The Day the Music Died [Repost Dec 2005]

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of John Lennon’s death.

It seems silly to me (and a wee bit inappropriate) that it affected me this much. After all, though I knew about the Beatles, and could sing several of their songs, I have no recollection whatsoever of his murder. But I’m depressed today, and this is the primary reason why.

I can’t explain in words the reasons it bothers me, so let me paint a picture with large brushstrokes, and allow you folks to glean the wheat from the chaff. In the process, I may actually learn something about myself.

Music has always been a large part of my life. I began taking piano lessons in 7th grade (1981) and fell in love with this craft. I practiced incessantly; I began scribbling horrid little compositions of my own. My lessons were sporadic, and I really began studying the instrument a little too late to really read music well. While I can read, and I have a stronger technique & skill, it’s still a bit like a foreign language for me to sit down and struggle through a piece if I haven’t seen it before. At any rate, my practice was sporadic, especially on the days when my dad arrived home before me. He would say “I like the piano. I don’t mind listening to a song. I just don’t like all that tinklin’-around shit.”

Well, frankly I was quite good at the tinklin’-around shit, but slightly better at composition.

John Lennon wasn’t even on my radar screen during my high school years. I knew he existed; I may have even known he had died in a horrible way, by that time. I don’t remember. My hero was Keith Green. He was a Christian musician whose range was pretty wide—he could play boogie, jazz, pseudo-classical, rock; all on the piano. I wanted to be Keith (minus the Afro, perhaps, but with the same skill and fervency). When he died in a plane crash, any time I listened to his music, it made me cry; especially his live albums. I thought I’d listen to his breathing on the tracks and think, “I’m breathing the same air molecules as this man and he’s no longer on this planet.” He was a man of incredible talent, and it made me weep to think that he had been yanked away from us all. I prayed God would someday allow me to fill his shoes.

I was never really a good enough musician to fill anybody’s shoes but I went to College feeling that I could make a difference if I shared with children the joy I felt, when I played music. I studied hard (in my music classes, at least), thought about changing majors a dozen times until a single piece brought it all home.

I had a listening assignment and was hunkered over an old phonograph copy of Fritz Wunderlich singing Die Schöne Mullerin. I read the lyrics as I listened to the tracks and by the eighth song, I was beginning to cry. By the last song of the Schubert cycle, I was a wreck, just sobbing in the listening room at the library. I thought, “THIS is what it’s about. This is the reason I’m studying music. Not for little kids, not to learn music, but because it’s the only thing that can make me feel. Before Die Schöne Mullerin I was Mr. Spock in student shoes. After this piece, I realized that I could be Spock and show my emotions as well.

I became interested in the Beatles in 1990, the same year I met my wife. I was given a CD player and four classical pieces. The first album I spent money on was the Beatles White Album, (which I’d never heard), largely because in the movie Fletch, Chevy Chase asks the nurse, “Do you have the Beatles’ White Album? Never mind, just get me a glass of hot fat. And bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia while you’re out there.” With such a ringing endorsement, I couldn’t possibly go wrong. I bought the two-album set and plunked it into my player, headphones on. I fell asleep and woke to the Harrison track “Long Long Long” which I don’t recommend because it’s a screaming nightmare of sounds invading your subconscious mind. But I was impressed that it had that effect on me, and I wasn’t even a drug user. I fell in love with the album and wore out the little electrons on the CD. I knew every song by heart—every splice of “Revolution #9”.

Next, I bought the documentary The Compleat Beatles and wore out the VCR watching.

I was fascinated by John. His silliness, his free-verse, the way he raged and the way he loved. Above all, his sincerity as a human made me want to know this guy’s stuff better. He made horrible decisions in his life, over and over again, but he did them with passion and conviction. He was despondent, and unafraid to let people know. He was a philanderer and unafraid to let people know. He said the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. He may have been right, in 1966.

Here was a man who felt emotions. I admired that.

I eventually acquired all the albums (didn’t take me too long) and began buying some of the solo albums. When I got to buy his Plastic Ono Band album, and Double Fantasy, I finally decided this guy is my hero. He was amazing. He cried on a record, for millions of people to see. He seethed venom in “Working Class Hero”. He screamed his guts out. His lament “Mother” never fails to make me cry and I’ve heard it hundreds of times. His song “God” is simple and powerful; absolutely stunning lyrics.

I’m not a lyrics fan. I’m a Lennon fan. I’ve sat with him on a cornflake, waiting for the van to come. If I’m lonely, he talks to me. See? Some kinds of happiness are measured out in smiles.

I was going to say more, but the muse left me.

So let me conclude.

John Lennon is somebody I wanted to emulate. Everything he did, it was 200%. If he loved you? You got 200% of his love. If he hated you? You got 200% of that, too. If he worshipped? 200%. It was all-or-nothing with John. And he was unafraid to bare his soul. That kind of honesty is so rare, as not to be found anymore.

Sorry this rambled. I wrote as quickly as I could, so I could get down my thoughts before the evil demon of work caught up with me. I can say nothing more than that without becoming a little weepy. Especially because yesterday, 25 years ago, was the day the music really did die.


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