forever complete.  A bit of the wisdom that comes with being a grown-up, I suppose. Thanks Mom.

We didn’t always do it this way, but that year we opened one gift per night for each of eight nights. They all sat wrapped in a pile, and we got to choose. One of mine was a large flat square. I thought I knew which record album Mom would have bought for me and would have picked it anyway, but Mom made sure that that was the one I opened. “Double Fantasy,” John’s new — last — album. His love song to his family. We might have listened to it through dinner. Immediately afterwards, anyway. And of course the next day. And frequently thereafter.

Mom wouldn’t let me go down into the city to join the vigil — not even when my eighteen-year-old brother promised to go with me to look after me (we were outraged) — but I watched clips on the news. That was my first experience with mass grief, and really my first experience of the finality of loss. It still strikes, randomly — I’ll hear a song and feel that anger, resentment, grief, that that voice was silenced. I know I’m not alone.

Like most of you, politics have become a central  focus of my life. Along with Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, John Lennon’s words formed a great deal of my political sensibilities. Thanks, John. You helped us know what it is to be moral (even when you screw up a bit along the way), to be human, and to have a damn good time while doing so. We miss you, we love you and your work, we still need you.


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  1. I’ve been listening to the music again recently, and there’s a lot of meaning there that I missed before.

    Of course, a lot of it is just fun.  

    • RiaD on December 8, 2007 at 21:47

    we happened to be awake that night. two sick children, one 3, one 18months. the little ones temp was 103 & climbing. we had the radio on with soft music. they broke in with the horrible announcement and then they proceeded to play everything by john or the beatles that they had without a break for ads.  

  2. What do you think?

  3. to Tia’s earlier essay- Chanukah: first memory.

  4. sharing all the world

  5. I was 18 and driving through snowy Denver with my roommate when we heard the news on the car radio. We were in shock and tears. I later attended a memorial for John in San Diego that was incredibly moving and beautiful.

    His music and the Beatles were the earliest soundtrack of my life and I have never tired of it. John’s message in particular resonates stronger in me now than ever.

    Here’s an unusual vid of he and Yoko doing “I don’t want to be a soldier” and a pic I embellished a little for our times.

    • plf515 on December 9, 2007 at 00:57

    His songs are still played, his words are still heard.

    And some people even listen to them.

  6. I did not grow up in a house that idolized the Beatles. My contemporaries were the ones that burned their records when John said they were more popular that Jesus. John was seen as the enemy and a real threat.

    As most of you know, I eventually abandoned that mindset as an adult. One day in the 80’s after John had been killed, I was running around a lake here in town with a radio headset on. The song “Imagine” came on. It was the first time I’d heard the song with my “new ears.” All I could do was stop running, kneel down and weep.  

    • lezlie on December 9, 2007 at 09:15

    but somehow you made it uplifting…

    thank you for reminding us that there are beautiful, courageous people in the world, though sometimes not long enough.

    John was always my favorite as well…

    I never liked Elvis… but the Beatles, OMG! I was such an Anglophile when it came to music at that time!

    Imagine is still my favorite song. Such a loss… but he will live forever thru his music!  

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