So when I was three years old, my absolute favorite show on TV was the Beatles cartoon:
Note, please, the vampire theme.
When I was six, my aunt showed me the cover of her Abbey Road album and explained that some people thought it proved that my favorite Beatle, Paul, was dead because the picture was obviously a funeral procession: John in white was the minister, Ringo in black was the undertaker, Paul in bare feet (a lookalike, obviously) was the corpse, and George in denim with his scruffy beard was the gravedigger. I cried for hours.
When I was eleven, I met my best friend. In addition to many other charms and attractions, she had a whole big crate of 45 rpm records that had belonged to her aunt, including all the Beatles’ early singles. We’d stack’em up seven at a time (the limit of my stereo’s spindle) and listen to them over and over and over for weekends at a time, even though by then the Beatles had been broken up for years. We bought every record Wings put out; we even dragged her poor mom to the movies to see this:
So sorry, Alice . . .
Over the course of the next few years, as I acquired most of the Beatles’ catalog on vinyl for myself (including outright stealing that copy of Abbey Road that belonged to my aunt), I slowly realized that while Paul was “the cute one,” John’s songs were more me. My adolescent yearnings were far more stirred by “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and that sexy sigh on “Girl” than by “Martha My Dear” or the hideous “Michelle,” which I loathe to this day. I even tried to like John’s solo stuff, though my first listen to “Cold Turkey” sent me scurrying, and even at my most pretentious, I couldn’t pretend to have listened to “Revolution Number 9” all the way through.
On the morning of December 10, 1980, when I was sixteen, my mom woke me up to tell me to come watch the news and try not to be too upset–John Lennon had been shot and killed in New York. At first I told her she was crazy, that this was obviously another hoax, another “Paul is dead.” But it wasn’t a rumor spread by kids and DJs; it was an ugly truth on the morning news. I was inconsolable. I called my bestie, and we cried together. I’m not even sure I made it to school that day; I know I was at least late. My dad came home that night with a brand new, high fidelity stereo radio for me so I could listen to all the tributes, and slowly over the next few days, I pulled it together. But I grieved like I’d lost someone close to me, someone I really knew, and the world was never quite the same.
Not long after that, I discovered Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen and the Smiths and my heart’s new beloved, Sting and the Police. But I never stopped listening to the Beatles. When I went away to school for the first time, one of the five albums I took with me was that same copy of Abbey Road. Years later when CDs became the thing, the first disc I bought was Revolver. I read Philip Norman’s Shout and The Love You Make by Peter Brown and Steven Gaines. (I did NOT read the Goldman biography of Lennon.) I watched The Beatles Compleat and The Beatles Anthology, and when iTunes finally got the rights to the Beatles catalog, I busted my bank account downloading pretty much everything. But I figured I was a late model baby boomer, one of the masses of nostalgia buffs, that for younger people, the Beatles weren’t really a thing. Just last month I read another, much more recent book about the break-up of the band and their finances and lawsuits, and it read like ancient history, a cautionary tale from days of yore.
Then last week, thinking about Christmas prezzies, I asked my freshly-eleven-year-old niece, Katie, who her favorite singer was, expecting to hear some name I wouldn’t recognize but that Amazon might. Without a moment’s hesitation, she said, “The Beatles.” Her mom, my baby sister, is as big a fan as I am, and the music has been in the background of Katie’s life as long as she’s been alive. But just recently, as adolescence steals over her, she’s “really gotten into it.” I’m trying not to make too big a deal of it, of course. But I got her this for Christmas:
On this thirty-sixth anniversary of your death, rest in peace, Mr. Lennon. We still can’t thank you enough.