The man in the cool round glasses. He radiated a sense of effortless style and meaningful message and crafted incredible songs. No one understood why he left the Beatles or what he saw in Yoko Ono and he didn’t gave a damn that they never understood.
I heard an interview with him once where he talked about learning to bake bread. He described it as a fascinating process. He had been learning about how to bake bread and playing with his child while taking a break from performing and writing songs. He was taking a measured pause in his life – a caesura – to come back into himself and rekindle his desire to make music.
He departed the earth just a week or two after his new album “Double Fantasy” came out. He had just been “Starting Over” after that caesura with Sean and Yoko, only it felt like the end of everything good when he was suddenly gone. I was a sophomore in high school growing up in Salisbury, North Carolina without much of a clue about music or life. I was just getting to know him when he left, just finding out who he was and what he meant to everyone. It felt cruel and horrible and wrong that he could be taken before I really knew who he was.
I was driving the Driver’s Ed car a few months later when “Watching the Wheels” came out on the radio, and my eyes starting leaking tears from the corners because I loved the song so much and knew it was like a last musical kiss from beyond. I don’t think anyone noticed. Maybe I wasn’t alone in my leaking.
I was a latecomer to music. I had heard “Rumors” playing on a cassette player and thought “Don’t Stop” was a great song. I had no idea at the time “Don’t Stop” was probably the least important song on an album of great Fleetwood Mac songs. I loved Styx. I thought “Paradise Theatre “was the best album ever, and I struggled next to understand how Mr. Roboto and Kilroy fit into the picture as did practically every Styx fan in the universe and half the band. I was buying every Led Zeppelin album I could find to get the song “Kashmir” to locate Robert Plant’s weird primal screams I had heard while watching “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” not realizing Kashmir was on “Physical Graffiti” until I had the entire Led Zeppelin collection.
I had been hearing Crackerbox Palace on this radio in my bedroom that had a pleasant glowing dial I stared at when I listened. I found it focused my listening. I could imagine living in a Crackerbox Palace better when I stared at the glowing dial. I had no idea at the time that George Harrison sang the song or that he had any connection to John Lennon.
When I was riding in the car with my mom, I would often hear “Hands across the Water” on the radio. That’s not the name of the song, but I didn’t know then that it was “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.” I didn’t pay much attention to the parts that came before that catchy chorus. They were garbled and weird. I perked up when I heard the Hands across the Water because it seemed so unifying, and I liked the way the word water was repeated. I had no idea it was a song by Paul McCartney on the Ram album or that he had any connection to John Lennon.
I heard “Band on the Run” a lot on the radio too. I had no idea who the band was or why they needed to run. But the song was catchy and fun. Why were they searching the village square? I’d never seen a village square at that point, but I didn’t get out a whole lot in those days.
I also heard “Day in the Life” on the radio. I loved the way the song described these different incidents and ended with the sound of a piano being destroyed. “I’d love to turn you on,” sounded mystical to my innocent ears, like I could be tuned into the universe magically. And maybe that’s one way to legitimately interpret the lyrics.
John Lennon clarified everything just as he vanished. I began collecting his solo albums. I enjoyed his strange wailing on “Mother” and his playful lunacy on “Oh Yoko.” I loved “Mind Games” and “Jealous Guy.” I liked most of all that he didn’t seem put out too much if people didn’t get what he was saying. He knew what he was about even if no one else did. I went on to appreciate the “Ballad of John and Yoko.” I thought that if they wanted to have a bed-in for peace I was down with that even if everyone thought he was nuts at the time.
I aspired to be that way. I wanted to please everyone and could do nothing to please anyone at that age. Even myself. I was quiet, terribly naive and shy at 15 – the same age as my own son today. I was going to live forever.
I might make the pilgrimage today to Strawberry Fields in Central Park since we live in New York City. It’s a lovely spot to celebrate John Lennon. But he’s not there. He’s pretty much anywhere people dream and dare to imagine.