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Saturday, December 10, 2005

January 11, 1981 A LEGACY OF WORDS, WORDS, WORDS

One perspective during the early aftermath of Lennon's murder

Speaking Personally; A LEGACY OF WORDS, WORDS, WORDS
By ELIZABETH FLYNN (NYT)
Published: January 11, 1981

I WAS 14 years old when Yoko, Anne's cat, drowned in a neighbor's swimming pool. Anne, my best friend, was heartbroken. That was 1970. Now it is 1981. John Lennon is dead. I didn't cry, and neither did Anne, although I did call her in Boston, where she now lives, to share with her my grief and disgust. We have both changed. The death of Sid Vicious and the appearance of Devo and Elvis Costello mean more to me now.

Enough of that. The papers already have related enough anecdotes to fill a book called ''Where Were You When JL Was Shot?'' The recent re-emergence of John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, into the public eye was newsworthy in itself. Articles in Playboy, The Soho News, Esquire and other publications are proof of that. Lennon was back on the road, on his way to another round in the rink.

Now I don't deny that Lennon held a ''utopian identification,'' as Robert Christgau wrote in The Village Voice shortly after the killing; however, I do wonder about the controversial side of him, which seemed buried in the news coverage. Let's face it: Lennon was as famous for his music as he was notorious for his bout with drugs and his bed-ins.

The New York Post called him ''the Beatles' driving force.'' President Carter said in a a statement: ''John Lennon helped to create the music and the mood of our time.''

Did anyone ever ask Lennon how he felt about the hostages in Iran? Almost more ruthless than Lennon's death was the press coverage. Banner headlines and sidebar upon sidebar flashed in front of our eyes, shoving to the back pages news about the Italian earthquake victims, Ronald Reagan's new Cabinet members, the problems in the Middle East and New Jersey's water shortage.

From the billboard-type display of photographs on the front pages of some newspapers to the more-reserved spreads in others, the news of Lennon's death gave a new aura to the press.

Before it was a week old, the day-after-the-death edition of The New York Post was selling for $2 (regular price: 25 cents), while The New York Times's ''Quotation of the Day'' for Dec. 11 read:

''I would certainly like to wish him -whatever. It's hard to know what to say.'' - DAVID CURTIS CHAPMAN, father of Mark David Chapman, the accused killer.

Even the radio and television waves broke new barriers. All-night vigils were organized on such radio stations as New York's WNEW-FM, while ABC-TV News devoted 15 prime-time minutes to Lennon.

Throughout the week, news programs added as much as half an hour to the developments pertaining to mourners and the alleged killer and to pay tribute to the dead man. The prayer vigil on Dec. 14 was televised, interrupting regularly scheduled programs on most of the major networks. The entire 10 minutes remained silent as the cameras of Channels 2, 4, 7, 13 and Cable News Network swept over the silent mourners in Central Park.

Before me are stacks of newspaper clippings that I will file under Lennon or media (I'm not sure which yet). And in all those stacks what do I have?

Well, I know that:

- Lennon was shot four times (some say they heard five shots).

- He died from a loss of blood (although I also read that it was from shock).

- The suspect, Mark David Chapman, is 25 years old, is married to a Japanese-born woman, is from Hawaii and was reading ''Catcher in the Rye'' when arrested.

- Five-year-old Sean Lennon was ''buddies'' with his pop.

- Lennon's estate is estimated at more than $30 million.

- Miss Ono is excellent as a financier.

- The accused man's first lawyer resigned from the case because of death threats. His new lawyer is not afraid.

- Beatle records sold out the morning after Lennon was killed.

- The publisher is trying to meet the demand for the Grove Press book, ''John Lennon: One Day at a Time,'' and Manor Books is planning an ''instant paperback'' about him.

- Two people committed suicide because they were so depressed about the shooting.

- Gun control has been the subject of most major columnists.

- Lennon was cremated. An outstanding number of feature articles were written to pay homage to the star. Some were confusing. Were the writers paying tribute or trying to release their anguish? Granted, it is an awful, strenuous task to sit down and compile an obituary meaningful enough to chill the memories of one man in relation to all men.

Most writings had a twinge of strength, one phrase or tangent that began to hit on the vitalness of such a loss. But the bottom always fell through. Jimmy Breslin couldn't do it, and neither did anyone else.

I've been looking for a piece that would send the chills through me, the kind I get when I sit down and actually think of the stunning reality of it all.

I think part of the difficulty was that most writers tried to go backwards. By starting from the 80's and going back to the 60's through the 70's, one cannot possibly see it all in the proper perspective.

It was lazy for so many writers to use the quotes from old Beatles' songs. That is very old news. Everyone already knows it all. Perhaps if one had really ventured into the past, a more realistic vision would have shown through. By taking words that were created in the beginning, there would have been stronger, much more identifiable feelings.

What it comes down to in the long run is: Lennon is dead and the era is dead. But the era died when the Beatles broke up. If all these people really believe that Lennon had a cause, how strong could his cause have been if his followers cannot follow it through?

The best piece I've read so far is from a very old copy of Life magazine. ''Their lyrics have provided a disarming but trenchant critique of their elders' foibles,'' an end-of-the-decade issue of 1960 said of the Beatles. And then, ''The arts intermixed frivolity and death, and the gun emerged as the all-purpose symbol.''

If all these people - writers, mourners and comrades - really believe, there is no need to bury any of the hope or the philosophy that the Beatles and Lennon have been credited with.

Let's not isolate the issue. There are others who count. Need we quote the scriptures of the Beatles infinitely? Or can we relate to the words of a more recent song, ''The Beating of Another Heart,'' by Graham Parker, who sings: ''Love takes another shot ... You can't stop the beating of another heart ... the pounding goes on forever.'' --------------------------------------------------------------------- Elizabeth Flynn lives in West Orange.

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