Strawberry Fields Forever

I was lucky enough to grow up as a child of the seventies. I say lucky because I was too young to worry about Vietnam. I was too young to experience that horrendous ‘come down’ from the drugged up love fest of the previous decade. And I had absolutely no idea who Charles Manson was.

Oh sure I got to wear flared hand-me-downs and leftover tie-dye; and yes we had Gough Whitlam’s ignominious exit from Parliament, Watergate, oil embargoes and nuclear disasters, but by and large it was a blissfully ignorant time of my life. The Big Mac arrived with its two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickled onions on a sesame seed bun (my mum had to sing the song in a restaurant one evening so my sister and I could win free t-shirts). Earth Day introduced the hippy concept of environmentalism to the mainstream population. ABBA seemed to be on everybody’s playlist and Evil Knievel was leaping over cars, buses and the Grand Canyon.

Music during the Seventies was cool – mostly.

Ok, before we go any further I am NOT referring to disco with my previous statement. Saturday Night Fever may have been an iconic movie that launched the career of John Travolta but no one should ever have to wear pants that tight. And don’t get me started on Hot Chocolate. There’s no way that Heaven was in the backseat of that guy’s Cadillac.

Lets start again. Apart from Disco, music in the seventies was pretty cool.

Except for Chuck Berry’s 1972 monstrosity – ‘My Ding A Ling‘ (what was he thinking?). Oh and that ridiculous song ‘Hooked on a Feeling‘ with the unforgettable Ooga-Chooga lyrics. Actually that Carpenters song ‘Calling Occupants’ (or octopus as my sister misinterpreted) was pretty awful too. Also, why was Michael Jackson singing about a rat and was Chuck E really in love with Rikki Lee Jones? And don’t get me started on the Osmonds, Leif Garret or either of the Cassidy’s.

Ok, third time lucky. Music in the seventies was rubbish with a few notable exceptions.

Kiss was made for loving you, Stevie Wonder was superstitious, Alice Cooper welcomed you to his nightmare, Supertramp was logical, Pilot were magic and Pink Floyd finished the decade comfortably numb. My parents had an eclectic taste in music with vinyl as far as the eye could see. From the big brassy voices of Bette Midler and Barbara Streisand through to Neil Diamond, Beach Boys, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones.

At meal times my father would select one of his favourite albums to listen to as we shared the family meal. Hot August Night got a fair amount of airplay, as did Billy Joel’s Piano Man, the Eagles and the Doobie Brothers. But it was dad’s collection of albums by Wings that lead me to discover the Beatles and the music of Paul McCartney and John Lennon.

Abbey Road had me hooked from the moment I heard it. Soft lyrics, driving guitars, and melodies that didn’t always end with the one song but often carried over into the next. As a six-year-old boy I was fascinated by the sick and twisted Maxwell with his silver hammer, and what child didn’t want to live in the Octopuses Garden? Let It Be, the White Album and Sergeant Peppers all became regular dinner music until the rest of the family decided that enough was enough. I was given my first tape recorder that year for my birthday and promptly taped every Beatles, Wings and John Lennon album I could find.

By age nine ‘Hey Jude’ had become my favourite song of all time and still is today. I actually took Jude for my confirmation name. He is the Patron Saint of Lost Causes – kind of ironic huh 🙂

I began to read everything I could about the Fab Four, which was rather difficult and a little bit expensive without the Internet. My mother hired ‘A Hard Days Night’ and ‘Yellow Submarine’ from the local video store for me and I actually found some books in the school library. I bought albums from Wings and the Plastic Ono Band with the money I made finding and selling lost golf balls and I made sure that at least one of my tapes got played in the car on those long family vacations.

Band on the Run‘ by Wings became one of my favourites alongside Lennon’s ‘Imagine‘. There is a line in the title track of McCartney’s album where a backing vocalist sings the words ‘…if we ever get out of here’. As a child I always thought that this was John Lennon doing a guest spot on the record, although I had a lot of trouble convincing anyone else. (Have a listen and see what you think – it happens right before the instrumental that precedes the line, ‘and the rain exploded with a mighty crash’).

Recently I listened to a copy of the bootleg album ‘A Toot and a Snore in ’74’. This is the only known recording session since the breakup of The Beatles where John Lennon and Paul McCartney played together and frankly – its pretty bad. The point is, this recording was made in March 1974. ‘Band on the Run‘ was released in December 1973. Obviously the pair were at least cordial with each other so why couldn’t it have been Lennon on backing vocals?

Ok enough conspiracy theory and wishful thinking 🙂

Being young and innocent (yes I was once) I really didn’t notice, and definitely didn’t pay any attention to, the troubles that surrounded my heroes. I’m sure that the breakup of the Beatles empire was a less than savoury experience for all concerned but the only question on my mind at the time was, when will the Beatles be getting back together?

Then it happened.

I still have a vivid recollection of that horrible morning when my whole world came crashing down. It was five days before my twelfth birthday and I was getting dressed for school whilst listening to 2SM. The headlines were announced as a lead in to the full news broadcast and I did a double take when the words ‘Lennon’ and ‘pronounced dead on arrival’ were mentioned in the same sentence. The reporter stated rather matter-of-factly that Mark David Chapman had shot John four times in the back and chest at approximately 10:55pm on Monday 8th December 1980 as he walked from his limousine to the entrance of the apartment building, where he lived with his wife Yoko and son Sean. I’d missed the news on television the night before and so I was unaware of the catastrophe until the next morning, Wednesday 10th December 1980.

The big, tough almost twelve year old sat on his bed and burst into tears.

I don’t know how long I wept. I only remember stopping when the call to ‘hurry up or you’ll be late’ came from downstairs. Then I began to feel stupid, big boys aren’t supposed to cry after all. I managed to mask my misery from mum and dad during breakfast and then sat silently in the back of the car on the way to school, secretly afraid of what my friends would think.

I walked stoically onto the playground that morning, doing my best to conceal my grief, and was surprised to find that I was not the only one who was hurting. Some kids were angry, others did their best to fight back the tears, but throughout the day we all spoke about what this tragedy meant to us and we realised that we weren’t alone in our sadness.

On the news that night I watched the throngs of sobbing fans gather in Central Park and around the Dakota Building where John had lived. They were holding hands, flowers and candles. Some were singing, some were crying but all of them were united in their feelings of loss and sorrow. It was an outpouring of grief the world hadn’t seen since Elvis passed away three years earlier, and wouldn’t see again until Lady Diana Spencer was killed in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris, 1997.

There is a definite healing power that comes with sharing your anguish openly with others. I coped with the loss of my idol privately but never forgot the experience. So when Steve Irwin died in 2006 I knew what my own children would be going through and I was able to be there for them.

Thirty years later I still get a lot of joy listening to the Fab Four and their solo albums. ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ does the rounds in my house during December along with ‘Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time’. ‘Band on the Run’, ‘Watching the Wheels’, ‘Mull of Kintyre’, ‘All Those Years Ago’ and ‘Jealous Guy’ are classic solo songs that frequently pop up on my iPod, along with dozens of Beatles tunes including John’s hauntingly beautiful ‘In My Life‘ from the ‘Rubber Soul‘ album.

But it is ‘Imagine’, with its simplistic view for a world united in peace, love and happiness, that will often bring a little tear to the corner of my eye.

13 thoughts on “Strawberry Fields Forever

  1. I really like reading through a post that can make people think. Also, thanks for allowing for me to comment!

  2. Did you explain to your kids, if Steve Irwin wore sunscreen he could have avoided the harmful rays. All joking aside, well written, it brings back my own memories of growing up and the music we listen to.

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