Along with many vidiots my age, television was the teat that nurtured us all, and I was less weaned than most. I recall "discovering" the Beatles on a Smothers Brothers show from October 1968 (which I recently re-watched, spotting a then-unknown Steve Martin). I immediately bought any and every magazine that featured their likenesses -- no small stack of reading material -- and immersed myself for the first time in abject fandom (well, aside from my short-lived obsession with the Banana Splits).
At first, I was a Ringo fan -- I think I related to the fact that he'd been small and sickly as a child -- and for Christmas 1970 my folks got me a drum kit. Just a little three-piece with a saucer-sized cymbal, a foot-shaped drum pedal, and a photo of three very Brady kids fronting the bass drum. (Temporary madness on my parents' part.) There are photos of me "playing" these '70s skins that day, as well as pics of me dressed in an army suit with a net-covered combat helmet, destined to wind up on A Current Affair or Court TV after I become famous or notorious for Lord knows what.
By Christmas '71, I was into rock, and I was into the counterculture. I may not have actually smoked pot or had sex or flipped off a pig yet, but I'd been reading about all that stuff in subversive magazines like Mad, National Lampoon, Playboy, among others that probably shouldn't have been so easy for me to get my 11-year-old hands on. The Beatles provided the sound track to that Christmas, with my gifts comprising a collection of Fab Four albums and 45s I didn't already own. The band had split up, and that was all we talked about among my many Beatleholic friends (this was the first time my family had lived in one place long enough for me to accumulate something as exotic as friends!).
I remember tears in my eyes listening to "The End" on Abbey Road, knowing it was probably the last new Beatles song I'd ever hear. I felt swept up in emotions when I first heard John and Yoko sing "Merry Xmas, War Is Over (If You Want It)." The next holiday, when I received Lennon-style eyeglasses under the tree, I wore them with the faux army gear (snug, but still a fit), so I'd look just like John's character in How I Won the War (which I knew of but didn't see until the early-'80s advent of home video).
At 20, I was off on my own, 3000 miles away in San Diego, when the holidays rolled around. In early December 1980, I went to a showing of Fantasia, which I (an aspiring animator) had never seen. Sitting there in the big old Cinerama widescreen in Mission Valley, I was awed by the incredible achievement of the animators and blown away by the symphonic sound. It was as if I was seeing magic unfold right before my eyes, a handmade creation birthed in the minds of the artists, musicians, and magicians and brought directly to life through the animators' fingers and onto the movie screen. It almost seemed a Christmas miracle to my jaded sensibilities, to be so enthralled, to catch a passing wisp of magic. I wanted to go on holding it, if for just a short while. I sat through two showings.
After daylight broke over Bald Mountain, with my imagination still reeling and my mind fucked, I walked out of the theater, and the magic fell away.
Everyone in the parking lot had their radios turned up and were walking around as if dazed, talking and crying. The DJ was saying that John Lennon had been shot and killed. Nothing I found under the tree that Christmas could cheer me up.
Every year since, I dream of John Lennon on Christmas Eve. Sometimes we jam, once in a while he performs just for me or for a handful of people (a few times reunited with you know who). On occasion I interview him — Everything I Ever Wanted to Know About Lennon but He Was Too Dead to Ask — and once we hung out together at a Pink Floyd concert (John thought Dave Gilmour looked "like a fookin' well-fed wanker!").
No doubt, this Christmas Eve I'll dream about that most influential of dreamers again. Every time this happens, I find myself rediscovering the humanity, insight, and morality/mortality that he represents to me. Part of the reason I sleep late on Christmas morning is that I'm reluctant to say goodbye to him; I don't WANT the dream to be over, and I'm desperate to keep my hands wrapped around that wisp of magic, for — just — a — few — moments — longer.
— Jay Allen Sanford, cartoonist ("Overheard in San Diego," "Rock 'N' Roll Comics")
I remember my next-door neighbor Bernard crying one day. I kept asking him what was wrong, and he finally told me, through sobs, "Elvis died." His mom had a shrine to Elvis in her living room, and they took it hard.
When I was 11, John Lennon was shot. I thought of Bernard, whom I hadn't seen in years.
What I remember about that day is Howard Cosell, who at that time was just as famous in my eyes. I would hear people talk about the Beatles as "mop tops," but it was Cosell's toupee that my dad made fun of.
I remember Cosell, during that Monday Night Football game, saying something like, "This has just been handed to me..." You knew he wasn't going to tell you about the quarterback, it was his "this just in" newscaster voice.
My parents were shocked, and when you are a child, that is powerful. The next day at school, we were all talking about it on the playground. It was strange to discuss in class; the teacher didn't seem angry and wanted to talk about the shooting with us. I remember, in line at the cafeteria, the school bully came up to me and said, "Do you know what it will take to reunite the Beatles?" I shook my head and he said, "Three more bullets."
All illustrations by Jay Allen Sanford.