Tag Archive | "Rolling Stones"

Remembering John Lennon

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Reams and reams have been written about John Lennon, gentle activist and one-half of the world’s most famous, prolific, and successful songwriting team: the half that was brutally slain on December 8th, 1980.  Much of John Lennon’s continuing eulogies, including a PBS special airing on November 22, 2010, stem from deeply devoted fans, those who keep his music and his memory close to their hearts.  I was not one of those fans.  And yet, John found a way to touch me.

Before I reveal how he did that, I should clarify why I was not a true fan.  When you understand that, you will have a clearer view of how he did touch me — from beyond the grave.

When Ed Sullivan unveiled The Beatles and thus changed the entire face of contemporary music, I was just nine years old.  Like every other kid and weeping, fainting adolescent girl, I fell in love with four mop-topped cuties from Liverpool.  But the love affair ended with their I Wanna Hold Your Hand phase.  A few months after The Beatles burst into living rooms across the U.S., you see, Ed introduced us all to The Rolling Stones.

Sneering, pug-ugly smoking guns with a lead singer embodying the log flume to hell for innocent little Catholic girls like me, the Stones’ gritty music was 180 degrees removed from the bright, bouncy tunes of The Beatles.   One look at and one listen to Mick and Company and The Beatles were nothing but a fond memory, pleasant little ditties on the radio.  Of all the bands to grace Ed Sullivan’s stage in that most glorious musical era, The Stones were the quintessential purveyors of bluesy rock. With its roots deep in the blood-soaked cotton fields of America’s Deep South, this music spoke to me, a nine-year-old kid, like no other.

As my friends played the latest Beatles’ LP backwards to hear the message about Paul’s “death” and decipher the group’s dress code on the album cover, (inferring his “demise”), I simply shrugged and spun The Stones, Creedence, my older Animals platters, and similar, blues-soaked rockers.  When my friends ooh’d and ahh’d over Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, I thought the entire concept — and the music — tres strange as I eased Joplin (Janis, not Scot!) and Led Zeppelin onto my turntable.

John Lennon, however, interested me, before and after the biggest band in the world disbanded.  He’d married a distinctly unattractive artist-cum-business mogul, when he could have had any woman in the world.  I liked that John saw beyond superficialities, put his money where his mouth was, and embraced Yoko’s quirkiness.

John was true to Yoko even though the world at large seemed to despise her, blaming her (unfairly) for the band’s breakup and unprecedented outrages such as the couple’s nude sit-in in their own bedroom, to which they’d cheerfully invited the press.  And then John broke the cardinal rule, the one established by legions of die-hard Beatles fans.  He began to make music with Yoko!  Paul, George, and Ringo he’d tossed aside, but Yoko became his new partner, and not only in music.

The daughter of a Japanese cattle rancher, she managed the couple’s businesses and finances.  John, in turn, became the stay-at-home dad “watching the wheels go round and round” as he raised his and Yoko’s only child, Sean Lennon.  John was watching those wheels not from a castle in the English countryside, but from a New York City apartment overlooking Central Park.  And while the British Tax Man that John had immortalized in song was sucking 90% of the income out of its mega-earning musicians, making expatriates out of many, John Lennon could have lived in a mansion in Beverly Hills or a beachfront in The Bahamas.  Instead, he chose an apartment in New York City – My City.

He said he’d liked Manhattan for its anonymity, and largely, he was right about that.  Those of us born and raised in New York rarely blink when we spy a celebrity, for in the city, there are nearly as many famous people as there are fish in the Hudson River.  Most native New Yorkers respect the privacy and personal space of celebrities.  But it was more than that that drew John to my city.

I think he must have loved it as I do, as every New Yorker does.  I think he loved waking up every morning to look down upon the huge oasis of Central Park, upon Cleopatra’s Needle, the lake, the zoo, the skating rink, and the rolling green miles of trees, grass, and trails (see the Park from the sky and you’ll understand how truly immense it really is).  I think he liked the museums, the Planetarium, the theater, the art galleries, the little clubs and the bigger venues, the restaurants, the street artists and musicians, the thousand dizzying cultures all melding and yet unique, the fact that life teemed and throbbed and never seemed truly quiet on such a tiny island, connected to the rest of the world by a series of bridges and underground tunnels.  And I think that, in the midst of this beautiful, cacophonous, rushing city, he found peace. For John was a man of peace.

When news of his murder at the hands of a twisted non-New Yorker broke, I was entrenched in the world of publishing.  Editors and editorial assistants, authors, the entire production department, sales and customer service reps, all laboring under terrible deadlines, came to a grinding halt.  Women burst into tears while the men were struck speechless. One editorial assistant fled the building and returned later with black armbands.

I was among the few who did not cry; neither did I wear an armband.  I wasn’t crazy about John’s post-I Wanna Hold Your Hand music.  It was just okay by me.  Perhaps it was too simple and gentle for me, for I was still steeped in hard, bluesy rock and getting my head turned by the angry young man who was Billy Joel and the nerd punk-rock god, Elvis Costello.  John Lennon did not need me to mourn him.  The world was mourning him and particularly, I think, my city — the city where he had felt so safe, the city that had loved him back.

As a strange, communal quietude hung over the city, its citizens grieved, laying armloads, truckloads of flowers at The Dakota, the building before which John had been gunned down, the building in which he’d lived with his wife and young son.  The faces on the subway and the crowded city streets were oddly subdued.  Eventually, the city stretched slowly, painfully back to life, like an arthritic too long asleep.

And still, I had not mourned John.

The week after his assassination, I found myself, at 6 AM, in the Port Authority — the old Port Authority.  This was the bus terminal where angels feared to tread, as the homeless struggled to find warm alcoves from which they would not be tossed, and muggers preyed gleefully upon commuters … including very young women, like me, sitting all alone on an empty bench at 6 AM on a weekday.

As a production vigilante in the days before desktop publishing, I was scheduled to sit shotgun on a typesetter in Connecticut, just before the book went to press.  Peter, my editor on this project, was coming along in case of disaster, but Peter was afraid to fly.  Young idiot that I was, I felt bad for him and decided to take the long bus ride up to Connecticut to keep him company.  I was an idiot because Peter and I were about as far apart in musical and artistic tastes, preferred cuisines, fashions, and personalities as Earth is from Alpha Centuri.  He was quiet to the point of being aloof; I was the Italian-American firecracker who abhorred protracted silences.

Peter was notoriously late, and I was notoriously early: another difference that separated us, another thing about him that ticked me off.  On that morning, waiting (once again!) for my editor, I bought a container of orange juice and a copy of Time magazine.  There on the cover was John Lennon.

It was just a headshot, or perhaps it was a drawing.  I cannot remember now, but I remember John’s face on that cover, still.  It was John, quintessential John. The gentle, quietly confident musician-singer-songwriter with the ubiquitous round spectacles.  The man who’d more than once turned the world on its ear, the man with the kind, knowing eyes whose wry humor telegraphed that nobody was getting one over on him.  The man who’d made gentle music and who had rallied for peace, even when half the world had jeered at him for doing so.

Inexplicably, my throat constricted and my eyes swelled.  On the cover of Time, John’s picture curdled with my salty tears.  I knew how utterly stupid it was to be crying all alone in the cavernous, pre-rush hour Port Authority; I knew that it made me a target for the muggers, the homeless, and the just plain crazed.  Still, I could not stop crying.

A shadow fell across the magazine and I looked up.  There stood Peter, his handsome face changing from sanguine to concerned the minute that he saw me.  “What’s wrong?” he demanded.  “Are you okay?”   Silently, I shook my head; the words would not come.  Again, he insisted, “What’s wrong?!?”  In answer, I held up the magazine and said only, “John,” in the voice of one who suddenly realizes she has lost something ephemeral and very precious, something irreplaceable. 

I watched as Peter’s face changed again, to complete understanding.  In that moment, I had finally achieved total, soul-level understanding with a man with whom I had worked closely for months, a man who had not previously understood one damned thing about me — and whom I had not understood.  John Lennon did that.  He made that connection.  He leveled the barriers between two hard-nosed, stubborn, diametrically opposed New Yorkers and brought us to a moment of total understanding … and afterwards, a sort of silent truce.

I think that John Lennon did that for many, many other people all around the world.  I think that somehow, he is doing that still.

My Cup Runneth Over — Help!!!

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Multitudinous shopping malls, health spas and nail salons, tattoo parlors, universities, medical institutions, restaurants both fancy and casual, great beaches, well-manicured parks, Corporate America, and endless highways clogged with traffic … or a quiet rural setting with none of the above.  Which would you choose?  If you’ve chosen to reside in the Great Garden State, you have also chosen, along with the abovementioned amenities and frustrations, to live with a higher level of stress than your countrified neighbors.


Because this is the most densely populated State in the Union, and because many residents of New Jersey commute to work in New York or Pennsylvania, traffic is always jamming Jersey’s parkways and interstates.   Add to this the years-long construction projects impacting what surely feels like every road, ramp, and intersection, and you can have what the Rolling Stones referred to as your Nineteen Nervous Breakdown.  The mere act of sitting in your car, waiting for traffic to flow again, can be unnerving.  Blaring horns and the stop and start of traffic as you creep along in search of the right exit are exacerbated by detours necessitated by the never-ending drilling and re-patching of highways.  Add to this the inevitable cut-offs by drivers with kamikaze mentalities, and the Sunday drivers who think that the left lane has been created to maintain a steady cruise of 40-45 miles per hour, and you have a recipe for reducing your lifespan, literally.


Stress kills.  Or rather, it kills us sooner than natural causes alone would.   Under stress, levels of cortisol rise in our bodies.  This hormone contributes to the accumulation of belly fat, sleepless nights, generally sluggish metabolisms, and a depressed point of view.   Even strokes and heart attacks can sometimes result when our bodies and minds are stressed to the max like electrical systems on overload.   On any normal day, we are always confronted with stress-generating issues.  But now, the holidays are just around the corner, lurking not with visions of sugarplums, but with promises of increased anxiety.


Most of us are trying to figure out how to deal with all the extra planning, shopping, and work that seem to go hand in hand with a “successful” holiday.  Saying “No!” to people and events who seek to pull us like taffy at the Jersey shore — and not apologizing for it — as well as cutting back on some cooking preparations will go a long way in easing some stress.


The intent behind and act of celebrating holidays are important.  Holidays mark the special times in our lives, prompt us to gather with friends and family, look ahead to better days, and honor the good times that have gone by.  However, to maintain our sanity, we need to put the brakes on.  Heck, we can’t control traffic on the highways but we do have some control over what takes place under our own roofs.


Think about it.  Did you really need that 20-pound turkey with all the trimmings last year?  How often are you overrun with leftovers that go to waste after such a gut-busting feast?   After a few days of turkey sandwiches, soups, or casseroles, you’ll think you’re about to morph into a gobbling bird yourself, and you’ll just toss out some of those leftovers.  Overdoing side dishes and desserts just puts too much pressure on the cook, who must juggle pots and pans and turkey basters like a crazed circus entertainer, just to bring everything to the table on time.  And of course, checking on the guests to be sure that everyone is happy is just what one needs (not!) while preparing a meal that would make King Henry VIII smack his chops in glee.


The joy of celebrating usually centers upon the preparation and enjoyment of food.  But as the saying goes, less is more.  Just running around buying groceries and planning the menu can be trying enough.  If things are too much for you, ask for some help from the other guests; ask them each to bring a dish to your holiday feast.  If you do this, some planning is necessary so that dishes are not duplicated and the work is not distributed unevenly (i.e., with your kid sister dumping a store bought box of corn mix into a bowl, adding a few eggs and calling it muffins while you slice and dice and sweat over a hot stove to whip up a fresh chestnut, apple, and wild rice-aborbio risotto that takes a few hours of prep time).


If the thought of asking people to bring food to your house seems a bit daunting, then simplify the menu.   With the proper planning, some recipes can be made ahead, frozen, thawed, and heated with great success.  Store bought items, such as rolls or pies, are also great time savers.  As long as the meal is palatable and everyone has a good time, no one will complain about a few shortcuts.


While holidays only occur a few times a year, the routine of our jobs can grind away at us on a daily basis.   How many times have you wished you could be Susan Powter, screaming for the insanity to stop?   A lean economy means that those of us still employed are doing the work of several people, often simultaneously.  Adrenaline, surging due to fear over a loss of income if we don’t pull our weight, propels us to perform at superhuman levels, until quitting time, which never comes fast enough.  Then we go home, snap at our kids and spouses, sit in front of the boob tube, and get up again eight hours later (if we’re lucky) to do it all over again.  Our blood pressure skyrockets, our breath grows short, those tension headaches mount like Vesuvius about to blow but still we plow on.   When this happens, give the boss a wide berth; if not, your stress level will be as high as the Himalayan Mountains!


When the going got tough, I used to smoke.   The act of lighting up a cigarette enabled me to escape my job for a few moments and grab a teeny-weeny bit of peace.  But when chronic bronchitis came to pay me a visit too often, I finally gave up the “coffin nails” and freed myself of this unhealthy crutch.   While I still sometimes think about lighting up again, I know that smoking is only going to relieve my stress for a few moments while permanently damaging my heart and lungs.    So, I have started to step outside for a few minutes just for some fresh air or better yet, to take a short walk.  I ask a co-worker to cover for me (and then return the favor) while I enjoy the sights of the turning, falling leaves and the little wild creatures that call Jersey home.


Those of us who don’t smoke may reach for food as an edge reducer.   Sugar is the one substance that all human beings are born craving.   Whether it is in its refined stage of, say, ice cream or chocolate, or is disguised in the form of a crunchy potato chip or a nice warm, cheesy slice of pizza, comfort food is all about instant gratification and closing the door, temporarily, on our stressors.  We may wind up with digestive problems, more calories than we need equating to unwanted weight gain, and even the urge to down more bad carbs, but still we eat to forget and relax.


Sometimes, when I feel that I have a little too much on my plate … and not necessarily just my dinner plate … I find that a little pep talk, from myself and to myself, helps.  Talking about my stressors out loud (usually not within earshot of anyone who may call out the men with the white coats to come and get me), can be empowering.  Other people prefer to make lists, dividing the page into Pros and Cons so that they can actually see both sides of an issue.   And prayer can be very soothing, as it is the act of giving up our troubles to the Lord.  Simply praying to put one foot in front of the other in order to proceed can give us the strength to continue.  


So, if you are like 99% of our population, watch your stress level.  Don’t let it kill you, literally, and don’t let it rob you of the little joys that can be yours on a daily basis.   If you feel that you are ready to short circuit, ask for help, physically and/or emotionally.  It’s okay to reach out for help. We are, after all, human.   If we weren’t, we’d be a more highly evolved life form that has learned how to eliminate stress altogether!

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