By Rosalie Tirella
It’s true – every Baby Boomer knows where he or she was the night John Lennon was killed. I was in Worcester, in the passenger seat of my pal Jane’s little gray Honda. Jane and I and my other best buddy, Tracy, had spent the evening hanging out. Then, as Jane was driving down Lamartine Street in Green Island, to drop me back home, the news came on the radio: John Lennon shot – by some nut job in the lobby of the Dakota Hotel in New York City, where Lennon and his second wife, Yoko Ono, lived.
I gasped. Jane pulled over. And we both cried. We were around 18 or so and, for me at least, Lennon and the Beatles, were a talisman for me. The ticket out of Worcester. By that I mean mentally – emotionally. A lovely musical escape hatch.
The Beatles – through their songs – told me I could transcend the crumby three-decker apartment I shared with my family in Green Island. Through my imagination, through poetry and songs and writing, I could leave our tenement. Fly away on dreams of strawberry fields, walruses, yellow submarines. The Beatles collective imagination (musically and lyrically) was enough to blast a kid right out of her poverty and dangerously circumscribed world.
I “discovered” the Beatles when I was 14, a time when you could go into the Strawberries rcord store on Front Street of the Jordan Marsh music section in the old Worcester Galleria, and buy all their albums. I bought one at a time because we didn’t have a lot of bucks – and played the album a thousand times straight on my cheapie Emerson record player. My mom bought it for all us kids, but I quickly became master of that little turntable and carried it into my bedroom. With the Beatles playing, the window up, and the pink polyester curtains spread open and fluttering in my room I was in heaven. And they were all so cute! I bought all the teeny bopper magazines I could and looked for the pics of Paul and John and Ringo and George. They were broken up by then – but still making very popular music on thier own – Paul with Wings, John with the Plastic Ono Band, etc.
It was then that I decided to chuck my dreams of being a veterinarian and go with … blue collar bard! Or, at least, junior high pretty good essay writer. I was lucky enough to get Mr. Roger Salloom as my English teacher at Providence Street Junior High – a guy who WAS a musician and encouraged his students to write, dream and express themselves.
And I got happier … .
That was what it was about for me: being able to express myself in a home over-run with strong willed, damaged people. I grew up in a very conservative Catholic household – with a crazy Italian father and hot-headed Polish grandmother – who through tri-lingual scream fests (Polish, Italian, pidgeon English!) sucked up all the oxygen in our tenement! It was so noisy! They – along with our Cahtolic religion – kept me and my sisters quiet – shut out of our feelings. How could we break through all the noise/prayers that engulfed us every fucking day!?
The answer: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
In came the Beatles to save my day! Riding on beautiful steeds (like they did in one of their movies!), wearing lovely beautifully embroidered Salvation Army clothes, sporting long, wavy hair – and looking so handsome (I still love shoulder-length hair on guys – why must they all look like Nazis today?). The Beatles sang of peace, flowers, neighborhoods, memories, etc. I liked their early stuff – poppy and fun to dance to, but I loved their mid-60s stuff: Ruber Soul stuff, especially. “Norweigan wood, this bird has flown … .”
You can still get lost in a Lennon song.
I remember sitting listening to my first Beatle albums – the red and blue albums – greatest hits/songs -albums that actually do a pretty good job of giving you a true picture of where the Bealtes were musically for the several years they were together. On the front cover of the red album, there are the Beatles in their little monkey suits of the ealry 1960s, sporting their cute mop-top haircuts. Then turn the album over and you have a picture of the four guys – on the same balcony in the same positions, really – almost a decade later. In this photo, they look like a bunch of hippies who tried it all – smack, LSD, fucked about 1,000 women – and made it to the other side, with crumby teeth to show for all the decadence. On the blue album, which chronicles their later years, the photos are reversed.
But I love the picture inside those doubl albums best of all: The Beatles, with longish hair, looking in the middle of being the Beatles. They are all handsome – inside and outside a fence – with, I think, all sorts of British folks. Little kids, too. There’s a big iron gate and some folks are infront of it and some are in back. (I think – I haven’t seen my albums in a few years – this is all from memory!) You feel like you want to be there … belonging and very much apart, your own person.
Happy Birthday, John! Your music still guides me, enthralls me – just like it does billions of people all over the planet (and probably beyond!). You are eternally ours …