Negiversaires

8 December 2009

Today is the negiversary of the saddest day of my teenage years – John Lennon was murdered 29 years ago this evening.

What is a negiversary? The commemoration of a negative anniversary e.g.: 9/11, Pearl Harbor, Kennedy Assignation or the day you first wore leggings.

We now treat dates of tragedy with the same devotion as birthdays. Why don’t we celebrate John’s birth? Maybe because births are an abstraction while tragedy is a shared experience

I hate it when I hear that John Lennon died or passed away. It’s the same with RFK, MLK and JFK. Those phrases sound peaceful, how John died was hardly peaceful. He just left a recording studio and was walking back into the Dakota apartment building when a lone gunman, who claimed to be a fan, shot him in the back four times. I won’t mention his name because he doesn’t deserve it. Lennon died 30 minutes after the shooting. Then the most surreal sight in television history happened –

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gcdz1IRVoM

I was 16-years-old and watching that telecast when I heard the news (oh boy). I turned on the radio, my best friend and the place where I first met John; the Loop (WLUP-FM) was playing John’s music with and without the Beatles.

The next morning, Steve and Garry, Loop morning jocks at the time, refused to play any of his music, because they said it was too soon. I heard Terri Hemmert on WXRT-FM crying on the air. I had never heard a jock outwardly show that kind of sadness, I doubt I ever will. The full banner headline in the Chicago Tribune read: EX-BEATLE LENNON SLAIN.

I didn’t want to go to school that day, no one did. When I got there, the place was quiet. There was no laughter in the halls. No talk of upcoming holiday break. No one asking to look at John Goritsas’s homework. The teachers actually came out of their sacred place, the teacher’s lounge, to hang out with us kids. We all shared stories and memories of Lennon and the Beatles. We talked about his music and his call for peace. In the middle of the Cold War, the prospect of peace was just as far-flung as it is today.

With the Beatles, you always felt they were yours alone. On that day, I learned how they and John belonged to everyone; from 16-year-old non-conformist troublemakers, to the prehistoric 35-year-old teachers. On that day, we all lived in a Yellow Submarine.

On the following Sunday there was a memorial at Cricket Hill in Lincoln Park. My buddy Jeff Bramson and I were going to go but it was too cold. We could see it from the apartment of his mother and we stuck our heads out the window to watch. The hill disappeared under a sea of people. It was estimated at 4,000 people. (FOX said it was fewer than 15 while MSNBC said it was 38,000,000.) All were bundled up in winter coats and carrying candles. There was ten minutes of silence, as John’s wife Yoko Ono requested. Then you could hear the crowd singing “Give Peace a Chance.”

When I was younger, so much younger than today, my favorite Beatle was Paul, he was the cute one and I wanted to be. Paul was a gifted musician and accessible. Later on, John became my favorite. He was difficult, brooding and thoughtful. He became the anti-thesis of the moptop he once embodied. John evolved, more than the others did. Every other musical influence I had in my life after the Beatles (Todd Rundgren, Alex Chilton, Elvis Costello, Paul Weller, Joe Strummer, Paul Westerberg, Kurt Cobain and Julian Casablancas) can draw a straight line to John Lennon.

Outside of my parents, and after their message stopped being relevant, John Lennon was my biggest personal influence.

I never made the pilgrimage to the Dakota where John was shot; I have never even been to New York. I did go to England and took a tour of Liverpool. There I saw the Art School where he met Stuart Sutcliffe. I stayed in a hotel where he used to dress as a vicar and sweep the sidewalks.

I had a pint in a pub across from the Art School, Ye Cracke, where John described is education thusly “When I went to Art College in Liverpool…it was mainly one long drinking session.”

I toured 10 Mathew St, the most famous address in rock and roll.

Lastly, I spent an afternoon in the schmaltz Beatles Museum, on the Albert Dock. The final room is all white with open windows in the back. There is a grand piano in the middle. On top is a picture of John playing said piano and a pair of his specs, the famous granny glasses. One song plays repeatedly, “Imagine.”

Of course I went to Abbey Road studios, where all the Beatles albums were recorded and one, “Revolver” opened my mind when I was 13-years-old.

For me, the greatest tragedy was John was starting over. He was in near seclusion for four years. A few months before his murder, he released a mellow, thoughtful album. He was starting over.  That being said, he was giving interviews and speaking out. Just as I was becoming more politically aware it seemed as though the best weapon we had was coming back to take his rightful place. He was going to give me some truth. He would to get us through the Reagan years that were to come. He was going to stand-up during the first and second Iraq War. He was going to help get Mandela released. He sure as hell would stand by me while W. hijacked the country. He would have gotten us through the tragedy of 9/11 in person. All the things Bono has become, John Lennon was.

It was 29 years ago today that John was taken from us. It still affects me. I think about the great music he left us. I think about his wife who never got to grow old with him. I am sad for his beautiful boy who grew up without a father, just like John did. I think of all of us who were moved by his words. Lastly, I imagine all the people living life in peace. Sadly, 29 years ago today, John got his wish; the world lived as one but for the wrong reason.

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2 Responses to “Negiversaires”

  1. Nancy Says:

    What’s wrong with leggings?

  2. Elliot Benn Says:

    I didn’t want to go to school that day, no one did. When I got there, the place was quiet. There was no laughter in the halls. No talk of upcoming holiday break. No one asking to look at John Goritsas’s homework. The teachers actually came out of their sacred place, the teacher’s lounge, to hang out with us kids. We all shared stories and memories of Lennon and the Beatles. We talked about his music and his call for peace. In the middle of the Cold War, the prospect of peace was just as far-flung as it is today.

    CLASSIC!!


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