It was 25 Years Ago Today

Twenty-five years ago, Deb and I finished watching Lou Grant, and went to sleep. It wasn’t until the following morning that we heard the news.

We were stunned and saddened, of course.

We took the train to Penn Station and while there, I picked up The New York Times to read more about what happened. I strolled from Penn to the Starlog offices thinking about John Lennon’s assassination, the Beatles, the harshness of the winter weather and the world we lived in.

No sooner had I finished reading the coverage than Norman Jacobs, the co-publisher, stormed down the halls in search of an editor. As it was, I tended to be the first in, around 8 a.m., so he found me.

“I had Sparta pull the film and we’re going to go on press tomorrow. I’m pulling the inside cover and we need an obituary. We’re fixing the cover and I need to send the mechanicals tonight. Can you do it?”

It seems some time in the dim past he had published a Beatles one-shot and was going back to press to cash in on the tragedy.

Now, I had been at the company a scant three months so Norman didn’t really know my capabilities or me. His partner Kerry O’Quinn was the one to hire me, to show faith in my skills and interests. Still, I was an editor and was expected to be a professional. So of course I said yes and set to work.

As he stormed back to the conference room to open the mail, I stared at my Olympia typewriter and the Times. While John Lennon had been on my mind, I wasn’t necessarily in a good frame of mind to write a respectful obituary for one of the most influential songwriters of the latter 20th Century.

Still, I had to get started. Rolling a sheet of paper into the typewriter, I scanned the bio material from a copy of the Beatles one-shot, then read from the Times. I began with the facts, made sure to touch on the highlights of his life and career. I was writing about the days in Liverpool and crush of Beatlemania and the ultimate breakup as artists began growing in new directions and the solo career and of course Yoko. I wrote of the tragedy and the sense of loss.

Once I finished it, Norman had Howard Zimmerman, Starlog’s editor-in-chief copyedit, not quite trusting me yet. Heck, I wouldn’t have trusted me with this. Howard fixed a few things but basically left it alone, jealous I beat him in that morning.

The Art Department turned the text into a mechanical and the revised cover and new inside cover went to the Printer. A week or so later, we got printed copies of the magazine and I have one tucked in a box in some corner of the basement office. I’m somewhat tempted to go back and look at it but most likely will not, since I was never comfortable with the assignment and suspect I won’t like what I see.

John Lennon’s death was a shock for so many reasons – ringing down the end of an era, quashing any hope of a Beatles reunion, displaying how unsafe the streets of Manhattan had become, the fatal wounding of a generation – but his words and music have endured. “Imagine” is still played constantly as is, especially this month, Give Peace a Chance.” Recent works have demystified the man, a natural stage in the evolution of an icon, but I can still hear a Beatles song on the radio and want to sing along.