WHAT DID HAPPEN HERE? (Memory Lane: 1980)

Today is my 60th birthday. On my 20th birthday, I found out John Lennon had been assassinated (for those of you who think it was only a “murder” or a “killing,” peace be upon you), in New York City from Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football.

I was living alone in a roach-infested single-room apartment two blocks from Florida State’s campus. There was no phone in the apartment and no one to call if there had been. I turned off the television and played the only John Lennon solo record I had, which was a 45 of “Mind
Games.” Not much later I acquired Lennon’s greatest hits and his Plastic Ono LP which was life-altering. But they wouldn’t have mattered on the night of my 20th birthday either, because for me John Lennon was a Beatle and that really was something to be.

The Beatles were never my favorite band. I loved their music but any chance they would replace the Four Seasons and the Beach Boys after I saw the movie I Wanna Hold Your Hand in the spring of 1978, was made irrelevant when I found the Byrds’ Greatest Hits in a Woolco bargain bin in June. Plus, if I’d had a favorite Beatle (and I don’t) it wouldn’t have been John. Probably just because he was so many other people’s favorite. Usually people like rock critics, of whom I was already suspicious, not least because guys like John Lennon courted them, and because they let him.

John Lennon was a deeply flawed man to say the least: a violent-tempered, wife-abusing, audience-baiting hypocrite, one of many celebrities who loved everything about Marxism except the part where you don’t get to keep your money and didn’t seem to realize that was a feature, not a bug.

All that and more.

And yet….

If you stick through all that, you realize Lennon was not quite predictable. In the age of celebrity politics that was just heaving into view on the night Lennon was shot, if one man in all that ghastly crew could have been counted on not to remain on the ridge in safety, it was John Lennon. I could imagine him hating or loving Donald Trump, for instance, or treating the whole age with the contempt it deserves, but I could never imagine him making excuses for the likes of Joe Biden. Maybe that makes me naive. But, as someone who felt a cold chill that night in December 1980, as I was listening to “Mind Games” over and over, a chill that could not be explained by my feelings about Lennon, the song, or even the Beatles, I can only say that from this end of the Frozen Silence, Elton John wasn’t wrong a few months later when he sang that his friend could not be replaced.

Many have tried. But he’s still John Lennon and they’re still not.

Happy Birthday to me. R.I.P. to the man who turned out to be as good a hero as any:

10 thoughts on “WHAT DID HAPPEN HERE? (Memory Lane: 1980)

  1. He was who he was. It’s very hard to live up to everyone’s expectations; like all other people he had his flaws. Considering the Beatle’s trajectory to a new level of celebrity status heretofore unheard of, how could you not be affected? I always liked Paul the best (actually John was probably my least favourite) although JL was immensely talented. I still remember where I was and who I was with when I heard about his death.

    Cheers my friend.

    • Hey Mike, thanks for sharing. I don’t think even those who were closest to him would deny JL was difficult to say the least. But from this distance his accomplishments far outweigh the rest of it. And I may not have a favorite Beatle but I don have a favorite Beatles’ song. It’s “Ticket to Ride” and we all know who was responsible for that!

  2. Hey John,

    We share a birthday! (I’ll be the big 6-0 NEXT year). So.. Happy belated birthday to you. And thank you for all the smart, distinctive and helpful work you do.


    • Hey David, so good to hear from you! Hope your 59 year is better than mine (two surgeries, a stint in rehab, 2 cracked vertebrae…so far–lol). And thanks for the kind words. FYI: If I can find the energy, I’m planning to respond to Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums with a list of my own (right now, I’m thinking 100, though I’m already realizing what a small number that is)….I think I can promise I’ll do better by country than they did!)


      • I bet you WILL do better than RS on the country front (and perhaps on others too)! Just fyi… I had nothing to do with that list whatsoever but… speaking of great albums… I am currently revising/expanding my Merle book for a new edition and just yesterday finished the section on Serving 190 Proof. Hint, hint… (They went with a box for Merle, as they did for several other acts, which to my way of thinking is both cheating and a cop out). Speaking of box sets… You may be interested to learn that I wrote the notes for the latest Elvis box out last month, From Elvis in Nashville. Thinking that collection, taking in the sessions for what became the Elvis Country, Love Letters and (most of) That’s the Way It Is albums (notably MINUS the final overdubs) might just be up your alley! Hope you are on the mend!

  3. Just to tell you how small a hundred is (as if you didn’t know!)….I’m already faced with the possibility there won’t be any Haggard OR Jones because I’ve spent a lot of time with their whole bodies of music, but not so much with any one album that it stands out (Same for Tom Petty and several other faves), but I’ll still have more country than RS,

    I heard about that Elvis box from my nephew who’s older than me, from Memphis, and the guy who turned me on to E back in the 70’s. Now that I know you wrote the notes, I might just have to make that my Xmas present to myself!

    I’m mending, albeit at a snail’s pace…Really looking forward to the update on The Running Kind and hope you have a great holiday!


    (Oh, and I don’t mind boxes….as long as you actually LISTEN to them, which I suspect a lot of people don’t.)

  4. My problem with box sets in album lists comes down to this: If you include, say, Star Time by James Brown, as the RS list did, then how do you also not make it number one? And to this: Once you decide to include box sets, then why don’t you commit across the board? Decade is superior to any individual Neil Young album; Queen of Soul beats any Aretha album, even Lady Soul; The Capitol Years has to rank ahead of Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely and Songs for Swingin’ Lovers both. Etc. etc.

    • I see your point. But my list is going to be the albums I’ve actually spent the most time with in my life….something along those lines to personalize it If I was doing it for the kind of list RS was doing I’d steer clear. As it is, I’m only in it for the fun so I’m leaning towards four or five boxes. I’ll have plenty of time to rethink it….right now I can only sit in my office chair a few hours a week beyond the 40 I have to spend in it for my job! Could be spring before it comes to fruition.

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