December 8, 1980

It was 1980 and John Lennon had disappeared from the public eye for about 5 years.  And then one day,  out of the blue there was suddenly a new John Lennon song on the radio.  “Starting Over.”  I remember how startling it was  to suddenly hear the famous voice coming over the airwaves once again.  Like a strange spectre from the long-lost past.

And then one afternoon a couple weeks later, I was hanging out at my ratty apartment in Berkeley and I turned on the radio and all the radio stations were inexplicably playing John Lennon and Beatles songs.  I spun the dial and it was Beatles on virtually every station.  “As you probably heard,” said the radio DJ in between Beatles songs, “John Lennon was shot and killed  in New York city…..”   A crazy Beatles fanboy with a John Lennon obsession — a true Beatlemaniac — had apparently murdered Lennon.

I called up my friend Mary at work.  “They just killed John Lennon,” I said.

“I could give a fuck about that!”  said Mary.  She hung up the phone on me.  She was mad at me about something else.

I felt a powerful need to do something, to pay my respects to my fallen hero, John Lennon.  Assassinated.  The radio DJ said that there would be a candle-light memorial service for John Lennon later that night at the San Francisco marina.   So I immediately decided to — what else? — take some LSD and head over there.  Grabbed my coat and grabbed my hat, made the bus in seconds flat . . .

I made it to San Francisco all right.  But as I sat in the crowded trolley car on the way to the marina, the acid started kicking in.  It started doing weird things to all the swirling faces crammed into the seats around me.   The faces were mostly secretaries and businessmen in three-piece suits,  commuting home from work.  But they all seemed to be staring at me.  Smirking at me.  And smirking at John Lennon.  Could they tell I was high?  That bit.  “Good riddance to the long-haired freak,” I over-heard one of them say.  Or was that the acid talking? Hard to tell when your brains are starting to explode out of your skull.   They were the Straights after all.  And I was a bit of a long-haired freak myself, tripping on LSD amongst them.  It meant something back them.  Straights versus Freaks.  The lines were more drawn back then (unlike today where every other corporate lawyer sports a ponytail and earrings and has multiple tattoos).  John Lennon had been a hero to people like me.  But he had been an enemy to many others.  People forget that now.

When I got to the marina it was dark and deserted.  I probably had the wrong marina.  But I was in no condition to find the right one.  I took a big pull from the pint of Jim Beam whiskey in my jacket pocket as I debated my next plan of action.  Plan A — whatever that had been — had somehow not coalesced.  I stood there alone on the beach as the waves lapped to the shore.  I stared up at the black, star-lit sky of eternity.  And for a second I saw the face of John Lennon twinkling down at me from behind the brightest star in the sky.  It was  John Lennon Himself looking down at me from the cosmos.  His face was the sky and he was part of the Heavens now.  I smiled back at him happily.   I looked at the star again and John Lennon winked at me from behind the star.  Or maybe it was the acid winking and twinkling in my brain. . . .

I decided to pay my respects by worshiping at the altar of the rocknroll church.  I floated up the street to the Mabuhay Gardens, this hip new punk rock club on Broadway and Columbus.    Inside, the place was dark and almost empty.  It was a weekday after all.  A generic high school rock band from the suburbs was on the stage, mindlessly grinding through their set of generic rock songs.  As my eyes adjusted to the darkness I sat there at my nightclub table in this strange underground theater. Wondering what it must have been like to have caught the young Beatles at the beginning of their career, playing at small dives just like this one in Hamburg, Germany.  And I marveled at the power and magic and excitement that the four young lads from Liverpool must have generated.  Generating enough electricity to transform the whole world and send it spinning on a new axis.

The generic rock band played through their entire set without even mentioning the Lennon assassination once.  Somehow that disappointed me most of all.  For I thought of how the Beatles had always captured the moment.  I looked around the club at the other empty tables, wondering what it all meant in the context of a million other nightclub tables in the endless expanse of time and space.  I felt dazed and confused as I tried to make sense of what had happened.    I had a copy of today’s San Francisco Chronicle  sitting on my table and the frontpage headline stared back at me in typeset worthy of World War III.  “JOHN LENNON MURDERED.”

The Mabuhay waitress drifted over to my table.  She was big, heavy-set barge of a woman dressed in a floor-length black goth dress that reminded me of a tent.  She had on heavy black eye make-up and she looked down at me with very soulful, dark, puppy-dog eyes.  I stared deeply into her sad eyes and I could tell that she Understood.  She reached down  and picked up  my pint bottle of whiskey that was sitting on my table.  “You can’t bring outside liquor into the premises,” she said.  Then she turned and drifted away.  I sat there pondering the true meaning of this fascinating interaction between two human beings amidst the endless expanse of time and space and nightclub tables . . .

I wandered around the streets of San Francisco for many, many hours, thinking many, many lost and forgotten thoughts, and staring deeply up at the stars as if looking for some kind of sign from John Lennon.  Then I accidentally stepped in some dogshit on the sidewalk and spent the rest of the LSD trip intensely paranoid that I smelled bad.  LSD is a strange drug.

Somehow I ended up back in my ratty Berkeley apartment.  And  I spent the rest of the night reading and re-reading my worn paperback copy of “Lennon Remembers,” the famous interview from Rolling Stone magazine. And each word glistened off the page like sacred text.

(— excerpted from the book ACID HEROES: The Psychedelic 60s and its Aftermath)

2 thoughts on “December 8, 1980

  1. Obviously, I didn’t feel the same way about John Lennon that you do and I still don’t. Johnny Cash checking out was more painful to me. I like what you wrote about him, though.

    1. 1980 seems like a million years ago, don’t it? Working at the Oakland Trombone. “Reach For the Peach!” Ha ha.

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