The night John Lennon died it was snowing in Michigan, big, heavy, wet flakes in a black sky. All that day, the chorus of George Harrison's "Long, Long, Long" from the White Album had been going through my head for no particular reason.
It's been a long long long time,
How could I ever have lost you
When I loved you.
It took a long long long time
Now I'm so happy I found you
How I love you
So many tears I was searching,
So many tears I was wasting, oh. Oh--
Long, Long, Long mp3
I was out running errands when the news came over the radio. Fountain Street Church (this was months before I became a regular there) announced they were opening their doors to whoever wanted to sit in the sanctuary and pray or just talk. The woman I was dating was covering a local news story; I was watching her children and didn't feel up to disrupting their evening because of my own confused feelings. This was a step towards maturity, for a member of the generation that inflicted all their personal drama on their children and thought nothing of it. Or maybe the roads were bad.
Later the psychiatric unit where I worked was having its family Christmas party at the home of Stan and Nancy Rock, a much kinder boss than my fierce heart deserved. The Rocks were as baffled by the news as anyone else. That was the night Stan put me on the right track with a troubling dream I was having that included lines from a Blake poem that I'd dreamed verbatim but had never seen:
"And if the child is born a boy
He's given to a woman old
Who nails him down upon a rock
Catches his shrieks in a cup of gold."
I was still in high school when the Beatles broke up, and very sincere about the dawning that was prophesied by the Older Kids who wrote for Stewart Brand’s “Whole Earth Catalog”. The kids a year older than me were all “political”; everyone a year younger was happily consuming street drugs. Thank you, CIA, for effectively dissipating the counter-culture.
That’s not quite fair—the assassinations of 1968 and Charlie Manson’s vampire hippie-chicks should have told us we weren’t playing with amateurs when we tried to shout at the devil, to sow peace where there was hate. What killed the dream was the unwillingness of the ‘60’s counter-culture to come to terms with what Jungians call the shadow side of the forces that had been unleashed.
The counter culture took a sucking chest wound at Altamont, when a Hell’s Angel “security guard” stabbed a black guy to death in front of the stage while Jagger sang “Sympathy for the Devil”. (Even Robert Johnson had sense enough to try and stay away from the crossroads, after he’d cut his deal; caught up with him anyway, but at least he didn’t pull anybody down with him.)
John’s Lennon’s death by a squirmy fat fan-boy was the pillow on the face for the dream that Love Was All You Need. We met the enemy, and it wasn’t the hopelessly straight, it was you and me. Let me please introduce you to yourself.
Then came the ghastly 70’s and 80’s when first narcissism and then acquisition of wealth became the vogue. Cocaine was a perfect drug for the time— it was expensive, status at parties, could get you girls for a while, and no one, certainly not the American consumer, cared how much blood was on it by the time it got here.
It would be nice if John Lennon had lived, been less of a legend and more a nice old fellow in a cottage on the Irish coast, as he told Dick Cavett he wanted to end his life. The Stones are promoting a credit card company. MTV packages rebellion in five-year cycles.
I heard an old fellow interviewed once who had fought with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, and he was building houses with Habitat for Humanity down in Central America. He’d certainly seen the betrayal of more than a few generations, from Stalin’s pact with Hitler to Ollie North’s pardon.
Fuck ‘em, he’d say, fetch me some nails, there’s better things to build than crucifixes and coffins. Everybody knows somebody like John when they’re a kid; spirits made of equal parts anger and sweetness are sacrificed young and come back as ghosts to keep our middle aged complacency on its toes. I suppose he’d tell me that the revolutionaries of the sixties were poseurs, yours is not theirs, that the deck has always been stacked, that the true warrior opens his heart up to be broken by the world. And God Bless the Beatles.
("Whales sing, did you know that? And they eat them! We make lipstick out of them! Does anyone eat you for singing?" misquoted from
"Jonah, Who will be 25 in the Year 2000" by John Berger)