I was in second grade at a South Bay Catholic elementary school that November morning in 1963, and it was the nuns who alerted us that something was wrong. As a tiny transistor radio crackled on, a strange and lonely sound began to manifest itself: an entire classroom, child by child, began to cry. He'd been our President, a pied piper to a generation of kids who couldn't wait to join the Peace Corps, a generation absolutely entranced with the wit, the glamour, the sheer perfection of Kennedy's presidency. And now the old guys had taken it all back. You'd see someone break into tears, and no one would have to ask why. Life had lost meaning for a lot of kids. And "Louie Louie" on the radio just wasn't cutting it.
This was the American teen scene in late 1963. And this is the stage upon which the Beatles and "I Want to Hold Your Hand" suddenly appeared—they sounded different than anything anyone had ever heard. They even sang funny—they were English! Within a month John John's salute had retreated into memory. They were John Lennon's band—he'd willed them into existence, hand-picked each member, and spearheaded the group until, at the end, he himself broke it up—though they all had their little niches, idiosyncrasies that the media was able to translate into archetype.
But Lennon was special: the grin, the wink, the sense that he knew the whole Pop Star thing was a game—and that, more importantly, he knew that you knew—was happily unique. We felt as if we were finally in on the Great Joke. He was the greatest iconoclast of his era ("We're more popular than Jesus!"), prefiguring both the Rousseau-ian hippies ("The Word," "Tomorrow Never Knows"), as well as the inevitably subsequent Voltaire-ian punks (his first solo album, "Cold Turkey," "Two Virgins"), and he woke an entire generation to the 'til-then unimaginable notion that one could, in fact, survive outside the norm—survive and even be happier by not playing the game.
This message wasn't new, even in the '60s—Dean, Brando, and even Elvis for a brief time had been intimating the same thing. But Lennon articulated it better—more succinctly and intelligently. I found myself picking up a guitar soon after the Beatles hit, and I was starting my own bands by the end of the '60s—when I was 13. By the late '70s I had a billboard on the Strip, an album cover on Tower Sunset's famed wall, and my own little bevy of screaming young fans that followed my band from club to club. I began playing guitar because of John, and so it was that I found myself a local rock star, driving down Sunset one early December evening in 1980. Again, it was the radio that alerted me that something was wrong.
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A Day In His Life: A celebration of John Lennon starring Tim Piper; Working Class Hero at the Grove, 2200 E. Katella, Anaheim, (714) 712-2700. Sat., 8 p.m. $18. All ages.