THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED

"Nearly four decades later, I can still feel the way my knees began to tremble and the acceleration of my heart inside my chest. I remember dropping the towel in my hand, suddenly shocked and surprised by the hot, wet tears that began to uncontrollably flush from my blue eyes."

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"Saving up your money for a rainy day
Giving all your clothes to charity
Last night the wife said
'Poor boy, when you're dead
You don't take nothing with you
But your soul' - think!"

(From The Ballad of John and Yoko - 1969 by Lennon/McCartney)

If I blink my eyes through tears that still rise to the surface 37 years later, I can picture myself in December of 1980...an 18-year old freshman at Manhattanville College in New York, vibrant, alive, full of myself and the stuff dreams are made of. In a word: bulletproof.

Nearing the end of the first semester, it was a cold Monday night in the tony suburb of Purchase in Westchester County. Spellman Hall - the freshman dorm digs - was humming and hopping with the 6-to-1 female to male ratio congregation of students. Somehow blessed, my freshman year roommate, Scott, had abandoned all hope of one day going to medical school and left the 'Ville and gifted me with a double-room all to myself. For a young man with dreams of my own of one day going to law school, such digs were conducive to minoring in sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll - and I certainly didn't squander the opportunities.

Having finished a few hours in the college's radio station that night hosting one of my turns as a disc jockey, I returned to my room from the showers, flipping on the television to catch the score on Monday Night Football. I was literally naked and toweling myself off when broadcaster Howard Cosell uttered these words:

"...remember, this is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses. An unspeakable tragedy, confirmed to us by ABC News from New York City. John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous, perhaps, of all the Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead on arrival..."

Nearly four decades later, I can still feel the way my knees began to tremble and the acceleration of my heart inside my chest. I remember dropping the towel in my hand, suddenly shocked and surprised by the hot, wet tears that began to uncontrollably flush from my blue eyes. 

"No," I said in a whisper, the only breath seemingly in my lungs. "NO!" came the next utterance, something guttural and primal from my belly and my balls. Within seconds, outside of my dorm room on the first floor of Spellman, I began to hear the shrieks and screams of young women and others. I threw on some clothes and rushed into the hallway, finding friends and foes alike walking around in a sudden trance, zombies in pain and disbelief. A girl named Kathy came up to me, practically collapsing into my six foot five frame, wailing and sobbing and holding onto me as she shook with pain and grief. 

Born in New York City in 1962, I grew up listening to The Beatles and felt a part of my heart break when they parted ways just eight years later in 1970. Of course, like legions of fans across the globe, I, too, believed in the dream that they would, could, or should one day reunite. As I stood there in the hallway holding Kathy up and letting my own tears fall and mingle with hers, all we could say to each other was, "The dream is dead."

For the rest of that night, my room, Spellman 139, was filled with the music of all the Beatles albums I had inherited from my oldest brother and sister. People came and went all night, singing along, crying, or just hanging out in a dazed silence. Our campus radio station, WMVL, wanted to close the following day. Instead, I asked the station manager to allow me to man the control booth.

In my own pain and loss, I began in the morning and didn't leave until very late in the evening, playing song after song, sharing my memories of what those young world-changers from Liverpool meant to me and so many others. It would be years before I could process the anger of having a childhood idol stolen away so violently and senselessly. Many people thanked me for the giveaway of music and memories, but for a young dreamer there was a part of my heart that was broken in ways that I didn't understand. This was a life lesson I never saw coming and that they weren't teaching in the storied classrooms of Manhattanville

 

The words of a song so eloquently sung by Paul sums it up best for me, even now - today - 37 years later:

 

"And when the broken-hearted people
Living in the world agree,
There will be an answer, let it be.
For though they may be parted there is
Still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be.
Let it be, let it be, yeah
There will be an answer, let it be."

(From Let It Be - 1970 by Lennon/McCartney) 

I still miss you, Johnny. And, yes, there was a day the music died.

Strength & Honor...

John Fontaine

December 8, 2017