Thirty years and one week ago, I hooked up with a girl at a party. I almost immediately regretted it. She was nice, but the chemistry wasn’t there and there was no future in it. We spoke a few times on the phone in the days thereafter and while none of this made me want her more, I grew to like her as a friend.
Exactly thirty years ago, I heard the news. Oh boy. It would not be until 9/11 when I would again feel such a crushing sense of universal loss. I was a Beatles fanatic. Still am. As the news poured out from the TV set, my entire life, as chronicled by Beatles song after Beatles song, flashed before me. I kept wishing and hoping the reports were premature, that Lennon was still alive but in very bad condition. But it was not to be.
I was in an apartment in Boston I shared with some musicians from Berklee with whom I’d formed a band: Kerry Zukus and the Visitors. It was back in the Power Pop era when every band was Somebody and the Somebodies, and since I was the lead singer and songwriter, I got to be the Somebody.
Our lead guitar player was perpetually stoned and he got on my nerves more than usual that evening, as he droned on and on more and more gibberish none of the rest of us listened to or cared to hear. Word barf. Besides, he seemed to know less about Lennon and the Beatles than the rest of us, which is usually the case with a person who can’t shut up.
I had to get out. I didn’t want to be alone, yet if I stayed with these guys I was afraid I might garrote my guitarist with an E string.
I called the girl. I didn’t want to sleep with her, and I may have actually come right out and said that. I asked her if she was following the Lennon news and she said she was. I asked if I could come over and she said I could.
At her place, she had two other friends there and they were cool. The four of us spent the next 24 hours listening to the TV and the radio, never allowing silence to divert us from our Shiva. We heard each and every Lennon and Beatles song ever recorded, each many times over, and still, we couldn’t get enough. I don’t remember eating. I don’t remember caring about it, either.
Nearly twenty years later, Sid Bernstein, the man who brought the Beatles to America, would come into my life. He’d written an autobiography and wondered if I could turn it into a musical. The project, like many in the arts, would become stillborn, but at least I created for it a framework. Sid would become infamous in the 1970’s for his single-minded mission of bringing together the Beatles for a grand reunion concert. Saturday Night Live parodied him when Lorne Michaels himself appeared on Weekend Update to offer the Beatles union scale to appear on SNL.
For Sid, a huge chunk of his life died on that night thirty years ago when John Lennon was murdered. John was just completing Double Fantasy. It was not widely reported, but he was putting together a band and considering going on the road for the first time in years. He and Paul McCartney were once again on speaking terms. George and Ringo continued to communicate with both. John had been the key to a reunion, the linchpin. Now, more than ever, it appeared Sid might be able to bring them all together, as only Sid could. And then, on Monday, December 8, 1980, it all ended. That was how Sid’s show, “Hysteria!” was to begin … and end.
I still have the recording of the song that told that very story, as songs in musical theater do. I’ll put it up on YouTube shortly and link to it from here. Until then, do like I do and play your favorite Lennon song today and remember the greatest musical force in history.