About Me

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Montreal, Quebec, Canada
I am a Montreal-based actor, writer and comedian. When U.S. President John F. Kennedy was shot, I was three days old. I cried all day. My favourite books of all time are Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzakis and The Ewoks Fun Time Activity Book by Chirpa and Pamploo. I am a member of The Vestibules, On The Spot Improv and The Best Buy Battery Club. Except for the Battery Club, I've been at all this stuff for over 20 years. Enjoy my blog.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

John Lennon 1940-1980

John Lennon in the anti-war film How I Won The War

Rounding out the dark early December anniversaries is the shooting of John Lennon on December 8, 1980.

During my morning run today, my iPod shuffle eerily offered up Starting Over (Lennon's last hit single before his death), on this, the 30th anniversary of that fatal shooting in New York City. Needless to say, I found myself reflecting on the events of three decades ago today.

I remember it very well.

Earlier blogs have spoken about the role The Beatles have played in my life. I have even mentioned that I was at the memorial for John Lennon in Central Park in New York City on December 14, 1980.

I remember coming home from a rehearsal for a play that the Narroway Theatre Troupe (there are a tiny amount of you who will know that name) was putting on later that month (the one and only Christmas play I have ever involved with). I put on my clock radio to fall asleep to that night.

Suddenly the top 40 tunes of CKGM stopped and the DJ was talking about a famous musician who had just been shot. I was half awake. I didn't catch the name but, at that moment, I was pretty sure it was Keith Richards. I had just read Up and Down With the Rolling Stones and getting shot somehow seemed in keeping with Richards' lifestyle. Then the DJ repeated the name: John Lennon. I was suddenly completely awake. I was also stunned. I could not get my head around it : who the hell would want to kill John Lennon? How could the peace guy get shot?

I remember some yahoo on Facebook on last year's anniversary said "John Lennon said 'All you need is love' when all he really needed was Kevlar vest". Spoken like a true reactionary, pal. Lennon was advised many times by many people that he should have bodyguards. A really famous guy like Lennon hanging out in public in NYC unprotected was not a good idea, he was told. Lennon would not hear of such a thing. So, in a way, he did die for peace.

End of rant. Back to blog.

As fate would have it, I had asked my parents for a major b-day present that year: to go on a three day high school trip to New York City. Much to my surprise, they agreed. It would be my first time in the city. Our train tickets were for the Friday, as it turned out, after the Monday that Lennon was shot.

That would put me in NYC for the planned public Lennon memorial on December 14, 1980.

The trip was an incredible eye-opening blast. A seventeen year-old in NYC for the first time: need I say more?  Well, maybe...but let's save that for another blog.

On that Sunday, the last day of our trip, we were scheduled to visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art. An amazing museum, to be sure. I have been there many times since. At that particular moment in history, though, the MMA ran a distant second to a once-in-a-lifetime vigil for a slain rock legend.

The teachers supervising us did not see it that way.  They were not at all into the idea. At the time me and the other kids saw it as The Man denying us something we really wanted. When I think back on it now, though, taking their age into account, they were probably as probably as big or bigger fans of Lennon than we were. More likely, they were terrified of taking a bunch of teenage bumpkins from Canada into a Central Park crammed full of 250,000 New Yorkers. Any number of things could happen, none of them good. In 1980, NYC was closer to the city of Charles Bronson's Death Wish than to the Post Giuliani Times Square Disneyland it is today. And they'd already had one lost kid incident that trip.

After a few half-hearted arguments about the MMA being a very important cultural institute, they finally relented.

Attending the John Lennon memorial was a moving experience. People were crying all around me. Many aging boomers showed up with their old hippie protest signs and paraphernalia. I remember seeing one of those American flags with peace signs where the stars should be that some activist turned accountant had no doubt dug out of a trunk in his attic that morning.

Like the man says in the clip below, there was literally no noise in all of Central Park for ten minutes. The only sound was that of the helicopters overhead. Ironically, that sound conjured up images of Vietnam from Apocalypse Now in my head. I was standing next to the ABC News van and even they shut up (you can see the van in this clip but not me).


I really owe it to my parents and those teachers that I was even able to be there at all for such a moving moment in time.

The other side of the coin was that, frankly, that was the largest amount of people I have ever seen in one place at one time in my entire life. After the vigil, I fulfilled my teachers' worst fears. Caught up in the massive push of 250, 000 people all trying to leave Central Park at the same time, I quickly lost sight of my group. I remember making a majorly conscious effort to not panic. I found the roots of a massive tree, the highest elevated surface I could find. and stood on top of it. I did not move from that spot until a middle-aged history teacher on the verge of a simultaneous nervous breakdown and heart attack  found me.

He later told me, "We're lucky it was you. I'm not sure any of these other kids would have had the same common sense." . My apologies to any of the other students who were on that trip with me who may be reading this now but that is what the man said.

The next night I was back in Montreal in rehearsal for a show that opened the following weekend (it strikes me that I had a rather amazing well-rounded life back then -I can only hope that I was enjoying it to the fullest). When I told my fellow cast members that I had been at the Central Park Lennon memorial the day before, they just stared at me in disbelief.

December 1980 also marked the emergence of Lennon's Merry Xmas (War is Over) as a  new Christmas standard. It was a natural. It was Christmas time and the song was connected to a major news story. Besides which, many radio stations at the time went with an all Lennon/all Beatles 24 hour playlist for a week after Lennon's death. That's a lot of airtime to fill.

Before December 1980 Merry Xmas (War is Over) was rarely heard on the radio at all, even on the rock stations around the holidays. It was a single that never even charted in the US.  I'm guessing that an early 70's traditional folk standard turned Vietnam war protest song doubling as a yuletide tune would have been just a tad too contentious for the pre-1980 pop culture mainstream. Even Phil Spector's choir of angelic children could not get the song past that issue.

Every December since, Merry Xmas (War is Over) has gotten a ton of airplay. Today, it has been covered by Andy Williams, Jessica Simpson, Neil Diamond and Celine Dion. If that's not a sign of total mainstream acceptance, what is?

Among many many other things, John Lennon actually managed to be the last songwriter to introduce a new Christmas standard.

Let's go out on that one.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Terence,

    I enjoyed your piece. I, too, was 17 year-old at that memorial in the Park. I just posted my personal recording of those ten minutes of silence on DIME and TTD, two torrent trackers, in case you are interested. If you like, I can e-mail you a link to download the audio file, if you wish.

    T Reitzle