I always heard these things in my bedroom in Baton Rouge -- news of shocking deaths in the dark of the night.
In 1978, I was in high school, up late and listening to the radio when I heard the pope was dead. A month and a half later, I was up late working on homework and listening to the radio -- WFMF -- when I heard a report that the pope was dead. I thought somebody had screwed up and put on an old newscast.
In 1980, I was a sophomore in college. The night of Dec. 8, I was up cramming for finals, listening to the radio. The DJ came on with the shocking bulletin -- John Lennon was dead, shot outside his apartment building in New York. He read the news today . . . oh boy.
Oh, God, no.
Please, God, no.
The death of the pope was big (as was the death of the other pope), but I wasn't Catholic then. The murder of John Lennon was shattering.
The pope was an old man in Rome. He was the vicar of Christ, but he was a distant one back then -- a guy you read about in the papers, or perhaps saw on the TV news once in a while.
John Lennon . . . the Beatles . . . they had been a daily presence in my life -- a pervasive part of the culture in which I had marinated since the age of 3. John, Paul, George and Ringo were the soundtrack of my earthly existence.
IN 1964, my Aunt Sybil and Uncle Jimmy gave me a copy of Meet the Beatles. I had me some Beatles singles, too.
In 1966, John told an interviewer the Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ, which arguably was true. Truth, however, is no defense against public indignation when veracity meets unpopularity -- people like funhouse-mirror images of themselves a lot better when everybody knows the mirror is all screwy and not him.
Then, John Lennon suddenly was a communist or something, and Mama busted up all my Beatles records. That's how we showed our esteem for the second person of the Holy Trinity back then, as opposed to going to church.
WHEN I was old enough to think for myself -- and to buy my own damned record albums -- the Beatles were back. Big time.
John was always the challenging Beatle. The one most likely to piss you off -- and to make you think. I rather like how he'd sometimes mess with your head, and it was funniest when people didn't get how funny it all was.
Like "Imagine." It's funny to see religious Republicans enthusiastically singing along with "Imagine," a song Lennon once described as "virtually the Communist Manifesto." (Well, OK. Not every Republican.)
We didn't always agree with this presence in our lives -- hell, we didn't always understand this musical fixture of ours -- but we always had to give him credit for honesty, just like we always had to give him credit for amazing songs. We couldn't not give him his due for the music of of our lives.
And now, Dec. 8, 1980, at about 10 o'clock at night. . . .
Suddenly, it was like the soundtrack of my life had been left sitting in the rear window of my '76 Vega. It had warped. It didn't sound right.
A constant presence wasn't, not anymore.
I heard the news 30 years ago today. Oh boy, nothing has been the same since. And it hurts.
Still, it hurts.