This short piece gave me the chills  

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12/13/2005 8:56 pm

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This short piece gave me the chills

December 12, 2005

Op-Ed Columnist

When the 60's Bloomed


"He committed a deliberate, premeditated execution of John Lennon and acted in a cool, calm and calculated manner in killing Mr. Lennon by shooting him several times with a .38-caliber pistol."

- Kim Hogrefe, assistant Manhattan district attorney.

John Lennon would have turned 65 on Oct. 9. His widow, Yoko Ono, is 72. Their son, Sean, is 30. Lennon's assassin, Mark David Chapman, is 50.

It's astonishing how often, given a choice between creativity and murder, our species chooses the latter. Eras may change, but the mayhem remains the same.

I was watching "Monday Night Football," the Dolphins against the Patriots, on that warm December night in 1980 that Lennon, a neighbor on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, was shot and killed. I first heard the news, along with millions of others, from Howard Cosell, one of the announcers of the game.

I was a reporter for The Daily News in those days. Stunned, I stood up in my living room, reached for a notebook and pen, and went outside. Fans of Lennon and the Beatles were already gathering in front of the Dakota, the legendary apartment building where parts of "Rosemary's Baby" had been filmed, and where an entire cadre of celebrities lived, including Leonard Bernstein, Roberta Flack and Lauren Bacall, in addition to Lennon and Ms. Ono.

As I went through the unhappy ritual of gathering quotes for a feature sidebar, my thoughts kept drifting back to the glory days of the Beatles in the 1960's, a time when I was obsessed with rock 'n' roll, and even thought I might have a future as a disc jockey.

Nineteen sixty-four was the year the 60's really began. The earliest years of the decade were for the most part an extension of the conventional, cold-war, black-and-white 50's. When John F. Kennedy was inaugurated in 1961, the men participating in the ceremony wore morning coats and top hats.

For a decade known for its excitement, the 60's got off to a decidedly slow start. Doo-wop music was still around, and dreamy songs of widely varying quality - "Moon River," "Where the Boys Are" - were among the biggest hits. It was a quiet time. The average annual salary was $4,700, and a favorite pastime was bowling.

There was no reason to think that radical changes were brewing when 1964 debuted. The nation was still in shock and mourning over the murder of Jack Kennedy the previous November. Mary McCarthy had a best-seller with "The Group," and the tranquilizer Valium was catching on. "Bonanza" and "Candid Camera" were big hits on television.

And then in February, suddenly and without warning, the Beatles were upon us.

If you spend just a little time reflecting on the Beatles you come away astonished by the changes they wrought (or came to symbolize) in what seemed like a split second of real time. People dressed differently, wore their hair differently, danced differently and approached that treacherous triumvirate of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll with an openness that surely had been accelerated by John, Paul, George and Ringo.

The Beatles blew in like a sudden storm and permanently altered the cultural landscape. One night they were singing to an audience of shrieking teeny-boppers on that quintessential 1950's television program "The Ed Sullivan Show," and in the next instant, it seemed, the Sullivan era had been left behind and the 60's had blossomed in brilliant, even blinding, color.

While the Beatles were without doubt the biggest cultural phenomenon of the 1960's, their message of peace, love and tolerance was no match for the unrestrained violence of the era, which included political assassinations and urban riots in the U.S., the war in Vietnam and a general feeling, here and elsewhere, that the answer to any problem could be found in a bullet or a bomb.

(After brashly sending American troops into Vietnam to kick a few Communist keisters, Lyndon Johnson learned to his chagrin that it wasn't so easy to get them back out. Sound familiar?)

The tumult of the decade (and of his own life) would not be enough to shake Lennon's idealism. Eventually he would give us the hymn "Imagine" and the anthem "Give Peace a Chance."

"You may say I'm a dreamer," he wrote. He tried to imagine a world in which a lyric would be more than a match for a bullet or a bomb.

That world hadn't arrived by Dec. 8, 1980, and it's still nowhere in sight.

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