But. December 8th, 1980.
There is a bar in my hometown called Group Therapy. Started in the 70's as little more than a corridor with a roof over it, it was a haven for aging hippies and college kids like myself home for the holidays. Dark draft beer for 50 cents. Santana and Pink Floyd and the Dead playing. And of course the Beatles. In later years, it became the primo college hangout - tripled its size, began featuring bands, etc. I lived away in Tennessee during those years, but there is a story - probably apocryphal, although many swear it really happened - from the mid-80's that sums it all up. Like the best bars, the music was played loud, from vinyl albums and often vinyl 45's. Bartender's choice. One crowded mid-80's night, a decade or more after the Beatles had broken up, long after McCartney's solo career had dwindled, the bartender put on a Beatles album cut. I've heard it was "I Want To Hold Your Hand," but everyone concurs that it was definitely from "Meet the Beatles." The song started and several hundred college kids (and a few older dudes) began vigorously singing along with the song. Everyone knew all the words, though few had been born when it came out.
The song ended. The bartender was evidently busy filling drink orders, and although he took the first record off, he had not yet put on a second record. Exactly …..4 seconds? 6 seconds? However long the break is between the first song and the second…… everyone launched into the second song on the album. A capella. Exactly on cue. 200 college kids not only knew the songs, they knew the order, and the pause between them.
Probably apocryphal. But maybe not.
In 1980, I was heavily into the Beatles and Lennon. I was not really old enough to appreciate them the first time around. When they played on Ed Sullivan, I was a 4-year old in a house of old-fashioned English teachers who didn't approve of television, and listened to opera and symphonies on a tiny "record player." By the time I saw television, the Beatles were a bad cartoon show on ABC, not nearly as good as Scooby Doo or the Banana Splits. By the time a progressive young Social Studies teacher played "Abbey Road" for my 7th grade study hall, they had already broken up.
But by college, I had corrected my former ignorance, and was majorly into the Beatles. "Double Fantasy" had just come out, and I played it over and over again, even the Yoko songs. "Give me something that's not cold / C'mon c'mon c'mon….." God, she was bad!
Punk music had finally made it to Nashville, TN, and it sounded remarkably like early 60's Beatles. The Beatles "Rarities" album had come out not too far back previously, featuring several alternate studio takes, and the German versions of "Komm Gib Mir Deine Hande" and "Sie Lieb Dich Yeah Yeah Yeah." Raw, vital, full of energy and rebellion. The photos of the lads in Hamburg made them look like doubles for the Ramones.
We figured Lennon would have to tour to support the album, Nashville was big enough to draw him. If not, my Beatle-enthusiast friends Caroline and Karen and I were prepared to drive to Atlanta, Memphis ... wherever. And we just knew that it would be Nashville where the other three would decide to show up, join in and jam with him.
"Our life...together....is so precious…together....we have grown...."
I was studying for a final exam in my British History class. 10:30 PM or so. I went downstairs in the dorm to the little mini-mart, with the intention of getting a frozen pizza. Suzie, a friend with whom I'd done theatre, was working, and asked if I'd heard on the radio about John Lennon. I was mortified. Rushing back upstairs, my roommate Tom and I turned on both the radio - WKDF-FM - and the TV.
The radio was playing "Imagine."
Monday Night Football interrupted, with the news.
I called Caroline. She had just heard too. It was so inconceivable, so tragic, as surreal as if the President or the Pope had been shot (both of which would happen within 6 months.)
The next day at our final, my friend Leslie saw Caroline and Karen walking in. It seems silly now, and almost adolescent, but both were wearing black, and to us all at the time, it was meaningful and appropriate. Leslie mouthed the words "I'm so sorry" as they picked up their blue books. In the cafeteria over coffee after the final, we all conceded that if any of the four were to die, and it to have meaning, it would have had to have been John.
The following Sunday, Caroline, Karen and I went to the parking lot of the local classic rock station, WKDF. A local band, the Piggys, was playing Beatles songs on the rooftop of the station. At 1:00 PM, everything stopped. We all stayed silent for 10 minutes, per Yoko's announced request. And reflected on sublime, divine music. And innocence lost. And after about 9 and a half minutes, the parking lot, full of preppie college kids, and rural middle Tennesseans, aging hippies and Deadheads, scruffy-looking Viet Nam vets and weirded-out punkers - all joined in when someone in the crowd began softly singing …. "All we are saying…..is give peace a chance." I held the hand of an unshaven man in a camo jacket next to me, and we sang with tears in our eyes.
I wrote an earlier version of this in 1999, which I have slightly fleshed out since then, and which I have now updated to reflect current dates, etc. But originally, as I wrote the last sentence above, 12 years ago, I concluded: "I'm crying as I type this."
Right now I'm not. But the day is still young. Nuff said.
-- August Krickel