Saturday, December 8, 2007

John Lennon speaks

On December 8, 1980, I was a sophomore at the University of Maryland. And I spent a lot of my time at the college newspaper, the Diamondback.

In those days, the newsroom had an old-fashioned Associated Press teletype machine – the “ticker” – and it was constantly clacking with news stories from the AP.

When a major story broke, the ticker had an alert system to let everybody know. It was a bell. Depending on how big the news was, the bell would ding once, or twice, or three times... up to five.

Five bells was very rare. Five bells was huge. Five bells and editors ran to the ticker to see what the fuck just happened.

The murder of John Lennon got five bells. The only other time I remember hearing five bells was when President Reagan was shot.

Actually, I hope I’m not conflating those two events in my head. My memory isn’t flawless. But I have long associated Lennon’s death with the image of students gathered around the AP ticker, looking grim.

About 12 hours before he was shot, John Lennon recorded an interview, along with Yoko Ono, in the offices of Geffen Records. That interview was recently reissued on CD as “Testimony: The Life and Times of John Lennon In His Own Words.”

This 14-track album is downloadable from eMusic, and iTunes.

I’m streaming a 1-minute clip on my Vox site, wherein Lennon recalls meeting Paul McCartney for the first time... when they were both adolescents. Click here to listen.

(The top photo is © 1974 Bob Gruen, and is used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.)


Dougfp said...

Like a lot of people on the East Coast, I got the news from of all people, Howard Cosell, who interrupted the broadcast of Monday Night Football to announce Lennon's death. It was very hard to fathom at first. Shot? Dead? Can't be.

Alas, it was.

dez said...

My mom called me out of my room (where I was being a regular teen and listening to music) to tell me the news. She was crying. I holed up in my room the rest of the night and fell asleep, surrounded by my Beatles posters and listening to my Beatles records.

The next day, a bunch of us at school wore black armbands. One of my teachers canceled his classes and just played Beatles records all day. His room was a refuge for the rest of us to come in, share our memories, cry, and comfort each other. Strangely enough, even the "old" teachers (like, grey-haired "old") were understanding that so many of us were distracted and upset. In our case, at least, Lennon's death brought generations together, if only for a day.

Undercover Black Man said...

Hard to think of another person whose sudden death could touch us so... on such a widespread level.

I can think of one... Prince... but banish the thought!

dez said...

^I don't know about that. Does Prince still have trans-generational appeal?

Undercover Black Man said...

^ I definitely think some college-age kids would be bummed, dez. But maybe I'm in denial about middle age.

Tony Pip said...

I was there, too, Mr. Mills, running slot on the copy desk that Monday night, when the bells tolled. And you remember it well. Someone ran over and announced the slug: "Lennon." I heard "Lenin" and wondered why a long-dead Bolshevik did to deserve five bells, imagining: "MOSCOW (AP) -- Newly unearthed Kremlin documents reveal Vladimir Lenin, hero of the Russian revolution, was actually a closet capitalist."

If only ...

Undercover Black Man said...

Tony Pip! Thanks for dropping in. And for backing up my untrustworthy memory. For some reason the image of Chuck Holahan at the ticker is what I see in my mind...

Hope all's well and warm where you are.

clem said...

Hey UMB, just came across this. I remember that night well. I remember trying to decide whether to play the story above or below the fold. TK and I decided below the fold. Mostly for our own convenience because running it above meant ripping up the front page. Tony Pip and DS argued for above the fold, and prevailed. Which was good because I think they had the better judgment.

Excellent blog, btw.

Chuck H.