Friday, December 24, 2010

Dispatches from DC #07

24 December 2010

Hello there... Rodger French here.

This is our first Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Winter Solstice/Cold & Flu Season in the U-S-A since 2005 and so far, so good. Anne and I are planning on a modest celebration this year; seeing a few friends, taking in a flick, and assiduously avoiding things what generate seasonal stress: Shopping malls, airports, interstate highways, and FOX News. "War on Christmas," my tuchus.

It's pretty quiet here in northern VA, not least because the Congressional clown car has left town. There was that lunar eclipse on the Solstice, but since A.J. and I were fortunate enough to catch one of these events from our front stoop in Ghana, we took a pass on getting up at some ungodly hour in the butt-freezing cold. But our recent trip to New York City was a great success, consisting as it did of visiting dear friends as well as exhaustive walking interspersed with outstanding dining experiences. (Culinary highlights included Chinese and delicatessen in Midtown and Cuban in Union City, NJ.)

If you have never visited NYC at the height of the Holidaze, you really should. The place is gay (and festive), grand, and trés pittoresque, especially the outdoor markets. Unless, of course, you have an aversion to throngs of excited, skylarking touristes... standing in endless lines... for the opportunity of renting ice skates and falling on their derriéres. But then, we are all free to celebrate the season as we wish, especially when it comes to fulfilling the fundamental and compelling human need to transact commerce.

In Times Square, that motivation has been translated into a display that is corporately, spectacularly, even transcendently bonkers. Standing at the junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue is like being sucked into a garish video game, the concept of which is to cram as much "visual noise" as possible into an unrealistically small space while drinking an LSD/meth smoothie. It's bizarrely entertaining, to be sure; but, having first discovered New York City in the early1970s, I kinda miss the low-tech seediness of yore.

Rather than wallow in tacky nostalgia, however, I'll just take this opportunity to wish each and every one of my faithful and supportive readers (and you both know who you are) the most excellent of seasons, whichever holiday miracle, myth, sidereal event, or sports competition you choose to observe in whatever manner, sacred or secular, you may deem appropriate. For my part, I say celebrate them all. It couldn't hurt.

And may the New Year bring you, if not what you want, at least what you need.



Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Dispatches from DC #06

08 December 2010

Hello there... Rodger French here.

I'm not much for pilgrimages, although I do appreciate the human need for ritual and value the paying of respect to those actually worthy of it. So, I am in New York City on the 30th anniversary of the murder of John Lennon and this very afternoon made the journey uptown and on foot to "Strawberry Fields," 2.5 acres of landscaping located at 72nd Street and Central Park West. When I arrived the place was already packed with fans, tourists, cops, and TV satellite trucks. I didn't stay long; it was wicked crowded, butt-freezing cold, and I had to pee. Desperately. In other words, a typical winter day in NYC.

Loathe I am to revisit previous postings; but after careful consideration, I have concluded that what I wrote for the 25th anniversary is still, from my personal point of view, right on the mark. So, for what it's worth, here it is, with minor revisions. And great respect.

Originally Posted: December 8, 2005

"John Lennon is an important figure to me. He was a great musician, something I strive to be. He was also fearless about living his own life, for better and worse, and usually in the public eye. Finally, he was clever and a smart-ass. I liked that.

Zillions of people have written exhaustively about Lennon, The Beatles, and the ways in which they changed the landscape of popular music. But music is a visceral thing, especially for a teenager, and I have my own distinct memories of hearing The Beatles early on. The first occasion was on a broadcast of 'The Jack Paar Show.' That film clip constituted, as I recall, their initial appearance on American TV, and they sang 'From Me to You' (still one of my faves). And then... 'She Loves You' hit the airwaves (WAKY-AM in Louisville, KY), reached right out through the radio and took my breath away. Still does.

But it was with the release of 'Rubber Soul' that I really started to pay close attention to Lennon's writing, particularly 'In My Life.' I was very impressed that a Rock & Roll star in his mid-20s would write such a serious, reflective song. It was about this time that I started to regard John Lennon as something of a surrogate older brother (I'm the eldest of three boys), a person I could look to for a certain amount of guidance in how - and how not - to approach life.

So I came of age to, among many interesting things, Lennon's music. It accompanied me through high school, college, the Navy, marriage, divorce, and experimentations with altered states of awareness. And while I never consciously emulated John's life, I did take great comfort in knowing he was out there - somewhere - and I always wished him the best. Especially when he came out in opposition to the war in Vietnam, was hounded by the FBI, and ended up on Nixon's 'Enemies List,' a badge of honor in my estimation. When he finally got his Green Card and was able to set up permanent legal residence in New York City, I was glad for him and Yoko.

Then he went away for five years and, well, that was cool because I was pretty sure he needed a break. But in the autumn of 1980, I heard 'Starting Over' on my car radio and realized that John Lennon was back... and he sounded damned good. 'Double Fantasy' was a great comeback album and I was happy that Lennon's music was going to be part of my life's soundtrack once again. Besides, I figured we needed all the help we could get, what with the election of Ronald Reagan and the rise of the Talibangelicals.

And then John Lennon was gone.

Not Eddie Cochran gone, not Jimi Hendrix gone, not even Elvis Presley gone. Accidents, drug overdoses, bad lifestyles... in the world of Rock & Roll, those kinds of deaths are at least comprehensible. But John Lennon was stalked and gunned down in cold blood, in front of his own home, by some creep to whom he had given an autograph that very day. At the age of 40, one of the best and most important musicians of my time was taken away for no goddamned good reason. I will never get entirely over it - and will bloody likely never forgive his assassin.

Never... because he ended the life of someone who still had great music to make. Never... because he silenced a voice for peace in a world of pain. Never... because he took John Lennon away - from his family, his future, and his chance to grow old. And, selfish though it may be, I was looking forward to that, because Lennon would have been a great old man: someone worth watching, listening to, and learning from. His death is a profound loss.

I miss John Lennon. But, life goes on and I'm sure he wouldn't want us to wallow about in maudlin nostalgia, thank you very much. Besides, we still have the music. So here is a personal and eminently transitory playlist to celebrate the life of an extraordinarily creative and remarkable guy. My Top 10 for today, December 8... for all of us living on borrowed time:"

In My Life

Nowhere Man

Tomorrow Never Knows

Strawberry Fields Forever

I Am the Walrus

Across the Universe

Instant Karma

Working Class Hero

#9 Dream

Watching the Wheels

[Sidebar - I will always be grateful to Howard Cosell for the way he broke the news of John Lennon's assassination to me and millions of other football fans on Monday night, December 8, 1980. The most sensitive and graceful remarks ever delivered by a sports commentator. Ever.]