The Wild Ride When John Lennon Died

Wow, this was 26 years ago today.

Warning: This post is rather long.


Karen came rushing into the movie theater, looking
stricken.  “John Lennon was just
shot!  Did you guys hear?”

My good friend Dan was behind the counter,
working.  I had come in a few minutes
before to visit.  He and I looked at each
other, then back at Karen.  “What?!”

“I just heard it on my car radio,” Karen
continued.  “Has anyone seen
Jeannette?”

“No.” 
Both of us shook our heads. 
Jeannette, kind of a mutual girlfriend of ours, was on the outs with
us — she’d been getting too crazy.  But
now we were suddenly worried about her, because a large portion of her life
revolved around the Beatles.  If John
Lennon ended up dying she would be devastated.

“Well, I’ve got to get going,” Karen
said.  “I just thought I should stop
by and tell you.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Okay.”  She hugged us and left, then I turned to
Dan.  “I hope Lennon’s going to be
okay.”

“You and me both.”

“I’ll go tell Alex.  I’ll be back.”  I exited the theater, out into the brightly
lit strip mall, and walked a few stores down to the ice cream parlor where she
worked.  The parlor wasn’t busy, and Alex
and the others were just kicking back. 
She looked up and smiled up when I came in.  “Hey Jer!”

“John Lennon was just shot.”  I blurted it out.  Alex looked at me with a strange expression —
she told me later she had not believed it at first, that she thought it was
part of some sick joke.  “I was with
Dan down at the theater. Karen just stopped by and told us she heard it on the
radio.”

One of the other employees went to the back and turned
up the sound system.  They were playing a
local radio station over the store speakers, and the DJ had interrupted a song
and was speaking in urgent tones. 
“I’m breaking in here with some bad news.  This just came in, I learned of it seconds
ago.  This is bad.  John Lennon was shot down in front of his
apartment building in New York.  An ambulance rushed him to a hospital but he
was pronounced dead on arrival.” 
The DJ choked back a sob, and then said, “John Lennon is
dead.”

The DJ then began crying on the air.

“That’s horrible!” Alex said.  There was disbelief on her face.  “Who would do that?”

“Oh God. 
Jeannette’s not going to take this well.”

“What about Brad?”

I’d been thinking about him, too.  My longtime friend and roommate Brad was a
major Beatles fan.  As much as Jeannette,
maybe even more so.  “I better call
him.”

Alex let me use the ice cream parlor’s phone, but
there was no answer at our apartment.  I
could imagine him despondent and not answering the phone.  Hanging up, I said to Alex, “I’d better
go over there.”  Her and I hugged
each other and I went to tell Dan where I was going, then got in my brown piece
of junk car and drove home.

John Lennon had just come back into the
limelight.  He’d released a wonderful new
album, and I was right in the middle of reading an interview with him in
Playboy.  I’d been taking notes, too,
because Brad had arranged a phone interview through Geffen
Records with John Lennon.  The date had
not been set, but it was supposedly a go. 
Brad and I were going to interview John Lennon for the college paper.  We were so excited by this we could hardly
contain ourselves.

Now it was all shattered.  Lennon had been shot to death.  Some unbelievable monster had killed our
hero.  Some deranged idiot, some subhuman
piece of crap — I could hear Alex’s horrified voice in my mind, crying out
“Who would do that?”  Why?  What possible reason?  I hadn’t learned the assassin’s name yet, but
I was mentally sending him invisible death-ray thoughts.  I wanted to give him brain cancer just by
sheer force of will.

Brad wasn’t home. 
I let myself in to our apartment and called his mother’s house, and yes,
he was there.  Yes, he’d heard the
news.  “I’m okay,” he assured
me.  “I’m not some idiot.  It’s not like he was a member of the
family.  Its just sad, is all.  So terribly sad.  I guess people will finally stop trying to get
the Beatles to reunite.”

“Ironic, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Brad said.  “This would have to happen now, wouldn’t
it?”

I told him I was heading back to the strip mall,
because Jeannette was bound to show up there. 
He told me he would swing by later. 
“You’re going to have trouble with Jeannette.  If anyone is crazy enough to do something,
it’s her.”

I agreed.  Back
at the strip mall I checked in with Dan, who was almost off work, then went
over to hang out at the ice cream parlor. 
Business was very light.  The
people who did come in looked sad. 
Everyone was talking about John Lennon.

When Jeannette did show up, she was dressed in
black.  She stood outside looking a bit
like Brigitte Bardot after a car wreck. 
Mascara was running down her face. 
She just stood at the window, looking in, but made no move toward the
door.  She refused to be in the same room
with Alex.  Alex, on the other hand, bore
no malice toward Jeannette.  Alex just
thought she was ridiculous.

As with most people in their late teens, we had all
banded together into a group of friends that was very much like a second
family.  Most of us, save Alex and a few
others, had all lived together in a duplex while trying to become a rock and
roll band.  The romantic and emotional
ties between us were like a tangled spider’s web and nearly impossible to
explain.  So while I tended to agree with
Alex’s view of Jeannette being ridiculous, it was torture seeing Jeannette
standing outside being so completely miserable. 
There had been other times where Jeannette was my angel from heaven and could
do no wrong.  I strained my sanity for
her.  I wrote bad checks.  I covered for her while she shoplifted.  We had both been through the emotional meat
grinder together, and here it was happening again.

I went outside and let her know with my eyes that I
going to be friendly.  “You
okay?”

“No.” 
She sounded like a broken little girl.

I gave her a long, true hug, then told her to come
inside.  She shook her head.  “I can’t.”

“Come on, it’s okay.”

“I can’t.”

Dan got off work and came walking up.  He and Jeannette had quite a past, and it
looked like he wanted to talk to her, so I excused myself and went back
inside.  I shared a look with all my
friends.  We all knew a bad scene was
coming.  “Is she okay?” Alex
asked me.

I shook my head, and made a face.  Jeannette was not okay.  We heard raised voices and I turned around to
see Dan was upset with her.  She had said
something to trigger him — he was a really gentle guy, but Jeannette had been
severely testing his patience over the past few weeks and he was now in short
supply.  He pointed his finger at her,
saying something like “No, no.  I
don’t want to hear it,” and he came inside.  Seeing he was upset, Alex have him a
supportive hug.

Jeannette turned away from the window and slid
downward to a sitting position, her back to us. 
It was getting really cold outside, and she didn’t have a jacket.  After fifteen minutes even Alex was getting
worried about her.

Jeannette and Alex had a lot of bad blood between
them, literally.  I had brought Alex into
the group, having been romantically interested in her myself, and just about
everyone else had taken to her quickly. 
Dan had fallen in love.  He broke
up with Jeannette and started dating Alex, and Jeannette was furious.  One day while eating at a restaurant where Jeannette
and Dan both worked, Jeannette — as waitress — dumped a pitcher of Coke all
over Alex’s dress, completely soaking her. 
When forced to either write an apology or be fired, Jeannette wrote an
obviously insincere apology to Alex, in blood. 
My friend DT had been there while Jeannette did it — he said she kept
cutting her hand for more blood to use as ink. But despite this (and other
things), Alex went to the door that night and opened it, and told Jeannette she
was welcome to come inside.

Jeannette wouldn’t even talk to her.  She just sat there, crying.

I went out and sat with her for a while, and so did
DT.  It didn’t help.  After a while she wandered over to her car
and got in, but didn’t drive away.  We
were just relieved that she was out of the cold air.

It was about an hour later that I went to go check on
her, and found her completely incoherent. 
She’d been drinking from a bottle of wine, and I saw an open pill
container on her dashboard.  I guess
everyone was watching from the window of the ice cream parlor, because later
Alex told me she saw me pounding in fury on the steering wheel of Jeannette’s
car.  I remember asking if she took the
pills, and how many, and what they were, but she could barely speak so I
assumed the worst.  I started her car and
drove up to the ice cream parlor, honking. 
Several of them were at the door and I just yelled, “She’s OD’ed on
pills!  I’m taking her to the Emergency
Room!”

I remember the drive to the hospital, going 80 down
the main drag in her clunky little Toyota.  It actually got some air as we raced over one
of the bridges.  The brakes weren’t that
good, either, and I nearly slid the car into an ambulance.  The nurses saw me carrying Jeannette inside
and I guess the look on my face made them jump. 
I answered all their questions and they took her off to pump her
stomach.  It was awkward calling her
parents, but her father thanked me and said they were on their way.

The whole gang showed up in the waiting room,
including Dan and Alex.  Then Jeannette’s
father came in.  He looked more
embarrassed than worried.  He went back
and talked to the doctor, then went and saw her.  When he came out he shook my hand and thanked
me, and told me Jeannette was okay.

They let me back to see her, where she was lying on a
gurney and looking like complete hell. 
“Why did you bring me here?” she said.  “They pumped my stomach.”

“You took pills.”

“I don’t even think I had four left.”

“I didn’t know. 
I couldn’t take the chance.  For
all I knew you took a hundred.”

“I feel like shit.”  She covered her face with her hands.

“What were the pills, anyway?”

“Quaaludes. 
They were my mom’s.”

“Oh Lord, Jeannette.  Why? 
It didn’t help anything.”

“I don’t know. 
It seemed like the thing to do.  I
mean, everyone expected it of me.  Who am
I to deny them?”

I went over and held her hand, bending over
close.  “Don’t ever do this
again.”

“I won’t,” she said.  “I promise.”

They released her a while later, and her Dad took her
home.  The rest of us all hugged each
other and called it a night.  I went home
and checked on Brad to make sure he was okay, and found him lying on his bed in
his room, in the dark, talking on the phone. 
He in the middle of a long emotional conversation with someone from Geffen Records.  The man was crying on the phone to Brad, and talking about a tribute to
John, then crying some more.  It was
directly from Geffen Records that we heard about the idea for a candlelight vigil.  The next day on the news it was announced
they were going to be held all over the world, and there was a big one planned
for Sacramento.

I awoke feeling like I had a hangover.  Alex was calling to make sure I was
okay.  “Yeah,” I told her,
“I’m fine.  Brad’s okay too.”

“This is so weird,” she said.  “It feels like someone assassinated the
president.”

Alex had it exactly right.  Especially to us Beatles fans, it was like
Kennedy had been shot all over again. 
There was a sense of doom, like the world was ending.  John Lennon meant a lot to a lot of people.

I was going to the candlelight vigil in Sacramento and decided
that, despite everything, Jeannette should go with me.  It was one thing we shared.  So I called her and asked if she would like
to go, and she said yes, so I made arrangements to pick her up.

At her house, she came walking out and I was
amazed.  You would never be able to tell
that she’d spent the night before having Quaaludes and wine pumped from her
stomach.  Her makeup was flawless, her
face and hair beautiful.  Her fingernails
were long and painted red.  She was
wearing a black mourning dress complete with a classic black veil.  She climbed into the car without a word and
we drove off.

The vigil was a major media event.  Most of the radio stations and all the TV
stations were there.  Just about every
reporter and photojournalist in the central valley was swarming through the
crowd.  As the sun sank below the horizon
we all lit our candles and sang songs, especially “All we are saying … is
give peace a chance…”  Someone built
a really clever hot air balloon out of candles, Popsicle sticks, and a big
clear plastic bag.  It drifted slowly into
the air and captured the crowd’s attention, and there was a spontaneous cheer.

Inevitably, a photographer for one of Sacramento’s big newspapers spotted Jeannette
in her black veil, holding her candle, and zoomed in on her.  Aware of the camera, she posed like the good
actress/model she was.  When it was over
we drove home, still singing Beatles songs and crying.  It was all too heartbreaking.

The next day, Jeannette’s black-veiled portrait, with
candle, was on the cover of the Sacramento
paper.  It was not just a little picture,
either.  It was huge.  What’s worse, it was everywhere.

Alex was furious. 
“Look at that!  She’s
posing!  It’s so fake!”

I didn’t have the heart to say anything.  It was as genuine as you could get with
Jeannette.  The posing for the camera was
just reflex.  Jeannette had just lost the
two men she cared most about, Dan and John Lennon, and she would never get
either back. 

I seem to remember Dan was a bit disgusted with the
picture in the paper as well. 
“Well,” he said, “what do you expect?  That’s Jeannette.” 

My mom even called me about it.  “Isn’t that your girlfriend?” she
asked me.

“Yes, that’s her.”  I never bothered to explain to my mom the
complex relationship I had with Jeannette. 
Dan was her physical boyfriend; I was her intellectual one.  With Dan gone, I was only half a
boyfriend.  Not even that, come to think
of it.  I had broken up with her as well,
tired of the emotional gymnastics.

Every time I hear the song “American Pie” I
think about John Lennon.  I know it was
written about the death of Buddy Holly, but next time you listen to it, think
of Lennon.  It fits.  I’ll tell you one thing, it pretty much
described what I went through during the aftermath of his death.

A few days after writing the first draft of this
account, I was reading the local paper in Plano,
Texas, and saw that there was an
exhibition of John Lennon’s works in town. 
I tore the ad out of the paper and drove down to see it.  It was only three miles from my house.

There I was, once again in a small strip mall, again
with a crowd of people all still sad and crying about John Lennon’s death.  It only took a few minutes before I started
crying too, no matter how much I silently cursed myself for being such a sap.

The tiny gallery was full of signed and numbered
prints of Lennon’s art.  It was all
priced way out of my range — if I had that kind of spare money I’d put a down
payment on a new car — but people were buying it.  I struck up a conversation with a few of
them, and they said they felt compelled to buy something just so they could
have a piece of the man they missed so much. 
A piece of something to help keep his memory alive.

I don’t know about that.  All I have to do is listen to his music.  He put his soul into his music, and that’s
why his music is still very much alive.

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5 thoughts on “The Wild Ride When John Lennon Died

  1. I remember this (great stuff, dude). When I think of American Pie, I think of another great writer, Garrison Keillor. He told a story once, about how, upon hearing the news, he and some friends (including a girl he had a crush on) hopped in a car and drove many hours, to the scorched cornfield. And, standing there next to that frozen cornfield where ‘the music died’, all he could think of was how he could get a kiss (smile… That’s life in a nutshell).

  2. Awful day; I was with my mom, it was cold in St. Louis, we were doing the tree. God, the 80s were bloody. Last year the LA Times ran a photo Annie L. took the day of his death. It was stunning. Have you seen it? I can’t believe I shopped and missed the anniversary. I’m distracted lately, but still.

  3. I read this whole thing. Glad to hear your friend was ok… You got me worried! Have I mentioned lately you’re a very good writer? I really like reading your stuff on Xanga… Makes me wish I had time to write decent stuff here too. Darn college.Oh, and another thing about this post. Kind of makes me think what September 11th will be like to me one day. It was my mom’s birthday and I think she was in school when she found out and they announced it over the loudspeaker (or maybe that was Kennedy) I know she said it was the worst birthday ever for her… :-/ And come to think of it, my parents’ anniversary is on Sep 11th. Kinda stinks, huh?Also, thanks for the prayers… I’m pretty terrified of the next couple weeks with everything that has to get done, so it’s nice to know people are rooting for me… hehe :)Take care,Christina

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