Monday, December 8, 2008

The Day The Music Died - December 8, 1980

The day the music was born, for me personally, was on that Sunday evening, February 9, 1964. At nine years old, having just watched the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show, I told my father that I wanted to be like Lennon and play the guitar. Even after 44 years, you can find me most any night, either strumming the guitar or playing the piano, singing the songs of the Beatles and John Lennon.

What was so special about John Lennon and how do you explain it so many years later? To sum it up, there was nobody like him. He said exactly what was on his mind and never feared the consequences because he spoke the truth from his heart and everybody knew it.

Lennon captured me without even trying. His poems, his lyrics, his unique way to turn a phrase, his unforgiving British wit and sacrcasm. And his music was simply irresistable.

John Winston Ono Lennon was born in Liverpool, England on October 9, 1940. This English rock musician, singer, poet, songwriter, artist, actor, and peace activist gained worldwide fame as one of the founding members of 'The Beatles.'

Lennon along with Paul McCartney, formed one of the most influential and successful songwriting partnerships and wrote some of the most popular music in rock and roll history. What else is there to say about the Beatles, which included George Harrison and Ringo Starr, that hasn't been said.

When he sang I almost felt his voice coming from my own chest and throat. That was how my voice should sound. His songs were my songs, where I could share his feelings and he could feel mine. A lot of us felt that way. Rarely does a popular artist speak to and for a generation. The Beatles reflected their times but they also had the largest influence in shaping those times. They went from a simple tight little bar band writing catchy ditties to serious musical artists blending many musical forms and creating new ones.

Along with his second wife, Yoko Ono, Lennon used their honeymoon at the Amsterdam Hilton, in March 1969, as a "Bed-in for Peace" that attracted world-wide media coverage. At the second "Bed-in" in Montreal, in June 1969, they recorded "Give Peace a Chance" in their hotel room. The song was sung by a quarter million demonstrators in Washington D.C. at the second Vietnam Memorial Day on 15 October 1969. When Lennon and Ono moved to New York City in August 1971, they befriended peace activists Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman.

Lennon performed at the "Free John Sinclair" concert in Ann Arbor, Michigan on December 10, 1971. Sinclair was an antiwar activist and poet who was serving ten years in state prison for selling two joints of marijuana to an undercover policeman.

In 1972, the Nixon Administration tried to have Lennon deported from the U.S., as Nixon believed that Lennon's support for George McGovern could lose him the next election. Republican Senator Strom Thurmond suggested, in a February 1972 memo, that "deportation would be a strategic counter-measure" against Lennon. The next month the Immigration and Naturalization Service began deportation proceedings against Lennon, arguing that his 1968 misdemeanor conviction for cannabis possession in London had made him ineligible for admission to the U.S. Lennon spent the next four years in deportation hearings.

While his deportation battle continued, Lennon appeared at rallies in New York City and on TV shows, including a one week hosting of the Mike Douglas Show in February 1972, where Jerry Rubin and Bobby Seale appeared as his guests.

On 23 March 1973, Lennon was ordered to leave the U.S. within 60 days, while Ono was granted permanent residence. In response, Lennon and Ono held a press conference at the New York chapter of the American Bar Association, on April 1, 1973 to announce the formation of the conceptual state of "Nutopia"; a place with "no land, no boundaries, no passports, only people", and all of its inhabitants would be ambassadors. The Lennons asked for political asylum in the U.S. while waving the white flag of Nutopia; two white handkerchiefs.

In June 1973, Lennon and Ono made their last political statement by attending the Watergate hearings in Washington, D.C.

Lennon's order of deportation was overturned in 1975,. After Lennon’s death, historian Jon Wiener filed a Freedom of Information request for FBI files on Lennon. The FBI admitted it had 281 pages in its files on Lennon but refused to release most of them, claiming they were national security documents. In 1983, Wiener sued the FBI with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. The case went to the Supreme Court before the FBI settled out of court in 1997; releasing all but 10 of the contested documents.

The story is told in the documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon, by David Leaf and John Scheinfeld. The final 10 documents in Lennon's FBI file were released in December 2006.

In 1976, Lennon's U.S. immigration status was finally resolved favorably, and he received his green card. Nixon's successor, Gerald Ford, showed little interest in continuing the battle. When Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as president on 19 January 1977, Lennon and Ono attended the Inaugural Ball.

On the night of December 8, 1980, Mark David Chapman shot Lennon in the back four times (the fifth shot missed) in the entrance hallway of the Dakota Apartents in New York City. Lennon had autographed a copy of his Double Fantasy album for Chapman earlier that same evening. Lennon was pronounced dead on arrival in the Emergency Room at Roosevelt Hospital at 11:15 p.m. On the following day Ono issued a statement: "There is no funeral for John. He loved and prayed for the human race. Please pray the same for him. Love, Yoko and Sean.

Chapman pleaded guilty to second degree murder and sentenced to 20 years to life. He is still in prison, having been denied parole five times.

Two days after his death, Lennon's body was cremated at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. The whereabouts of Lennon's ashes are known only to his wife Yoko and son Sean.

On 14 December 1980, millions of people around the world responded to Ono's request to pause for ten minutes of silence to remember Lennon: Thirty thousand gathered in Liverpool, and the largest group—over 100,000—converged on New York's Central Park, close to the scene of the shooting.

Lennon continues to be mourned throughout the world and has been the subject of numerous books, movies, memorials and tributes. Principal among these is New York City's Strawberry Fields, a memorial garden area in Central Park across the street from the Dakota building. Shortly after Lennon's death Ono donated $1 million for the memorial's maintenance. It has become a gathering place for tributes on Lennon's birthday and on the anniversary of his death, as well as at other times of mourning, such as after the September 11th attacks.

On 9 October 2007 (what would have been his 67th birthday and his son Sean's 32nd birthday) the Imagine Peace Tower in Videy Island, Iceland (off the coast of Reykjavik) was lit for the first time . The idea for the monument was originally conceived by Yoko Ono in 1965 and construction began in 2006. The tower is lit annually from October 9th, Lennon's birthday, to December 8th, Lennon's date of death. The words "Imagine Peace" are carved into the tower in 24 different languages.

John's life had been hard from the beginning. He had no father and an estranged mother who was run over by a drunk driver when he was ten. He came from nowhere and rose to the heights of the material world, yet his success did not kill him. He went beyond the pleasures of the flesh and into the realm of spiritual values. He may have been sarcastic and skeptical at times, but he wasn't ultimately mean.
He was a seeker, a thought-provoking Shaman Troubadour. He affected millions of us and left us some great memories. There won't be another one like him. I recently saw a twenty-something-rocker on Politically Incorrect who said "I think pop music has sucked for the last twenty years."

Perhaps it's been twenty-eight years ago today ... the day the music died.

1 comment:

Andy said...

Another amazing article which I enjoyed reading. Your articles are filled with knowledge and passion and I am sure will continue to be a source of enjoyment and education for any who take the time to read them.