Trying to Get Us Some Peace
A Memory from David Lawrence
It was twenty-five years ago today, give or take a handful. I was nineteen years old on that December day, a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh. It was the final day of classes for the fall semester. I went out drinking at a bar called Zelda’s Greenhouse with my public speaking class and came home after eleven o’clock that night. I don’t remember a single name or face from that night long ago. I don’t remember how I got home. I wasn’t so drunk I’ve forgotten; those are just details that long ago ceased to matter. The rest I will never forget.
I turned on the TV to check in on Monday Night Football, a game between the Dolphins and the Patriots. The first thing I heard was the stentorian tone of Howard Cosell, not exactly a surprise. This time though, Howard was not calling a screen pass or a draw play or a kick-off return; after twenty-five years it remains one of the most stunning things I’ve heard in my life.
“One of the great figures of the entire world, one of the great artists, was shot to death horribly at the Dakota Apartments, 72nd Street and Central Park West in New York City. John Lennon is dead.”
It was my JFK, my Pearl Harbor, the moment the world that I knew just stopped making sense. It was lost, never to be found again.
I doubt I can really explain what Lennon and the Beatles meant in the world I grew up in. I watched them that night on the Ed Sullivan Show not so long after JFK’s assassination, though I was too young to remember. I simply had never known a world without the Beatles. They were not merely icons, a word overused today; they were mythic figures. Rock music, pop music, popular culture, none of it was ever the same again.
The most mythic of them all was John. His burgeoning talent, his cutting wit, his social activism, he was simply the man most of us wished we could be. His re-emergence, after years of self-imposed exile from politics and the music scene, had only added to his stature. Then in one brutal moment he was gone.
If you’ve never really listened to John, please do. There is simple naked honesty in songs like “Norwegian Wood”; flights of fancy like “Lucy In The Sky”; tortured pain in songs like “Cold Turkey” and his cover of “Stand By Me”; lyric pleas for a better world in songs like “All You Need Is Love” and “Give Peace A Chance”. Few artists of his time or any other can match the depth and breadth, intelligence and soul, of his work.
The next day I pretended to study for a math final with a couple of classmates, but what we really did was smoke a lot of pot and listen to local radio station WDVE, which spent the whole day playing only the Beatles and John. We didn’t talk much about it. What could we possibly say?
For a long time I had a script in mind, though I never put it down on paper. A prison psychiatrist interviews Mark Chapman. Just after leaving the cell, he hears a thunderous crash. He and the guards race back to the cell. A gigantic walrus had crashed through the ceiling and crushed Chapman. The walrus looks at the doctor and guards and speaks. “Goo goo ga joob.”
If John were with us today I think I know what he would be doing. He’d be fighting the good fight against Bush’s war; opposing the abuses of the Patriot Act; condemning the torture at Abu Ghraib; protesting the deaths of 2000 American soldiers and thousands of Iraqi civilians; singing out as always “Give peace a chance.”
Happy Xmas John, wherever you are.
I’m sorry, but war isn’t over yet. I guess we didn’t want it enough.