On December 8, 1980, I was studying for finals at Wesleyan University. My underwhelming scholastic performance coincided directly with the fun I had been having socially. I had enjoyed a fantastic first semester of college. I was seventeen, and had been assigned to live in an off-campus co-ed house which we dubbed "The Rude House." I formed many close friendships which remain vital all these decades later.
Wesleyan wasn't merely a top-level liberal arts college. It was "liberal" politically. Jimmy Carter had lost his bid for re-election, and some old television star with big hair was going to be President of the United States. I had been so upset that I too young to vote in the election. However, I could not but help look forward to finally turning eighteen-years-old this December, and being excited and optimistic about the future because I was young.
You cannot get along with everyone in a college residence. One guy irked me but we had one huge passion in common. We both were Beatlemaniacs. Although it had been over a decade since the legendary and iconic band had broken up, and we had been seven-years-old, "H" and I were as passionate about The Fab Four as the fans were on day The Beatles landed at Idlewild (February 7, 1964). The Beatles and their music helped Americans heal from the collective horror and grief experienced after the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963. H and I and all our classmates were born during the Kennedy Administration, and actually grew up with The Beatles as the soundtrack of our childhood.
We both had found comfort in their beautiful music, and were obsessive about all facts having to do with The Beatles. We could never say who our "favorite" Beatle was. We each flip-flopped about whether it was John Lennon or Paul McCarthy. H. and I were extremely excited because John had released his seventh studio album, "Double Fantasy," in late October after a five-year break from the music scene.
John was the "bad boy," possessed of good looks, irreverent wit, and sex appeal. Raised during World War II in Liverpool, John had a primal wound because his mother Julia had left him to be reared by his Aunt Mimi. There was no post-war economic boom in England as there was in the United States, no upward social mobility. John was "an angry young man." Thankfully, instead of becoming a criminal, he became a working class hero. Lennon threw his broken heart, anger and passion into making music. After The Beatles broke up John and his wife Yoko Ono relocated to New York City. He went on to record six studio albums. As a peace activist, Lennon protested the Vietnam War so Richard Nixon tried to have him deported from the U.S.. Lennon fought to remain for years (he got his "green card," document of permanent residency in 1976).
On October 9, 1975, John's own birthday, Yoko gave birth to their son Sean. John left the public forum and the music scene so he could be a stay-at-home father. I have wondered if being the primary caregiver to his little boy helped heal his wound from his own childhood. He doted on Sean, and the photographs and home movies from Sean's birth until the autumn of 1980 are genuine artifacts of love. And once healed, he returned to his life's passion, and began making and writing music again.
We were all young and deeply in the process of discovering who we were. The lessons we learned in our classrooms on all the great areas of humanities, arts and science made our minds open to the fact that life is finite and you have to choose what you will and what you won't spend time doing.
On the evening of December 8, 1980, we students and new friends gathered as a pack in one cozy bedroom on the third floor of "Rude House," laying around in piles with our textbooks and notebooks. I think we realized that we were lucky to be in college, that we better not mess up that status, because after student life came "Life."
There was a knock on the door. H. walked into the room, and I saw his eyes scanning the room. Then he walked over to where I sat and said,
"John Lennon's been shot."
I thought H was playing a horrible practical joke on me. Yelling at him, I told H he was the biggest jerk in the world, and that he was mean and cruel. H was red-faced, and walked over to our friends portable radio, turned it on and said, "Listen."
It was true. We gathered around the radio, until the announcer said that John Lennon had died on arrival at Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan, My heart broke. I spent the rest of the night crying, and brought my guitar over to the Center For The Fine Arts along with some candles and sat out in the cold Connecticut night singing every Beatles song I knew.
When the world feels as though it has ended, and that we cannot possibly face what is ahead, it's important to recall that human history occurs cyclically. We don't seem to learn from the mistakes of the past. I would never suggest turning a blind eye or deaf ear to current events. There's always a chance to change something through our actions, maybe something so small and slight that we won't be able to see its positive effects for days, years, or decades.
We cannot overlook the atrocities, nor can we stop trying to prevent evil. But, alas, in "Life," we cannot always change the course of history. So turn inward, to your own life, and figure out how you will remain strong by embracing your passions, creating good art, by healing yourself, by holding your loved ones as close as you can, and appreciate being alive. Gird yourself with love so that we may fight what's to come.
"Our life together
is so precious together"