On this date in 1980 I was up early. I had an eight a.m. class at Eckerd College and had to travel by bus, so because of what was then an eighty-minute trip from Central Park in St. Petersburg, a necessary evil that nonetheless allowed me to do lots of reading for class, if not writing, I’d arrived at something like 6:30. The St. Pete Times had already been set for the day in their ugly green boxes; I saw the portrait of John Lennon (from the White album, that haunted, frightened stare) above the fold. “John, what did you do?” I thought. Drug bust? Anti-Republican statement?
Then I read the headline. I read the news that day. Oh, boy.
It didn’t make sense. Him? Why? He’d gone underground for five years, after all; he and Yoko lived like New Yorkers, as much as was possible. They were uniformly wonderful when dealing with the people who’d encounter them on their walks probably because they wanted to be treated like everyone else.
Meaning: they believed in the principle that democracy equals interpersonal equality.
One could also say he became a victim of that very structure in that he lived and died like a New Yorker, violently in a violent city. By the way, not that my opinion matters on the point, but Mark David Chapman must never be released from prison. Also, I want nothing to happen to him; it’s important he should live out his natural life.
First, that’s Yoko’s wish.
Secondly, I wil not and could never support another person’s killing. I don’t care fuck who it is we’re talking about. Osama? Keep his ass alive; collect all the other political specimens on all sides and you have an automatic PPV channel that’d make Howard Stern’s look cheap by comparison. Madoff? Come on—don’t tell me you didn’t in some way enjoy the mug shot of ol’ Bernie right after his first GI party. Assange? I’m not sure he’s a criminal.
But as for John Lennon, the man whose lyrics first introduced me to poetry, whose political views helped shape mine, here’s a story that should tell you something about his value to the world. I made it to my class, feeling like I hadn’t felt since the death of JFK which some few of the people in that room still remembered, sat quietly with the dregs of a cup of coffee, and waited for class to start. Sterling Watson and Peter Meinke walked in, began the session, and I think it was Peter who first mentioned Lennon’s death.
“WHAT?” came a scream from the back of the room. One student stood and ran screaming from the room. I couldn’t blame him then and never will.