Thursday, December 9, 2010

I read the news 30 years ago today, oh boy ...

Thirty years ago,  on Dec. 9, 1980, I became the man I am today. 

Maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but not by much. And those of you who know me well know exactly what I'm talking about.

Some of you might be thinking, "Wait - John Lennon died on December 8, not December  9." Very true. But being 10 years old at the time, I was in bed when the news first broke.  I did not find out about it until the morning of the 9th. I remember my granddad called from downstairs and woke me up saying "John Lennon was shot, Eric."

I thought I heard him wrong, or thought maybe he was kidding. When I saw the headline screaming at me from the Journal Herald, I knew he wasn't.

Some of you may be surprised to learn that my reaction wasn't grief or anguish. It was actually more shock and fascination, truth be told. You see, up to that point, I was more of Beach Boys fan than a Beatles fan. I liked the Beatles quite a lot because I heard a lot of their music, group and solo,  growing up. I still remember going to Wright State in 1975 when my dad was a student, and he put a sticker from Paul McCartney's Venus and Mars album on his locker. (When I returned to Wright State as a student in 1989, the sticker was still there.)

But for whatever reason, I gravitated more toward the Beach Boys at first. Still love them today. And I always found it amusing that my favorite groups growing up were both Capitol Records artists filed under "Bea." I had an awful lot of 45s with that orange and yellow "swirl" label.

On December 9, 1980, everything changed. From that day on, I began soaking up everything Beatles I could. I read every article, devoured every book, listened to every record that I could. Helping me along was the fact that in 1980, my dad bought new copies of Beatles records and gave me all his old ones. I was hooked.

 I especially admired how whenever someone told them "You can't do that," they would always say "Why not?" And they made it cool to find a new way to write, record or perform. When John Lennon had the other Beatles and George Martin go through not one, not two, but three completely different recordings of "Strawberry Fields Forever," they still made it work brilliantly. 

The new iTunes ads boil it down very nicely with one simple line: "The band that changed everything." 

I'm not sure if it's right to say the Beatles changed me, but they came to define me. I was and am SO into the group that my name became synonymous with the Fab Four. It was my claim to fame in school from fourth grade onward. 

Although I never devised any grand plan, I think my Beatlemania served sort of a purpose. On some subconscious level, I thought, "I'll use this to make my name." I didn't want to be known as "the kid with cerebral palsy." I became known as "the kid who likes the Beatles." 

That wasn't always so easy growing up. It wasn't "cool" to be a teenager who liked the Beatles in the age of hair metal and "Rock Me Amadeus." I remember showing off a batch of Beatle albums to kids in the neighborhood, and one girl scoffed "I thought Duran Duran was out."  When "Twist and Shout" became a top 40 hit in the 80s, on the strength of its appearance in Ferris Bueller's Day Off (thank you, John Hughes). I felt a sense of sweet vindication. For once in my life, everyone knew what I was talking about.

As the 80s became the 90s, my love for the Beatles never changed, but my identity did. It was in that period that my love for movies really ramped up. When I began writing reviews and created the "Sir Critic" moniker, film began to subsume me. Oh sure, people still knew I was a Beatle guy, but I think it's fair to say that I became better known as a movie guy than a Beatle guy, especially after Sir Critic made his way to Cox newspapers. 

So it's been funny that in the past few years, my Beatledom has roared back with a vengeance. A lot of that has to do with hooking up with people from my past via Facebook. One of the very first questions one of my classmates asked me was "Do you still know every word to every Beatles song ever written?" Like she had to ask! ;)

That resurgence manifested itself most touchingly after I went to a concert with a Beatles tribute band. It was a benefit for one of my classmates, Micah Grushon, who was battling cancer. When I went to say hello to him after the show, he told me: "I'm not surprised to see you here. I remember you giving a report on the Beatles in junior high and we were all like 'What? The Beatles??' - while we were listening to Men at Work." 

I laughed because, as it happened, Men at Work was one of the few 80s groups I really liked. But then, Micah really hit home when he told me, "It wasn't until we got to college years later that we realized, 'Eric was right.' "

Sadly, Micah passed away not long after that. But I'll never forget what he said to me. It was great to know that my Beatlemania, once scoffed at, became something positive - something that made life a little brighter. I'm reminded of John's lyric "Nowhere man, please listen, you don't know what you're missing, Nowhere man, the world is at your command." 

For the record, that's album six, track four, words 38 through 55.

(A shot of me with my John Lennon shirt - doubles as a Christmas picture!)

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