Friday, December 09, 2016

It Was 36 Years Ago Today..... and Today

Playing right now: Ravi Shankar - In Hollywood, 1971 (Northern Spy)

[Written as Thursday night became Friday morning, which explains the use of words like "tonight" and "today."]

As if this hasn't already been a year when a huge number of influential musicians have died, I read this morning that Greg Lake has joined the list. My initial reaction was to curse to the heavens: NOT ANOTHER ONE. Yeah, I was never the biggest Greg Lake fan. He seemed like he was the one member of Emerson, Lake and Palmer who was still on a high horse after all the years of excess have fallen by the wayside. But, damn, that doesn't mean you have to take him too. And so soon after Keith Emerson's death.

And what about poor Carl Palmer? Is anyone rushing to his side to offer solace?

When Keith Emerson took his life earlier this year, I posted an appreciation of him and of the way that ELP's music impacted me. Greg Lake was part of that, of course. He was the voice of the band. He provided some levity after all the heaviness. Plus he was the voice of King Crimson, roaring through distorted speakers in "21st Century Schizoid Man," a thunderous debut if there ever was one. Not to mention "In the Court of the Crimson King," with its majestic chorus and sea of voices. I played that album earlier this evening (even the meandering "Moonchild") and it felt really good. You can feel the intensity of this young band, finding their sea legs and channeling their excitement into the music. You step back from the music, away from everything that followed it, all the stigma that's attached to it, and try to imagine the band itself. What comes through is that first-time energy.

That's why, despite the pompous quotes that I've read over the years from Mr. Lake, that I feel the loss. The way that music hits you - encapsulating that certain time that you remember really discovering it, coupled with that feeling of what it must've been like to play it - means you'll never completely forsake it. It's almost like the feeling you may have for a sibling: You might go through periods where you don't see each other. You might really dislike them. They might have said something to you decades ago that still burns you to this day. But you'll always come back to them because of that connection you have.

On top of all that, I was reminded that 36 years ago tonight, John Lennon was killed. A friend commented that it might not exactly be a "Where were you when Kennedy was shot" moment, but I think that it is INDEED that moment for people my age. At least those who are really into music. Sure, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and even Elvis had already died. But none of them were shot by a deranged fan. THAT was the game changer, even if it took several years to realize what it meant.

I was in bed on Monday, December 8, 1980. I can't remember if I had fallen asleep yet or not, but my brother Tom came into my room. Being a somewhat jerky/wiseguy of a 13-year old, I got mad at him for bothering me. Then he told me why: they had just announced on tv that Lennon had been shot. Tom said they hadn't confirmed his death yet. Or maybe he soft-pedaled it, saying things were up in the air. But I recall laying there in bed, thinking, What if he is dead?

The next morning, I remembering hearing the phone ring while I was still in bed. It was my CCD teacher who was fairly young (at least younger than my folks) and pretty hip with us kids. She wanted to make sure I knew. Before long, I came down for breakfast (it would be a couple more months before I became part of the alleged Dawn Patrol and started delivering the Post-Gazette and had to wake up early) and got the word. Yes, John was dead. All day WDVE, the only station I listened to back then, was playing Beatles and solo Lennon music.

I had a reputation for being a Beatles fanatic at school, although by that time, my enthusiasm for them had waned a bit, replaced by the adolescent obsession with the Doors, which would die down in a few months as I discovered weirder strains of psychedelic rock, and eventually headed into punk rock. But years later, a woman who had ridden the school bus with me, recalled in a complimentary way that on that school day, December 9, I wrote "Lennon Forever" in the condensation of the bus windows. The respect was a bit too late to boost my insecure ego, but in retrospect, it was nice that someone noticed.

Because when you're in 8th grade - surrounded by kids who act like assholes because they're too afraid to admit that they're just as confused about life changes as you are - writing a name on a window is sometimes the only way you know how to express your gratitude to a musician who will never get to hear it from you directly.

Thanks, Greg. Thanks, John.

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