The Morning the Music Died

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[This Commentary originally appeared in the December 14, 1989 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel. I decided, for the purposes of this blog, to switch this so it better coincides with the actual anniversary; hence, the beginning parenthetical note that occurred in the original publication might seem a little strange until you read next week’s post.]


(C Note: OK, OK, so I’m a week late. I just thought it would be better to give our local merchants a plug as early in the Christmas season as possible.)

Chronologically, I was too young to grow up with the Beatles. Still, a very young aunt and several teenage cousins provided the avenue for me and my brother to experience at least the fringe of Beatlemania.

Not that we fully understood everything. Let me share with you just one example. During one family party in the summer of 1967,  a cousin spirited me away to her room, warning me not to tell my mother what she was about to show me. She proceeded to play Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds with a furtive smile.

“Cool song,” I said, “So what’s the big deal?”

“It’s about LSD,” she whispered.

“Oh,” I replied casually. I had just barely started learning the ABCs let alone anything relating to the LSDs of the world. Still, at least I have the memories and feelings of the era (which I could only begin to really comprehend when I matured a decade later).

It seems clear the Beatles possessed that rare mix of complimentary personalities which propels any team to success. Each, in fact, dominated a certain stage of the musical group. Paul, the huggable, represented the cute innocence of the early years. George, the inscrutable, symbolized the mystery of the middle years. John, the creative genius, came to embody the self-destructing recklessness of the final years. Ringo gave us the one consistent trait throughout the Beatles entire tenure – comic relief.

Because of their diversity, all of us can in part associate ourselves in some small way with each individual Beatle. Secretly, we wished we had just a little bit of John, Paul, George and Ringo in us. Most of us guys wanted just enough McCartney charm to attract the one girl we cared for. Personally, I always liked to have that Starr quality of fun-loving happiness to share with others. Actually, I don’t know a lot of people who desired the Harrison mystique, but they might have given anything for his guitar playing ability. Lastly, Lennon’s innovativeness and daring inspired us.

John Lennon depicted everything our parents disliked. As a kid, we savored the new Marlon Brando. As we aged, we learned the awful truth of wasted genius, but came to understand the value of inventive thinking. While we recognized the essentialness of structure, Lennon showed a generation structure can be modified if necessary.

In the spring of 1980, I woke up without a soul. My heavy heart grieved like never before. Though a fan, I had never considered myself a groupie. Indeed, I always said to myself, “I like the music, not the personalities.” But the reality of the dream changed my thinking. Did you ever have a dream that seemed so real? This was one of those dreams.

In a cold sweat I shot up from my bed well before my radio alarm clock sounded. My mind whirled in confusion. I never even thought I liked John Lennon. Now, he was dead. But in his death I came to know the heroic nature of fertile imagination put to use. I could never agree with his politics, but I admired the theory behind the process.

Incredulously, I mourned. Not for the man, but for the process. Not for the process, but for the man who allowed me to discover the process. For a man without whom my life and the life of my aunt and cousins would undoubtedly have been different. For a man who helped changed a world. For a man who I arrogantly assumed I would never cry for merely because I dissented from his more radical views.

That morning I woke up with a flurry of contradicting emotions. How could I languish over the loss of someone who incessantly spoke against the establishment I embraced? I didn’t know what to say or who to say it to. I could not even be sure if I had just experienced a nightmare or reality. Finally, at 6:00am I asked my roommate if John Lennon had died.

Angry to have been disturbed, he said, “No” and fell back to sleep. I refused to believe him and searched the streets for an enlightened morning paper.

After reading several different newspapers and listening to many different morning news broadcasts, I became convinced I had just dreamt the whole thing. Yet, the emotional catharsis could not be reversed. The dream had opened my mind, had ridden my naïve brain of a good many of its constraints and changed forever the way in which I deliberate upon matters of import.

*                  *                   *                  *

A little over six months later, the radio clicked on at exactly 7:30 in the morning. I had forgotten to adjust the time, so the clock ran a few minutes slow. The previous evening, that of December 8th, 1980, I had spent more of the night running around like a typical college student. Sleep refused to leave my eyes when the radio beeped on shortly after the news had started. The opening words: “…former Beatle John Lennon…”

I immediately sprang up. Before the reporter finished the sentence, I knew Lennon had died. Did I feel anything? No. The emotional rush brought on by the dream I had more than six months earlier had drained me. The actual event merited but a moment’s notice. Then I fell back to sleep.

Last Week #37: Europe and Cultural Maturity (originally published November 30, 1989)
Next Week #39: Mega-Mall Mania (originally published December 7, 1989)

[What is this and why is here? See Interested in Discovering My Time Machine? for more details.]


  1. Chris Carosa says

    Author’s Comment: This really happened. I dreamt of John Lennon’s death a full six months before it actually occurred. If it’s not clear from this Commentary, I never considered John Lennon a hero in any way. That’s what made the dream – and my reaction to it – so odd. I can’t explain it. Can you?

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