I sat behind Paul Gardner in my eighth grade Language Arts class at Longfellow Middle School. Paul was bigger than the rest of us, lanky and tall as a beech tree. But what made him larger than life, was his musicianship. He was an outstanding drummer, and not just for an eighth grader. He was a full-grown hippie rock star to most of us, with a tough-ass biker vibe. And I only once, saw him cry.
It was Tuesday, December 9th, 1980. The morning announcements crackled through the single wooden box speaker mounted on the front wall of the classroom, right above the all-important clock. At first, the mono-toned administrative assistant, turned DJ, doled out benign messages about a Safety Patrol meeting, band booster fruit sales, and Presidential Physical Fitness testing, lulling us back into our near-drool state of first-period consciousness. Then she cleared her throat, and with uncharacteristic frailty, said it.
“I am sorry to report that John Lennon was shot and killed last night, outside his home in New York City.”
She didn’t say, “John Lennon of the Beatles.”
She didn’t have to. We all knew who the Beatles were. She didn’t even have to tell us that Lennon had died. We already knew that too. Howard Cosell had broken the shocking news to most of the country, during the final minute of the Monday Night Football Patriots-Dolphins game.
Paul turned around in that creaky old wooden desk and looked right at me.
“I can’t believe he’s gone, man. He’s really gone!”
Paul had tears in his eyes, the kind of tears that only fall when heroes fall. At that moment, on that day, I became a Beatles fan. It would be well into my teen years, though, after learning to play “Blackbird” with Paul in a high school country band, before I would understand the musical impact of John Lennon and the Beatles. And it would be into my college years, when peace and justice issues took hold of my heart, that I would finally, fully grasp his true legacy.
The rattling poets and disruptive troubadours that filled my parent’s record collection, as well as the family ethos of protest and change, already reverberated in my soul. But “Let It Be,”Give Peace A Chance,” and “Imagine,” bound the harsher tones of civil disobedience and youthful angst with a prayer-like soundtrack, that to me, has never gone out of style.
The previous generation’s challenges; Vietnam, the War on Poverty, and Watergate, had given way to mine. Apartheid, homelessness, and an era of self-centeredness were my generation’s struggles to own. And now, our children, Generation Z, the post-millennials, must contend with a not so new laundry list of burdens to overcome and wrongs to right.
War, racial and economic tension, and climate change, all desperately beg for a young person’s attention and care. Thankfully, they have their music to lean on, and to replenish the wells of passion they will undoubtedly need to do their part. And in our children’s inevitable times of doubt, when hope and compassion wane, let them turn to the wisdom of their parent’s (and uncle’s) record collections. The same vinyl stacks handed down two generations before. The answer is still there.
“… all we need is love.”
Love & Peace,
Paul Gardner & Mark, circa 1980 and playing in the high school band,
“Timberline” circa 1985
Hear the song “Baseball & Beatles”