My Little Day After Story: John Lennon’s Gone. Stand By Me.
I had to work December 9, 1980 at a Mall bookstore in Texas the day after some of us heard about John Lennon. It was also an exhausting week for final projects in film school, semester five. Project partners would rotate encampment, sometimes all night, to hang onto an editing station in the dingy “Fishbowl.” This was hours of counting frames, algining mag sound reels, splicing each independently and fighting classmates for a precious thing called a split reel of which there were far too few to go around. Magical.
On the 8th news came late from Roosevelt Hospital, so most of the world heard on Tuesday. I can tell you that few film students would have been watching the Dolphins game when Cosell broke rank with the play-by-play and announced the wretchedness. On the 9th, and the day after, a local radio station kept playing his music back to back, no commercials, just a legal air check whenever required by the FCC. Locals will know the call letters –I think it was KLBJ. The mall was very slow well into my evening shift and I rotated from the main store to to a slender second floor newstand until closing.
We had an old school am/fm radio and permission to use it at low volume to relieve boredom. The signal came in clear if I aimed the antenna just right and positioned myself out of the field on the stool. I tuned into radio free Lennon and set the loudspeaker toward the outside so everyone could hear. I turned it to about maybe 50%, plenty loud enough: “Imagine,” “#9 Dream,” “A Day in the Life.” Dammit: “Stand By Me”. John’s reedy voice echoed from the second floor atrium and I’m sure made a racket in the Hallmark Store and the Orange Julius. I didn’t care. Make a complaint. This isn’t my dream. I’m going to be the next Truffaut, anyway, and you will read about me in Film Comment. By the way, November-December issue is to my left –Raging Bull on the cover. But you came in for Architectural Digest, didn’t you? Anyway, John’s gone. So, grow a heart and let the music play.
A mall security officer approached. He had a few years on me, but still in his twenties I’d say. I feared the worse. He turned to me and asked: “What’s your name?” “Vince,” I offered, in what was probably not much more than an mumble. “Well, Vince. Can you maybe turn it up a little?”
I did. The music was now echoing like E. Power Biggs on the festival organ at Canterbury. “Working Man’s Hero,” “Julia,” “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Dammit: “Starting Over.” Dammit. Dammit. Dammit.
The guard stuck around a short while, browsing car magazines. When no one showed from the nearby Dillard’s to give me what for, he vanished to his rounds. No one ever did raise a stink for the three hours the music was blaring. I don’t remember seeing the guard again after my weeks off for winter break. Maybe he was a holiday worker.
A month later, I’d stock the shelves with the January Rolling Stone. This was the one with the cover that broke everyone’s hearts all over again. Lennon lying in profile in his all-together and enraptured with Yoko. I made sure it was front and center and on every endcap, too. Dammit.