Remembering John – and James


Today marks the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death.

That day also ended my childhood and woke me up to the harsh realities of the world, realities that couldn’t be imagined away.

On December 8, 1980, I was in the 7th grade. I can’t remember when I started listening to the Beatles. My cousins were into them, and one of them won the Rubber Soul album (yes, not a CD, or a mp3 download, but a vinyl LP) from 101 CBS FM.   When playing cards or games at his grandmother’s apartment in Coney Island, if you made a move against him, he would break into lyrics from the song You Can’t Do That –  “I told you before — nooooo, you can’t to that!”

So I was well familiar with the Beatles by age 12, though maybe not who the individual Beatles were, or what John Lennon was all about.

I had just received my first radio alarm clock and my radio was tuned to an AM station 77 ABC – with  Don Imus in the morning. Don Imus spoofed everything and was always reporting fake news. So when I woke up on that dark December morning and heard that John Lennon was rushed to the hospital for a gunshot wound to the chest, I thought he might be joking. Sure, Imus, I thought, as I went downstairs to get my breakfast.

Then I went down to the kitchen and saw the news on TV – the pictures of Yoko Ono on her knees by the Emergency Room entrance and the announcement that John Lennon was dead.

That day also brings me thoughts of a classmate from the 7th grade. His name was James. I had a bit of a crush on James, though back then, in the brutality of junior high school, liking the wrong boy could get you teased to no end.

James was not exactly what other girls in the class thought of as cool or cute. He didn’t dress cool or act cool. He had thick unruly hair and thick glasses.

But what James  had going for him in my book was that he was SMART. Ahead-of-his-time smart.

For a seventh grader, he was certainly up on his politics. After all, what other seventh grader could write poetry that included references to Mohammed Ali as Cassius Clay or Ted Kennedy and the Chappaquiddick incident? What other seventh grader could argue with our social studies in defense of Richard Nixon when most of us barely knew what Watergate was at age 12? James made Nixon impersonations all the time. And he drew great political cartoons. His other idols: Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather of CBS News, a network where he swore he would someday be gainfully employed.

If James was born 20 years too late and had a fascination with the 60’s, his favorite band was of course – the Beatles. So on the morning of December 9, when the world found out that John Lennon was dead, there was an announcement in home room to observe a moment of silence for the slain musician.

At that moment, James did another mature thing that could have a seventh-grade boy drawn and quartered.  He cried. Right at his desk, right there in front of everyone.

Now, remember I had  a crush on James, who didn’t seem to care that I existed. Who made fun of me about as much as anyone else in the seventh grade. But I couldn’t bear to see him cry. So, seeing that he had no tissue, I got up out of my chair (which I think was against home room rules), crossed the room, put my hand on his shoulder, and offered him one.

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

He looked at me, took my tissue, and thanked me.

It truly was a Wonder Years moment that still remains an entry in my adolescent diary.

And now, 30 years later? I still miss John Lennon and wonder what more music he could have given us, what more he could have taught his son.

Now: my own kids love the Beatles. They sing and listen to their music. They have been to Strawberry Fields and have stood outside the Dakota.

Now: For a fifth grade biography project, Nathan, who is now 12,  found a book in the young adult section of the library that ironically was published three months before Lennon’s death.  To accompany the book report, we made a milk-jug headed John Lennon puppet, complete with the signature round framed glasses, long wavy hair and a New York T-Shirt. Nathan’s playing the guitar now, and I’m sure It Won’t Be Long until he will be asking for a Beatles song book.

And James? Last time I saw James – in person – was at an SAT prep class held at Wagner College back when we were in High School. The class was held at the student union, and one day, a Beatles cover band was playing in the cafe. James had a great time singing along.

I have seen James since, but on TV:  James is a news correspondent: though on FOX, not CBS.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

About stacylynngittleman

I have been a public relations professional and reporter -- and always thought I would live in the New York Metro area - before my husband took a job in Rochester, New York. Most in Metro New York can't find Rochester on a map,and neither could I before we moved. I am now a columnist and a freelance writer for Rochester's only daily newspaper, the Democrat & Chronicle. I also am passionate about gardening, fitness and most of all, Jewish education and Israel Advocacy. Here's my perspective on Western New York living - the good, the bad, and the snowy.

One response to “Remembering John – and James”

  1. thegeeman says :

    When John Lennon died I was visiting my folks in Lancaster PA. I was watching Monday Night Football with dad. I was attending graduate school at UCLA. Richard Starr is a very good friend of mine. A sad da indeed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: