John, John, and John…into the Boomer mystic, (part 1)…


I met Bill Clinton once – well, “met” might be too strong a word. “Saw” would be more apt as a description. He and Gore were doing that bus tour thing in ’92 and their bus stopped near where I was and I stood in a small crowd while they stepped from the bus to glad hand for a few moments. Though I was near the back of the group, Clinton looked out over the sea (well, pond) of faces and we made (I think) eye contact. I saw caring in his eyes – and I liked it. It reminded me of our mutual hero, John F. Kennedy. I voted for him twice based on that glimpse as much as on any rational principle….

I had dinner one evening last spring with an astronaut. He’d piloted the space shuttle and now works in the aerospace industry. He was just the sort of person you’d want an astronaut to be – intelligent and thoughtful in his discourse, genial to everyone we met, casually modest about his exploits. It was like meeting John Glenn. He was what my parent’s generation used to call “an All-American guy.” He was the sort of guy you’d want to marry your sister. He just shimmered with the aura of heroism. I got him to give me an autographed picture of himself in his space suit….

I stood in a line a block and a half long during the heat of a July evening in my little North Carolina hometown to see A Hard Day’s Night the summer I turned 12. I was already in love with The Beatles’ music. On that evening I felt I got to know them. And John Lennon fascinated me. He was witty, irreverent – and driven by something fearsome that I didn’t understand. I didn’t want to be him – that was too scary – I wanted to be Paul, someone he trusted – and perhaps respected….

The last six weeks of the year are, despite their festiveness, always tinged with melancholy for us Boomers. Every Boomer 50 or older can tell you exactly where he/she was on November 22nd, 1963. This year that painful anniversary fell on Thanksgiving Day – the day I first tried writing this piece. It seemed necessary to do Kennedy’s anniversary proper rueful homage, but I couldn’t bring it off with all the positive chi around me. So this year’s marking of what might be the seminal existential event in the lives of the Boomer generation went largely ignored except by the dodderers at The History Channel. But you can bet that almost every Boomer – except maybe those scions of the oil industry whose spawn are running our current government – paused at some moment and remembered. And wondered how it all went so wrong….

One would think that once would be enough for any generation to be traumatized, but we Boomers, spoiled bunch of swine that we are, have lots of psychic slop in our troughs that we must choke down every year. April 4. June 5. December 8. And all before many of us reached the age when we couldn’t be trusted anymore – 30….

Kennedy’s greatest legacy, perhaps, was the space program. And it’s the space program who gave us John Glenn. Despite Tom Wolfe’s attempts to debunk the Mercury 7 in The Right Stuff, Glenn has always been a heroic figure. The first American to orbit the Earth. The only astronaut to become a US senator. The American hero who returned to space in what should be his dotage. Glenn is what Boomers like to think we might be like – if JFK hadn’t gotten his head blown off in Dallas “all those years ago….” Bill Shepherd, my astronaut acquaintance, somehow held onto that. It’s why he impressed me.

You just don’t see that in Boomers.

As Glen Frey wryly observes, “Most of us are sad.”

But back to the present – to what Paul Simon once termed “deep and dark December….”

Today is the 6th. I sent my brother in music Mike birthday greetings earlier today. He and I, despite our mutual love of and long history in/out/in the music business together are political adversaries sometimes these days. He’s a conservative Libertarian. I’m – something or other. Progressive, I guess.

But we love each other. We have that bond that only people inspired by greatness to try for greatness ourselves can have. John Lennon gave us that.

And we both dread Saturday. December 8. Because as musicians, and especially as Boomers, it’s one of the biggest ladles of psychic slop we have to choke down every year until we join John in the oblivion choir’s rock music division:

It’s the day that crazy sonuvabitch killed John Lennon.

Lennon was Chapman’s hero. So Chapman said. But Boomers know that you don’t kill your heroes. Somebody in the pay of the Russians – or the Mafia – or the white supremacists – or the CIA/FBI/NSA – will commit that act of betrayal for you.

For too many Boomers, John’s murder was an even more appalling betrayal than JFK’s. Chapman was one of our own – a Boomer. How could he do what he did? What had we become?

December 8, 1980 isn’t just the day the music died, however. It’s the day Boomer opposition to the insidious evil that the we recognized in the Right and its standard bearer Nixon – and his heir Reagan – died. Reagan’s election a month earlier signaled a last desperate grasp at power by those hoary old manipulators of “the silent majority.” With John, who’d recently emerged into public discourse again after a self-imposed exile, to act as our conscience once again, we might have roused our sense of right and forced Kid Alzheimer out after one term – and reversed so much of the plundering he countenanced.

But after John was killed, all pretense of staying true to ideals disappeared and we Boomers either cocooned or yupped our way to Piggie-dom. And while we did Reagan broke the unions, carried on secret wars to benefit his and his cronies’ interests, and encouraged the ravaging of American business for the benefit of share holders (i.e., moneyed elites) at the expense of American workers.

We lost our voice, our conscience, and our will to resist the machinations of the Reaganites and their successors the Busheviks. Each successor to Reagan has served capitalist greed ever more devotedly. The last two, disgustingly enough, are Boomers. They’re us.

Now it’s like we’re living the Yeats poem: ” The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”

We’re in a god damned mess – and we know it’s our fault. But so many of us have been retreated for so long into our religion or our money or our New Age babble or our something/anything to assuage our consciences and comfort our souls that we just don’t know if we can muster the old fire that once made a country do our will about an unjust war – and forced one President to retire a broken man and another to resign his office in ignominy.

December 8 ends the dark stretch of days that, as everyone’s thoughts turn to the pleasure and pain that is the holiday season, are as much part of the Boomer legacy as those thrilling days like February 9 or July 20. We should all try to find some peace during the holiday season.

For then comes 2008 – and an election year that may rank as the most important Americans have ever faced.

And we have some decisions to make…

(to be continued)

13 replies »

  1. I remember when Lennon was killed, and I remember your reaction. I didn’t fully grasp it then because there had been nothing in my experience that remotely paralleled yours. I once noted that my generation had never been forced to confront any kind of collective crisis, like Vietnam, and we’re too fragmented to share in anything like the Summer of Love. So it was alien to me – the closest I’ve ever come were the deaths of Freddie Mercury and Kurt Cobain, which were entirely different animals.

    But while I can’t fully empathize, I do see it, clearly, from the outside. I’ll look forward to part 2.

  2. Chi is one of the great truths as yet to be fully understood by the West. Having seen it in action it is awesome! I disbelieved its existence once…

    In many ways Jim (when you write) you remind me of my Dad. I do empathize because I was on the receiving end of his pain.

    He, however, was more accepting of the selfish drives and desires of human nature.

    He still mourns the fracturing of Britain…

  3. Well done Jim, part 2 will be just as good.
    I am on the cusp of Boomerhood and have 2 regrets. 1) If I was going to be in it why not right in it? How fabulous to be 17 when the good music was happening not having to wait until 1977 to start listening properly. 2) No time machine to go back and stop Chapman being born.
    I was working in a Meat packer plant when Lennon was shot and remember how it affected my fellow workers. Guys who said that if they ever met Chapman they would “cut his balls off”. Ordinary working guys who knew that something more than a person getting killed had happened.

  4. Jim,

    Even this evil, insidious tool of the Right mourns Lennon’s passing and thinks about it every Dec 8. Left or right, we still all listen to the same music, and all are affected.