A few weeks ago Ali and I were sitting on the terrace having coffee. “There’s a poem called “The Day Lou Reed Died” in the new New Yorker,” said Ali and I snorted derisively. Then I felt like a jerk. Setting aside the fact that I was attempting to look down on someone who’d published a poem in the New Yorker, I believe that we are defined in part by major events in our lives, and this can include the deaths of famous people. Just look at how much reflection there was upon the death of JFK 50 years ago.
I can remember where I was when a handful of people that were important to my generation died, but I couldn’t tell you what day it was and I don’t remember doing anything about it. (Although I do remember after Kurt Cobain died a friend of mine read an article where it described him always putting his thumbs through the cuffs of his sweaters and a friend of mine rolled her eyes and said, “Oh great – now every guy that works in a record store is going to do that.” There was a new Sonic Youth album out and I went out to buy it and lo and behold, the cute guy behind the register had his thumbs through the cuffs of his sweater! I saw him notice me noticing and I said nothing. He probably thought I fell for it. Fine with me — I just wanted to get my album and get out of there so I could report back to my friend.)
The exception is the death 33 years ago today of John Lennon. I was five.
Maybe it was because his family looked like mine – a white dad, an Asian mom, and a kid somewhere in between – but I always liked John the best out of the Beatles. They were not just a band when I was a little kid, they *were* music. The musical landscape of my childhood was the Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Band, and sitar music. (And then Blondie, a little later.)
On December 14th, the Sunday following the shooting, there was a vigil in Central Park and my mother, father and Lenny went to it so my dad could report on it. (I remember him writing something about girls crying black tears, and something about a balloon but I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was… But I remember him writing it, and how sad he was.) I was with my cousin Elaine for the day. Yoko Ono had asked for ten minutes of silence, and I remember that I just didn’t say a word the whole day.
That was when I figured out that musicians didn’t have to be there to play or sing when you played their records. I thought that they were in a room somewhere, waiting. But once I figured out that we could still hear John Lennon sing, I packed our copy of Imagine in my book bag and took it to Kindergarten. There was a poster inside with the liner notes and we hung it up and sat around the record player listening to the songs.