December 8, 1980
We were waiting in the car, my dad and me, while my mom was in the grocery store. My dad tuned in WLS on the radio, which was then the big rock station coming out of Chicago. I guess that’s why it sticks in my memory. My dad’s company cars all had AM radios, but I thought they were permanently locked onto NewsRadio 78. The only music we ever heard while traveling when I was young was the five note jingle at the top of the hour for CBS News.
While WLS mostly played Top 40, they did reach back every so often and broadcast a blast from the past. So, as we were sitting there in the parking lot, I remember hearing a song that – somehow – fit a notch in my brain like a missing piece to a jigsaw puzzle.
Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to –
Nothing is real.
And nothing to get hung about.
Strawberry Fields forever.
My parents had a few Beatles albums, but I mostly discovered them on my own. I bought my first Beatles album – Sergeant Pepper (because it had the coolest cover) – when I was about seven years old. This was the mid 1970′s and the Beatles were long split up. However, there was a story on the news every so often about a possible reunion.
“Come listen to this,” my dad would call, and I would hear the last minute of a story about how the Beatles had been offered a hundred million dollars to play a concert. I remember one where they were asked to play to help the Boat People from South Vietnam. Each time, they reported John Lennon said no. He was retired from playing music.
Right before Thanksgiving when I was ten years old, I remember hearing a song on the radio right before I went to bed. It sounded just like John Lennon because (as it turned out) it was John Lennon. The song was (Just Like) Starting Over and it was from a new album. I remember being very excited because if he wasn’t retired anymore, he might just play with the other Beatles. In fact, I remember hearing a tape of him talking about – possibly – re-recording Strawberry Fields Forever.
I was playing the organ down in the living room. My mom was there with me. It was late, but my younger brother David came downstairs from his room.
“Someone just shot John Lennon,” he said. “They’re driving him to the hospital.” What? My mom said he must have heard it wrong and sent him back to bed. A few minutes later he came down again.
“No, somebody shot John Lennon,” he said again. “And now he’s dead.” That was too much. We all went upstairs and listened to the word coming in from WLS on David’s desktop radio.
My fifth grade teacher – Miss Cudney – was young. She was very subdued the next day. Surprisingly, so was a lot of the class. I brought in the picture of John Lennon from the White Album for Show and Tell (when the White Album was an actual album, there were four good sized pictures of each of the Beatles inside). Other kids brought in albums their parents had. One girl brought in Polaroid pictures her mom took when the Beatles played in Chicago in 1964. We passed the pictures around, we played the records on the classroom record player and we talked until noon, I think, when we shared a moment of silence with (I believe) the whole world.