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.