When I Heard John Lennon Had Died

The Late Great Johnny Ace

John-LennonShortly before Thanksgiving 2020, I saw in the New York Post Page Six feature some ghoulish murderabilia [PDF p. 12]. “Double Fantasy’ album John Lennon signed for his killer was up for auction. The album — which in 1998 sold for $150,000 — has a starting bid of $400,000”. It even includes “police-evidence markings.” Yuck. I didn’t bother to follow the conclusion of this sale.

John Lennon died 40 years ago? I seem to remember it so well. On December 1, I had broken up with my girlfriend. So a week later, it was another Monday night. I decided this was the opportunity to watch Monday Night Football, which I would generally pass on for her sake. Since she wasn’t there…

It’s odd that I didn’t remember the game even before Howard Cosell informed me that the ex-Beatle had been killed. I do remember trying to call one of my friends repeatedly in Boston, but the line was busy for a couple of hours. Then I called my now-ex-girlfriend. What’s on the radio? WQBK was taking requests, and I may have asked for The End by the Doors.

The next day at lunchtime, I went to a local record store – Just A Song or maybe Strawberry’s – to buy Double Fantasy. It was sold out, so I purchased John’s Rock and Roll album from 1975. That Sunday, I was working at FantaCo, and the comic book store closed for ten minutes around 2 pm, per Yoko’s request for a period of silence.

Songs

(Just Like) Starting Over – John Lennon, the first single off Double Fantasy. If I recall correctly, it was selling fine. But in the wake of his death, it soared to #1  for five weeks in the US, one of those odd posthumous #1 hits. The bitter irony of the damn song made me teary; OK, occasionally, it still does. As did Merry Xmas (War Is Over) by John and Yoko, which I heard a lot that season.

Walking On Thin Ice – Yoko Ono. The guitar on this recording is the last guitar John Lennon ever played on a record, on the day he died. I bought the single and still have it. It went to #58 in the US in early 1981. The B-side was It Happened.

All Those Years Ago – George Harrison. Released in May 1981 as a single from his album Somewhere in England. Ringo on drums, Paul and Linda McCartney on backing vocals. #2 for three weeks in 1981.

Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny) – Elton John, #13 in 1982.

Here Today – Paul McCartney, from the April 1982 album Tug of War. It was written like a dialogue between Lennon and McCartney.

The Late Great Johnny Ace – Paul Simon. From the 1983 album Hearts and Bones. A haunting coda composed by Philip Glass.

And also:

Coverville 1335: The 17th Annual Beatles Thanksgiving Cover Story, featuring songs from Rubber Soul

Fight Poverty, Not the Poor; “White Genocide”

America is something we do, not something we are. It is an idea that can be shared by anyone who is inspired to share it.

poor people's campaignRev. Liz Theoharis from the The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, came to my church this past weekend. It was a very meaningful event on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Part of the scripture reading was the beginning of Isaiah 10 (NIV): “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people.”

But beyond the message was the relational connections. I knew a LOT of people there, and not just my fellow parishioners. There’s a colleague from the North Country, way above Albany, who attended. He’d heard Liz speak on videos and wanted to see her in person. I sent him this Faith in Public Life webinar on Census 2020, trying to include everyone.

One friend shocked another – they had never met each other – in discussing John Calvin, the progenitor of Presbyterianism and his role in the burning of Michael Servetus. As the Calvinist said, “We never learned about THAT in my confirmation class.”

Still another buddy was stunned by the assertion, by me and another, that the National Rifle Association, founded 1871, was actually a largely non-partisan group in its first century. It’s only been since the 1970s that it became radically politicized.

Even someone breaking into our church at 4 a.m. on Sunday – a broken door window, but nothing of value apparently taken – did not cancel out the meaningfulness of the weekend.

The talk Saturday night, of course, began with more than a moment of silence for those massacred in New Zealand. I really have no words that aren’t better expressed by Arthur the AmeriNZ.

He too is incredibly impressed by the Kiwi Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who offered “the strongest possible condemnation of the ideology of the people who did this. You may have chosen us, but we utterly reject and condemn you.”

I was likewise taken by the Weekly Sift guy, Doug Muder, who managed to read the whole 70+-page “manifesto” of the gunman, something I was not able to stomach. Muder wrote Fear of White Genocide: the underground stream feeding right-wing causes.

A key paragraph of the Weekly Sift rebuttal: “In my view, America (or Western culture, for that matter) isn’t something that arises from the essential nature of the White race. America is something we do, not something we are. It is an idea that can be shared by anyone who is inspired to share it.”

I suppose it’s important to understand the hate mentality, though I’m not convinced that comprehension will be enough to stem the tide of bigotry. But I do see a linkage between the attack on the poor and attacks on racial/ethnic/religious “others.” It’s driven by fear.

It’s sometimes difficult to remember that most people are good and kind and just trying to get through life like the rest of us.

The Lydster: the late Johni Dunia

It made me painfully aware of how scary the world can be.

Johni DuniaGreg, one of the first people I met online when I started blogging in 2005, wrote a provocative post on Facebook. He noted that his eighth-grader told him and his wife that a student brought a gun to school.

“Apparently it wasn’t a gun, just a facsimile, but still. He brought the replica… because he sold weed to somebody who refused to pay and he wanted to intimidate the kid. This is a regular public school in a perfectly fine neighborhood, mind you.”

Greg’s takeaway is that you should “talk to your kids about “adult” stuff even if you don’t think they’re old enough.” It reminded me that I had this notion that my daughter was in the other room doing something else when I watched the news. But she was listening, paying attention. She is, not to brag, one of the most politically savvy kid in her class, and has been for the past four or five years.

Of course, it made me painfully aware of how scary the world can be. I recalled the daughter learning whatever terrible things that were going on in 2012 (e.g., Newtown). Yes, you can’t protect them, but I’m terrified we’re leaving them a sucky world – the pollution issues alone bring me to despair.

This semester, a young man named Johni Dunia, 17, a student at my daughter’s high school, “entered into eternal life on Friday, November 16, 2018.” He was shot numerous times, allegedly by a 22-year-old, on a bike trail in mid-November.

Ironically, his family left their war-torn homeland of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, his mother said, for the United States because it “offered security and safety.” Johni “is lovingly recalled as a person with a large and kind heart who never showed anger. He loved his family and was very dedicated to his mother and his brother and sisters.”

At this point, there is an arrest but no motive provided yet. “The suspect and victim knew each other, according to police.”

Matthew Shepard as Emmett Till

Matthew Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, became activists for gay rights and more vigorous prosecution of hate crimes.

Matthew ShepardRecently, Arthur wrote about Matthew Shepard’s interment, a surprising ending of a two-decades-long journey.

In case you are unfamiliar, per NPR: “Matthew Shepard, the young gay man brutally killed on a chilly night in Wyoming 20 years ago… was finally laid to rest at Washington National Cathedral… A reflective, music-filled service offered stark contrast to the anti-gay protests that marred his funeral two decades ago.”

The music included Lacrimosa from the Mozart Requiem, which always affects me greatly. His parents had been afraid to bury him in Wyoming, lest his grave be ransacked.

Somehow, that murder became a flashpoint where other crimes of that nature had not. “Shepard’s killing became the basis for a play, The Laramie Project, which brought widespread attention to the problem of homophobia.” The events were the subject of a 2002 TV movie, The Matthew Shepard Story.

“Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, established the Matthew Shepard Foundation and became activists for gay rights and more vigorous prosecution of hate crimes.”
emmett till

It occurred to me that, in some basic ways, his death paralleled that of Emmett Till, the Chicago-born black teenager who was murdered, purportedly for whistling at a white woman, in rural Mississippi in August 1955. The woman in the case has only recently recanted her allegation.

His brutal demise, which helped energize the efforts for black equality, has been the subject of Dreaming Emmett, the first play by the Nobel-winning African-American writer Toni Morrison, in 1986, and the Oscar-nominated short film My Nephew Emmett (2017), both of which I have seen.

The parallels are interesting. Neither victim was a publicly known person; they weren’t activists in their respective civil rights struggles. Yet because Emmett’s mother had his battered body photographed in an open casket, because we saw the fence upon which Matthew was symbolically crucified, they were remembered nationally far beyond how the average murder victim is recalled.

As I’ve mentioned here more than once, Emmett Till’s death has haunted me ever since I saw the photos in either JET or Ebony magazine in 1960. When some idiot pseudo-Christian group came to Albany to protest a production of The Laramie Project at Albany High School in 2009, I was one of the great number of counter-protesters.

It’s kismet the way some lives, and deaths, transcend to tell the larger story.

K is for Thou Shalt Not Kill

We all create our own theology.

My late mother had a fairly simple theology, which she said was to follow the Ten Commandments. Sometime in the last decade of life, I asked her what did that mean in this world. What is meant by graven images, e.g.?

Also, I asked what does Thou Shalt Not Kill mean? How does it apply to war, self-defense, defense of others, capital punishment, abortion, suicide, euthanasia, even eating meat?

It is evidently true that in biblical Hebrew… “killing (harag) and murder (ratzah) are two different words with two very different moral connotations, and the commandment uses the Hebrew word ratzah.”

The question becomes, Is the last word? I was looking at 78 biblical verses about Thou Shalt Not Kill. On a personal level, I was immediately drawn to Luke 6:31″ “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” This is generally known as the Golden Rule.

Also, from Matthew 5: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?”

I was a Methodist for the majority of my life, and the message for me has almost always been, “Use your head! Make up your own mind! Don’t just swallow everything the religious leaders have taught you.” I’ve also been struck by what a Unitarian once told me, that we all create our own theology. I think this true: God/the universe/whatever you call it has given us discernment and intellect.

So, for example, capital punishment makes no sense to me. I’ve written in the past about how a father of a young woman killed the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 went on a spiritual journey to where he found the idea of vengeance against her murderer, Timothy McVeigh, utterly abhorrent.

But we all find different paths on this journey. What are some of yours?

From ABC Wednesday