Saturday, December 8, 2012


By Rodger French

December 8, 2012

(Originally published in 2005. Revised and lightly edited.)

A lot of us have been observing December 8 as a day of remembrance and reflection each year since that horrible night in 1980 when John Lennon was assassinated by a religio-wingnut loser who "ended an era" by murdering an unarmed musician. For me, Lennon's death resonates right up there with that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., not that the two are necessarily comparable in terms of their place in history. Both men were, however, very conscious of the important roles they came to play in our culture and neither was averse to taking risks. Their legacies loom large in my life.

But in certain personal ways, John Lennon is the more 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.

A zillion 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. The first time I heard The Beatles 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 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-20's 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. I took 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 legal residence in New York City, I was glad for him.

Lennon and his music 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 a man 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 I will 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 was 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 man. 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

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Bulletins From BA #08

Bulletins From BA #08
04 Diciembre 2012

¡Hola! there… Rodger French here.

Photo Update Alert:
“BA-Jacarandas”  “Puerto Madryn”

Greetings, fellow correspondents, from Piso 15 of the Sheraton Hotel overlooking the Río de la Plata in Montevideo, Uruguay. Anne is here on bidness and I tagged along, because why the hell not. It’s nicely scenic here, and much (much) more relaxed than Buenos Aires, so I might actually complete this más overdue posting.

A lot has happened in the past month. I’ve started working at the Embajada as a Rover Secretary, filling in as OMS (Office Management Specialist) when needed, just as I did in Pretoria. It’s a good gig for the likes of me.

Speaking of gigs, I was hired (as in paid) to provide ambient musical entertainment for the Election Night Celebration at the Ambassador’s residence; a glittering affair attended by 600 guests (más o menos) featuring food, wine, and wall-to-wall election coverage on big-ass TVs. The event was un gran éxito (a great success); people responded favourably to the accordion and it was, obviously, a good night to be a Democrat. But more importantly from my perspective, the election results put an end to the prospective horror of “Secretary of State John Bolton.”

The other big news is that Anne and I finally escaped the inertia of Buenos Aires and went touristing to the eastern shore of Patagonia, specifically Península Valdes (, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This being our first major journey in Argentina, we opted for a package tour (a first for us) offered through the Embassy Community Liaison Office. Our tour group consisted of around 40 Embassy folks, including kidz, and was a pretty amenable bunch. (Good thing, too, because we spent a lot of time in a tour bus schlepping through some seriously arid landscapes.)

After a two hour flight from BA, we arrived at El Tehuelche Airport near Puerto Madryn, our base of operations and a very nice seaside ciudad with two industries: Tourism and, somewhat incongruently, aluminium processing. From there, we embarked daily in search of large marine mammals, penguins, and other local attractions. Cue the highlight reel:

Whales (Ballenas) – The waters around Península Valdes are prime territory for the Southern Right Whale, a species formerly hunted to the brink of extinction because (a) they have no natural fear of man, and (b) they do not sink after they are killed. We went out in a boat and saw quite a few of them, mostly mothers with their calves. No National Geographic photo ops, unfortunately, but wonderful viewing at close range nonetheless. And, at no additional charge, our boat broke down and had to be towed back to shore. Very cool.

[Sidebar – The current major threat to the Southern Right Whale population is the proliferation, due to waste from fish processing plants and human garbage, of predatory sea gulls that attack and feed on the whales. This is a very serious problem.]

Sea Lions (Leones Marinos) & Elephant Seals (Elefantes Marinos) – It’s molting season for these critters, so they spend most of their time lying around on the rocky coast. Very photogenic, in a lumpish sort of way.

Penguins (Pingüinos) – Punta Tombo ( is home to the world’s largest colony of Magellanic Penguins. It was a long bus ride from Puerto Madryn, but worth the trip, as we observed tens of thousands of penguins going about their daily routine, which evidently includes posing for tourist photoz. They (the penguins) take shelter and raise their young under bushes and in holes in the ground, which gives the place a sort of prairie dog village vibe.

Sheep (Ovejas) – A small group of us took a side trip to San Guillermo (, an estancia (guest ranch) to have lunch and witness a demonstration of sheep shearing. It was a surprisingly educational experience. Raising Merino sheep for wool is increasingly difficult as a result of decreased rainfall, declining consumer demand in Italy, and increased predations of feral dogs from nearby towns. So, San Guillermo’s owners have wisely shifted the major focus of their operation to tourism. The shearing demo was fun for everybody but the sheep, the lunch was excellent, and the resident guanaco (a variety of llama) spit on some of the kidz. At no additional charge.

Seafood (Mariscos) – And speaking of good times, allow me to recommend Cantina Marcelino, located in the town of Rawson, capital of Chubut Province. Absolutely the best seafood paella and the most entertaining waiter, llamado Roberto, I have ever experienced.

We also made very brief visits to two other towns in Chubut: Trelew, where Butch Cassidy, The Sundance Kid, and Etta Place took up residence for awhile; and Gaiman, an agricultural oasis and centre of Welsh settlement in Argentina. As we were were rapidly running out of daylight, our time in both places was somewhat perfunctory, if perfectly pleasant. 

This was not a budget excursion, but travelling in Argentina, indeed, anywhere in South America, is a pricey proposition, assuming you aren’t into backpacking. (For us, those days are long past.) But our tour organizers and guides did a fine job, everyone had a memorable experience, and we weren’t obliged to use any obstreperous children as orca bait. En mi opinión, un gran éxito.