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I didn't care at the time. I do now.
Twenty years ago today, a man named Mark Chapman shot and killed John Lennon, the former Beatle. I was eleven at the time, and all I can recall is watching women crying in the streets of New York on television.
I liked the Beatles then -- I had enjoyed making a spectacle of myself mock-performing while the 45 rpm single of "Get Back" played on one of our jukeboxes, which my dad brought home from his job repairing them -- but I didn't make the connection with Lennon in 1980. I liked disco. He was just some guy. (Hey, I was eleven.)
Only in the following decade did I get it. Ten years later, in 1990, I was making part of my living playing drums on Beatles songs in a sixties cover band. I still do that today (see "The city that never rests," below). Through the Beatles I came to love rock 'n' roll, from Little Richard and Chuck Berry through AC/DC, Midnight Oil, Nirvana, and on -- and I went back too, to Muddy Waters and Otis Rush and Robert Johnson.
Last week, I sat behind the drums again in the basement of a hotel maybe ten or fifteen minutes' walk across Central Park in New York City from where John Lennon lived, and died. Three other guys and I played "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and "With a Little Help From My Friends" and "I Saw Her Standing There," and more. Some of them, like "Here Comes the Sun," my band has probably played many more times than the Beatles did. We played songs the Beatles wrote, and songs they loved, and songs by people who loved them.
Funny that while I've played all those songs, Beatles and not, hundreds of times, the Beatles tunes -- especially the early ones, when Ringo really pounded and Paul went "wooo!" -- are still among the most fun to perform, and to hear. "I Saw Her Standing There" was the first track on the first album the Beatles released, coming up on forty years ago. Musicians know, though, that if things are going a little slow, that song can still get people dancing in seconds.
I never knew John Lennon, and maybe wouldn't have liked him if I did. But I'm glad he was around. It's too bad he didn't see his kids grow up.