A Long Strange Trip


With explosive power.

Man oh man, Forty years already. Where did the time go? Better yet, why did my time go? Today is December 8. A horrible anniversary. I didn’t know until the next day so for me December 9 is just as bad.

I hope by now you know what I’m talking about. If not, this is the day that John Lennon was murdered in cold blood outside of his home in New York City forty years ago.

There are days that will live in infammy. December 7 was one of them. The anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. That affects me too. My dad served during WWII. I might not be here if things had gone sideways.

But, December 8 lives on in my heart and soul.

Here’s my story.

My then wife and I lived in two different states, North Carolina and Virginia. She worked as a reporter for the Roanoke newspapers and I was a photographer for the Winston-Salem newspapers. It’s not as bad as it sounds. In Virginia — our base — we lived in Christiansburg about two miles from the interstate. In North Carolina we lived in Kernersville, the home of the North Carolina Klu Klux Klan. They have nothing to do with this story.

It’s still not as bad as it sounds.

By a quirk of shift scheduling, we managed to spend six nights together. We would pack and leave straight from our respective newspapers. It was a little less than two hours door to door. We took a small road across the Blue Ridge Mountains.

There was no radio reception up there so I played tapes. No CDs. No streaming. This was 1980.

I got home to Virginia, unpacked my stuff and went to bed. I didn’t watch or hear the news.

The next morning the phone ring. It was my wife telling me the horrible news.

Eventually, I got myself together and went to meet a friend at my old newspaper chain. To be quite honest, we were going to drink our lunch. As I walked in the back door where the pre-press work was done, out came the new publisher.

The driving force behind my leaving was that my old newspaper was bought by a terrible newspaper chain. One by one we were all leaving. The new publisher was a guy who drove the biggest car that he could. He was also very heavy. I never comment on people’s looks, but between his weight and his face which was round with a sort of a snout for a nose, he looked like a pig.

He started screaming at me for some reason that I still don’t know. I just stood there. I didn’t reply. The one thing I remember was that he yelled, “You are making a fool of yourself.” I did reply to that. I said, “No, that would be you.” The gathered crowd of my former coworkers started laughing. He stormed off.

That’s how my mourning for John Lennon began.

It continued on and on.

When I returned to work in Winston-Salem, my boss, Chief Photographer Bill Ray — a wise older man from North Carolina — made sure not to schedule any assignments for photographers during the commemoration which, for us meant climbing on the roof and looking into space at the stars.

Somewhere during those early days my wife joined us. We went to my friends house — another photographer — to remember Lennon. They had a piano. He played “Imagine.” My wife, his wife and I sang the best that we could. You didn’t want to hear that.

A week or so later my parents, who still lived in Long Beach, sent a giant special section from the Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram. It was about Lennon.

A young writer named Tim Grobaty wrote an editorial. It was probably the best thing I read during that time. He concluded with something like this wasn’t just another entertainer death, it was like a death in the family.

And, so it was.

Time fades away, so says Neil Young. Luckily, he’s still alive. He’s 75 and as productive as ever. He’s right. It does.

I have no picture to commemorate John Lennon, so I made something a little bright and a little pretty.

It’s a layered combination of two images. Sword Ferns and the blooming of one of those flowers that I showed you yesterday.

It takes time to make these kinds of pictures. I tinker and I tinker until I get it right. Then, I look at it on the big monitor and think, “Oh, man. It’s too dark.” So back into the tinker toys I go.

See what I did there?

Anyway.

There is no trick to this. It just takes time. Maybe 40 years. And, patience. Maybe a lifetime.

Stay safe. Stay mighty. Wear your mask. Keep your distance. Wash your hands. Look after each other. Imagine. Just imagine.

4 Comments

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  1. I remember the night well. I’d been out with friends and came home and turned on the television, catching the story very early on. I immediately called my brother. John was his “favorite” of the four. It was yesterday, and it was 40 years ago. Hard to believe!

    Liked by 1 person

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