Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Long, Long Time Ago....

Being the tail gunner in a large family - especially when among your older sibs are brothers to show you the ropes on innumerable issues - has its advantages. I was likely the only kid on my 5th and 6th grade baseball team at W-H who had a Whitey Ford model baseball glove - a well-worn and wonderful piece of family athletic "artifactica" that likely graced the hand of at least one of my two older brothers prior to finding its way onto mine. I was also a child in the 1970's whose baseball card collection was simply jaw-dropping. I inherited cards that Bill and Kel had collected back in their respective "days" and mixed in with my own unspectacular collection of then-present day cards were some old beauties: Mickey Mantle, Brooks Robinson, Willie McCovey and Warren Spahn among others. At some point in time I passed them along to Kel's son without ever inquiring what he intended to do with them - if anything at all - since that was precisely the same way in which they had been given to me. Just cards and a faint smell of stale bubble gum. No strings.

Timing is everything of course. Thus by the time I arrived on the scene in the winter of '67, The Beatles were already rounding the clubhouse turn and heading down the homestretch of their time together. Everything I know about The Beatles and have ever learned about them was knowledge acquired after they had broken up. Mine is knowledge gleaned from a historical perspective and not from the perspective of one who lived through it and with it.

The latter perspective is one wholly embraced by my oldest brother Bill. He is too modest to say it (and modesty is not a trait that survived the descent from highest branch to lowest on the Kenny Family Tree) so I shall. His knowledge of all things music is encyclopedic. His knowledge of all things related to The Beatles is even more sharply honed and attuned. I am likely going to woefully oversimplify it here ("Long live the curse of the little brain!") but they were the game changers for Bill. Music - if it hits the listener in just the right way - has the ability to resonate not only in one's ear but in one's brain, in one's heart, in one's conscience and in one's soul. And the resonance continues long after the music stops. So it was - and so it is (at least as I have always understood it) for Bill and The Beatles. They - both as a group and as individuals - have continued to make a difference for Bill and to him - throughout the decades since they stopped making music together. And I reckon that as long as he is here, they shall continue to do so.

Thirty years ago on this very day, Dad and I were among those folks from W-H who went onto a bus trip into New York City to have dinner at Beefsteak Charlie's and to see a Broadway show. I think that this particular trip was to see "Evita!" but the margin for error in my memory is canyonesque. I do recall that it was damned cold and pitch dark when we stepped off of the charter bus in the parking lot of what used to be the Upper School campus on Inman Avenue and got into Dad's car. As we sat in the darkness waiting for the car to warm up a bit, Dad did what he always did - he turned on his car's radio. The radio was set that night - as it seemed it was every time the vehicle was turned on (save for Notre Dame Football Saturdays when it was tuned to Mutual Broadcasting's coverage of the game) - to NewsRadio 88. WCBS AM has never earned a higher audience rating anywhere than it did in Dad's car. If the car was on, then the radio was on. If the radio was on, then (11 Saturday afternoons a year notwithstanding) WCBS AM was on. Whether Dad never noticed or simply never cared that the station recycled the same news stories over and over every twenty minutes or so I never knew. I never grew a set of stones big enough to ask.

As we sat there in the darkness that night, the lead story on NewsRadio 88 (and on Monday Night Football apparently) was the shooting of John Lennon. The Beatles were most assuredly not Dad's thing and Lennon, spinning musical Scriptures advocating a brotherhood of man, was certainly not getting any airplay on the Fisher Console Hi-Fi Stereo that dominated an entire wall in our home's dining room. But hearing the news that Lennon had been murdered while doing nothing more extraordinary than walking into his home with his wife did something to Dad that not too many things did. It rendered him speechless. He could not explain to his 13 year-old son why someone who did not know Lennon had traveled to Manhattan from Hawaii to murder a human being who had never met.

In fairness to Dad, thirty years further on up the road it remains as utterly inexplicable as it did sitting there in the dark parking lot at W-H thirty years ago. And if I live long enough to see its sixtieth anniversary I wager that while much more shall be written about it between this date and that one, an explanation shall remain elusive.


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