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On the anniversary of John Lennon’s death
By Mike Stax
(The article below appeared in the SAN DIEGO READER in 2010 as part of a larger story marking the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death.)
On December 8, 1980 I had been living in America for just over four weeks. I had flown to San Diego from England with a suitcase, a bass guitar and about $250 to join a band called the Crawdaddys. I was 18 years old. The Crawdaddys were one of the first fiercely retro ‘60s bands. We lived and breathed 1964-65: vintage clothes, vintage guitars, vintage amps, vintage songs. Musically we were fixated more on the Stones and Them than the Beatles, but the early Beatles were a big part of the daily soundtrack of our lives. John Lennon in A Hard Day’s Night was the epitome of cool to us: his quick wit, that hard-faced sarcasm in the face of authority.
At the time I was living with Ron Silva, the Crawdaddys leader, and his girlfriend Mindy in a small apartment on Fifth Avenue, close to downtown. Ron and I arrived home early that evening after another day of walking around the city. We’d walked as far as 30th and Meade where Ron had dropped a jacket off at a tailor he used there. Later we figured out that’s where we must have been when Lennon had actually been shot. I can’t drive by that block now without thinking of John Lennon. When we got home Mindy blurted out between sobs that John Lennon had been shot. We were stunned, speechless. She and Ron disappeared into the bedroom and I was left alone, reeling in disbelief. It wasn’t until a few minutes later when Ron reemerged that I learned that Lennon had not only been shot, he was dead. Mindy was inconsolable, fixated on a line Lennon sung years before: “The way things are going, they’re gonna crucify me.”
Later that night and over the next few days, we, like the rest of the world, watched as the rest of the story unfurled on television. None of it made any sense: the killer, the motive, the media canonization. I was gutted but felt completely detached from the public displays of grief, the constant soundtrack of “Imagine” on every TV set or radio. These people seemed to be mourning a different John Lennon than we were. Did they even know him? I remember one grieving ‘fan’ on TV sobbing to a reporter that she loved John so much because he’d written two of her favorite songs: “Yesterday” and “Hey Jude.” You had to laugh to keep from puking.
A few months later Reagan was shot, not by a political revolutionary but by another delusional loner with an unhealthy celebrity fixation.
So this was America, I thought, a land where any disaffected loser can simply grab a weapon, select his target and blast himself a small perch in history. I seemed to have arrived in a very strange place, a long way from home. Maybe John had a similar revelation as he lay dying on the cold pavement in front of the Dakota. Maybe we all did.
Mike Stax, writer, Ugly Things magazine publisher, lead singer of The Loons.