Sunday, December 5, 2010 | Categories: Michael's Essays
December 5, 2010In this week's essay, Michael reflects on the death of iconic Beatle John Lennon which coincided with the birth of his own son.
I heard the news today, Oh Boy.
Around ten to eleven on Dec. 8th, 1980, 30 years ago this Wednesday, John Lennon and his wife Yoko One arrived at their apartment building, The Dakota, on New York's Upper West Side.
Instead of driving into the enclosed and thus protected courtyard of the building, they got out of the limousine at the 72nd Street entrance, in front of a small crowd.
Lennon smiled, waved to the crowd and turned. As he did, Mark David Chapman stepped forward and shot him five times with a Charter Arms.38 c caliber Special.
Lennon was rushed to Roosevelt Hospital in the back of an NYPD police car.
He was pronounced dead at 11:15 p.m.
The cause of death was recorded as hypovolemic shock caused by the loss of 80 per cent of his blood.
That night, Dec. 8th was in a labor and delivery ward of a Toronto hospital paying careful and nervous attention to the entry into the world of my second son.
The labor was not long, the birth uncomplicated. Baby and mother were flourishing.
I stepped out of the delivery room to call a close friend and to hunt up a sandwich for a famished new mother.
As I passed the nursing station, I saw one or two of the young nurses sniffling, dabbing tissue to their eyes.
They were speaking very softly. I thought I heard one of them say, "Lemmon was dead".
Jack Lemmon was dead?
I phoned my friend and told him about the new baby. He, in turn, told me that John Lennon had been murdered outside his New York apartment.
I looked around for a place to sit down.
Some people of a certain age, of my generation who lived through the turbulent years, mark the Sixties as a column of time that began with the election in 1960 of John F. Kennedy and ran through to the resignation of Richard Nixon in August of 1974.
A patch of human time that began in hope and optimism and ended in cynicism and despair.
It was supposed to be a time of profound and pervasive change.
Everything was on the table - all the stale old values, all the suffocating hypocrisies of our parents. The change would come and it would be positive.
It was the era of the possible - perhaps the last of its kind that would be fed by the emotional, intensity and vigor of the young.
And it would all go terribly wrong.
A terrible war in Vietnam was ripping the fabric of American society and its young people.
The galvanizing leaders of the day, vital in their energies and imaginations, were being gunned down.
Jack Kennedy, his brother Bobby, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X.
Traditions were imploding almost monthly.
Church pastors stared out at empty pews. Divorce rates soared. Students challenged - sometimes violently - the education system.
Nobody trusted the political leadership. In fact, young people were warned and knew instinctively not to trust anyone over the age of 30.
The great cities of the United States erupted in riot and fire.
And in the middle of this social maelstrom, the music of the Beatles.
They had arrived in the US in 1964 at a moment in musical history when people were openly predicting the demise of rock and roll; the music of our lives in the Fifties.
As if to announce its death, a New York rock station played 40 straight hours of Frank Sinatra.
The Beatles brought with them, not only their music but a bracing aura of freedom and humor.
Whatever else they were, the Beatles were unabashedly free.
Theirs was music the young could build their hopes around, like magical brickwork.
And John Lennon seemed the freest of the four.
There was something in the way he carried himself, the way he stood. And something in the way he used his eyes and fixed his stare.
It was almost as if he didn't care and then you looked at his eyes and knew at once that he cared very much.
He also carried a whiff of the ominous; John was slightly dangerous.
He was also the poet of the group. His book, A Spaniard in the Works, captured the sprightliness of his mind and the clarity of his insights.
He may have said that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, but he also said that God is a concept against which we measure our pain.
Lennon and the Beatles were the anti-venom to the toxic infusions of the Sixties.
His death was a shock to the system. It made us for a moment in time, uncertain about what, collectively and individually, we were supposed to do about where our lives and our world were taking us.
The hollow madness of Mark Chapman was an act of thievery. As with the murder of John Kennedy, it robbed us for a time, of a winsome element of our future.
That night, the Sixties truly and finally ended for me. Phil Ochs and Abby Hoffman had committed suicide. Jerry Rubin had gone to Wall Street. Nobody remembered or talked about the Berrigan Brothers, or David Dellinger or Dr. Spock.
And now Lennon.
I thought about Lennon's death throughout that night and into the morning. And I thought about my newborn son.
As I held him I wondered what kind of world he was entering; it made me frightened and more than a little angry.
But when the sun came I up I realized that the birth of a child is always an affirmation. A gesture. A validation of the kinds of things that John Lennon wrote his songs about. I felt a bit better.
We celebrate birth and mourn death. In one long night one life snuffed out in a moment of insanity, and another born.
A cycle of some sort, I guess. A turning over, a witnessing, a marking of time and passage.
That was 30 years ago.
On Wednesday we will celebrate the 30th birthday of Anthony James Enright, AJ. A tall strapping man of easy smile and flashing eyes. Thank God he looks like his late mother.
We will celebrate his journey and ours and we will think about the night of his birth, when a madman tried to kill the music in life, to turn it off - and how he failed.