The Eighth Of December

December 8, 2012

There are a lot of music fans today recalling and recounting the details of their lives when they learned that John Lennon had been murdered.

My memories are hazy and uneventful.

December 8, 1980 was a Monday and a lot of folks had the sad news broken to them on Monday Night Football, but I had gone to bed at halftime and missed Howard Cosell’s announcement.

The next morning, I might have heard the news on Good Morning America . The television was undoubtedly tuned to the show as everyone scrambled about preparing for the day.

But, I don’t recall hearing the news of John Lennon’s death from David Hartman or Joan Lunden as I ate a bowl of Cheerios. It might have been because my usual routine that morning was altered with a dental appointment.

I learned of the death of one of the most iconic figures of the 20th Century from the radio station playing in the dentist’s office as I got my teeth cleaned.

I was thirteen and my interest in music was casual. Of course, I knew the music of The Beatles.

(is there anywhere in the world – where there is electricity – where their music isn’t known?)

But, I have to confess, the news had little effect on me.

I was a passive witness not an active participant.

As the years passed and music became a more important part of my life, as I learned the lore of bands and artists that had ruled the world, John Lennon’s death took on more significance.

On December 8, 1990, I was finishing the final classes that semester for a misconceived degree and the world was headed toward the first Gulf War.

MTV had added the video for an updated version of Lennon’s Give Peace A Chance performed by The Peace Choir, which brought together Yoko, Sean Lennon and an array of artists including Peter Gabriel, Iggy Pop, Cyndi Lauper, Little Richard, Randy Newman, Tom Petty, Duff from Guns ‘N Roses, Wendy & Lisa, LL Cool J, Michael McDonald, Bonnie Raitt, Lou Reed, and numerous others.

That night, walking home from the record store where I worked, I switched my Walkman from the cassette to which I was listening and channel surfed radio stations. The brightness of the moon illuminated the landscape as it poked through fluffy clouds in the night sky.

It was one of those skies that, in the Midwest, you recognize as heavy with snow.

On the radio, the DJ – like DJs all over the world – was noting the passing of a decade since John Lennon’s death and playing songs of the late Beatle.

I trudged back to my apartment and was greeted by my dog. Those minutes after returning home from work or class (or both) often redeemed the day.

Part German shepherd, part Golden Retriever, Coke – a nickname not affiliated with the drink or narcotic – loved water and, even more so, he loved snow.

I walked around the apartment grounds with him that night, probably pondering the idea of ordering a pizza, watching some college hoops, and becoming one with the couch.

Then, both of us looked up as, suddenly, massive flakes – the size of baby birds – began to flutter from the sky.

Coke spent the next hour or more diving into the rapidly accumulating blanket of snow and trying to dodge and/or catch the snow balls I lobbed in his direction

Once inside, it was nearly midnight, I was too drowsy from being out in the crisp air to do much more then throw on some sweats and a baggy sweater that was a size too big. I lit some candles, put on some Beatles, and Coke and I stretched out on the couch and listened as the snow continued to fall.

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – Give Peace A Chance
from The John Lennon Collection (1982)

The Peace Choir – Give Peace A Chance
from Give Peace A Chance single (1990)


Suicide Hill

December 15, 2010

Like a good portion of the States, our region was smacked with the first snowstorm of the season.

The cover of white that we awoke to this morning, though, had largely disappeared by the time I faced the evening’s rush hour hell. Nothing makes the trip as potentially as treacherous as when a wintery mix is added to the commute.

Yeah, the cast of Ice Road Truckers might brave the elements, but they don’t do it with thousands of other vehicles driven by oh-so attentive folks who – aside from a couple days a year – have little experience with such conditions.

I exited the interstate and headed home along a frontage road, From the road, I could see several kids were making use of the conditions and gravity, hurtling down a good-sized hill on various crafts.

Though it’s fortunate for me that we get little snow and it’s rarely on the ground for more than a few days, it’s the children who suffer. The snow on that hill already had wide swaths that was revealed the grass.

Those kids were sledding on borrowed time.

Growing up in the Midwest, me and my friends could usually expect ample oppotunities to hit the slopes each winter.

Several of us lived along a country road that bisected a subdivision and farmland. As soon as there was snow, we would jump the fence across the road and drag our sleds up a small hill.

If there was enough snow, we would eventually create rudimentry bobsled runs, piling the snow and creating a half pipe. If the weather held, over the course of a week or so, the run would pack – smooth and slick – and become more delightfully lethal.

As we grew older, we would head for Suicide Hill with most of the other kids in our hometown. From the top, we’d stare down at the state road in the distance. The busy road posed no danger as it was unreachable, separated from us by a drop into a small creek.

To get to the bottom, you navigated a path that took you between the 11th and 18th holes on a golf course. And, if you managed to make the run cleanly – avoiding trees and such – you still had to contend with that water hazard.

We lived for the rare spectacle of someone plunging into the drink.

As Christmas approached in 1980, my friends and I were halfway through our middle year of junior high. It was beginning to dawn on us that it might be better to be inside on winter days – somewhere where there might be music and girls – then outside risking hypothermia.

But, in December of ’80, Suicide Hill was still a siren’s song to which we had to respond. Music was still mostly incidental to me, but, over the next six months or so, I’d be hooked.

Here are four songs that were on the chart in Billboard thirty years ago…

Bruce Springsteen – Hungry Heart
from The River

Hungry Heart most likely served as my introduction to The Boss. The River was his current release in late 1980 and, though I was just discovering radio, I was familiar with this song as well as Cadillac Ranch, Fade Away, and the title track.

It would take more time for my young ears to embrace the stark brilliance of the follow-up Nebraska , but I was on board for the long haul.

Blondie – The Tide Is High
from Autoamerican

Blondie was one band that had caught my attention in 1980. Songs like Heart Of Glass and Call Me were such mammoth hits that you would have had to have made an effort to not hear them at the time even if, like me, the radio was nothing more than an occasional companion.

(lead singer Debbie Harry also gave the band a visual component that did not go unnoticed)

I vividly remember hearing the breezy, island groove of The Tide Is High blasting from the radio when someone’s older sister gave us a ride home after one of those afternoons spent sledding. It was a wonderful antidote to the winter weather then and it still is.

The Korgis – Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime
from Dumb Waiters

I don’t know if I’ve ever heard the lone US hit by The Korgis on the radio. I certainly don’t recall hearing it thirty years ago when it was a hit.

The first time I do know I heard Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime was when The Dream Academy covered the song in the late ’80s. And, I also heard Beck perform a version of it on the soundtrack to the movie Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind before I heard the original.

There really was no need for the song to be covered, though. The Korgis’ version is lovely – wispy and fragile – and flawless.

ABBA – The Winner Takes It All
from Super Trooper

ABBA and T. Rex occupy a similar niche in my music world. I could probably distill both to a dozen songs (most of which I never tire of), but I own way more of both acts’ work than I truly need.

That said, The Winner Takes It All is a shimmering tower of melancholy and Agnetha really belts it to the back row.


The Eighth Of December

December 8, 2010

There are a lot of music fans today recalling and recounting the details of their lives when they learned that John Lennon had been murdered.

My memories are hazy and uneventful.

December 8, 1980 was a Monday and a lot of folks had the sad news broken to them on Monday Night Football, but I had gone to bed at halftime and missed Howard Cosell’s anouncement.

The next morning, I might have heard the news on Good Morning America . The television was undoubtedly tuned to the show as everyone scrambled about preparing for the day.

But, I don’t recall hearing the news of John Lennon’s death from David Hartman or Joan Kunden as I ate a bowl of Cheerios. It might have been because my usual routine that morning was altered with a dental appointment.

I learned of the death of one of the most iconic figures of the 20th Century from the radio station playing as I got my teeth cleaned.

I was thirteen and my interest in music was casual. Of course, I knew the music of The Beatles.

(is there anywhere in the world – where there is electricity – where their music isn’t known?)

But, I have to confess, the news had little effect on me.

I was a passive witness not an active participant.

As the years passed and music became a more important part of my life, as I learned the lore of bands and artists that had ruled the world, John Lennon’s death took on more significance.

On December 8, 1990, I had just finished the final credits for a misconceived degree and the world was headed toward the first Gulf War.

MTV had added the video for an updated version of Lennon’s Give Peace A Chance performed by The Peace Choir, which brought together Yoko, Sean Lennon and an array of artists including Peter Gabriel, Iggy Pop, Cyndi Lauper, Little Richard, Randy Newman, Tom Petty, Duff from Guns ‘N Roses, Wendy & Lisa, LL Cool J, Lou Reed, and numerous others.

That night, walking home from the record store where I worked, I switched my Walkman from the cassette to which I was listening and channel surfed radio stations. The brightness of the moon illuminated the landscape as it poked through fluffy clouds in the night sky.

It was one of those skies that, in the Midwest, you recognize as heavy with snow.

On the radio, the DJ – like DJs all over the world – was noting the passing of a decade since John Lennon’s death and playing songs of the late Beatle.

I trudged back to my apartment and was greeted by my dog. Those minutes after returning home from work or class (or both) often redeemed the day.

Part German shepherd, part Golden Retriever, Coke – a nickname not affilated with the drink or narcotic – loved water and, even more so, he loved snow.

I walked around the apartment grounds with him that night, probably pondering the idea of ordering a pizza, watching some college hoops, and becoming one with the couch.

Then, both of us looked up as, suddenly, massive flakes – the size of baby birds – began to flutter from the sky.

Coke spent the next hour diving into the rapidly accumulating blanket of snow and trying to dodge and/or catch the snow balls I lobbed in his direction

Once inside, I was too drowsy from being out in the crisp air to do much more then thrown on some sweats and a baggy sweater that was a size too big. I lit some candles, put on some Beatles and Coke and I stetched out on the couch and listened as the snow continued to fall.

The Peace Choir – Give Peace A Chance