It Was Thirty Years Ago Today

It was about 3PM on a brutally cold Monday afternoon – deep in the middle of the sort of weeks-long, marrow-cracking, brutal deep freeze that I haven’t seen since I moved to the Twin Cities, but can still feel in my memory.  I was at the Wilson Ice Arena in Jamestown for my seventh-hour “Living Sports” class.   We were going to go skating.

I was in the middle of one of those bouts of frenzied overactivity that I was just starting to realize I was addicted to.  I was doing my usual load of classes.  My band had had a gig the previous weekend, at the “Teen Canteen”.  I was doing daily practices to play in a production of “Händel’s Messiah” at Dickinson State College that coming weekend (along with five of my classmates; we’d drive four or five hours through a snowstorm, do a solid day of dress rehearsals, and do the entire performance before driving back to Jamestown on Sunday).

On top of that?  My young, undeveloped but still pretty left-of-center mind was awhirl over the threat of our new President-Elect, Ronald Reagan.  While I didn’t like Jimmy Carter much – more later this week – Reagan scared the piddle out of me back then.

My eighteenth birthday was also coming up on Thursday.

And I was learning how to ice skate.

Well, no.  I knew how to skate, more or less.  But the lovely Lesa MacEwan didn’t need to know that; an accomplished skater, she volunteered to help me out.   She held my hands and towed me across the ice, showing me how to move forward, as I feigned appreciative ignorance.

Gimme a break.  It was as close as I ever got to having a social life back then.

It was chilly in the cavernous arena; not as cold as it was outdoors, of course, where I doubt it broke zero until April, but probably around 20 degrees.  The ice was pitted and worn from a day’s worth of  hockey practices, gym classes and open skating, , and badly in need of a Zamboni-ing.

The overhead PA was tuned to KFYR in Bismarck, the closest Central North Dakota came to a rock and roll station (Q98 in Fargo was just out of range, mostly, and WLS only came in on clear nights).  Springsteen’s single, “Hungry Heart”, from The River, was playing, and Lesa and I were talking music as I marveled at the feel of her hands through both of our mittens in that way seventeen-year-old guys do.

And at the end of the song, the afternoon drive guy – either “R. David Adams” or “Black Jack Dave Novak”, I think – announced that  John Lennon had just been shot and killed in New York, and they didn’t have a lot more details.

That day – and the past thirty years – the event has shown  me a bunch of things.

For starters, I am no baby boomer.  I had little connection to the Beatles; many other musicians, then and now, spoke to me more.  I liked the Beatles (although I cordially disliked most of Lennon’s solo career output, including the then-current Double Fantasy album).  The British Invasion was significant to me, of course – having worked in radio for most of the previous year,  and knowing my way around the history of pop music, you couldn’t ‘miss it.  But it was always The Who and The Kinks  – the bands that the Punks  modeled – that resonated with me.

And as a non-boomer who knew the Beatles’ heyday only as a historical exercise – my first knowledge of the Beatles’ existence was hearing on the radio that they were broken up – I had no idea what it was for a musical group to command that kind of loyalty from everyone.  Buddy Holly was amazing, but the music really died somewhere between the day Meredith Hunter died and the Beatles calling it quits.  Somewhere in that period, the hippie era ended, music split into “Black” R and B and “White” rock, the twain not to meet again until, ironically, about this time 30 years ago, but then only temporarily, like an aberration, for better or worse.

But I didn’t have to be a baby boomer to notice that the sometimes-joking, sometimes-serious calls and rumors and chatter about “Beatles Reunions” – a staple of the first couple of years on Saturday Night Live – took on a new urgency, which carried on another 20-odd years, until the death of George Harrison.

So where were you when you heard John Lennon had died?

7 thoughts on “It Was Thirty Years Ago Today

  1. I’ll post something later on my blog about this, but this is a true story: I was a senior in high school and I was sitting at my family’s dining room table, pecking away on a big, cobalt blue IBM Selectric typewriter that my dad had brought home from the office. I was finishing up a paper for my English class and the 10 p.m. news was on. The story came right at the end of the newscast.

    Here was the irony of the day: earlier that morning I’d turned in another paper for my sociology class. It was about gun control and, of course, I’d titled the paper “Happiness is a Warm Gun.”

  2. Sitting at the kitchen table at Mom and Dads, eating a bowl of cereal after a long day at college, watching Monday Night Football. Then, Cosell broke the news. I was stunned.

  3. In a motel, in Wolf Point, Montana, or was it Glasgow? On a week long trip to audit a bank up there. I remember Dan Rather on CBS over covering it.

  4. In a radio broadcast class at Brown Institute, on Lake Street in Mpls. Although a Boomer, I’d never cared much for Lennon, and despised his roll-your-own mysticism. But I did my best to pretend I cared, for the sake of my classmates.

  5. In the Commercial Hotel on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton, Alberta, watching Monday Night Football with some buds when Cosell made the announcement. Totally spoiled what had, to that point, been a pretty good evening.

  6. I think I was watching the Monday Night Football game. You know, I couldn’t for the life of me tell you who was playing, so maybe it’s one of those “recovered memories.” In contrast, I can describe in great detail where I was and what I did when I heard about JFKs assassination. And to further cement my reputation as a curmudgeon, I don’t think the death of John Lennon impacted world history any more than a meteor the size of a sand grain slows the earth’s orbit. Wait a minute: It boosted his record sales and unjustifiably kept the name Yoko Ono linked to the word “artist.”

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