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Tuesday, December 17, 2019

When I Stopped Reading a Daily Newspaper

I was thinking about how newspapers have been losing subscribers through the years. In my life I'd had a newspaper delivered to my home ever since I was born; my parents always subscribed to them. When I finally moved out after getting married the first time, we continued having a newspaper subscription. I was always very faithful about reading it on a daily basis.

The end began when I was in my late forties and working at a television station. I had to be to work at 7 in the morning. This meant leaving home by 6:30 to get to work on time. The newspaper was supposed to be delivered by 5:30, but it was never getting delivered before I left home. As a result, I started reading the newspaper at work on my break on a regular basis. I tried to get the newspaper delivered on time, but the carrier did not follow through. Therefore I got into the habit of reading at work and not at home. So I didn't need a newspaper at home anymore and I cancelled the subscription.

In the last 5 years, since I don't work at a TV station anymore, my habit of reading a daily newspaper has gone away, especially with so much news available on the internet now. I use for national and international news and I often listen to the radio on my way to work in the morning for local news. It's a sad state for newspapers today but I think in some ways they are doing it to themselves. If my newspaper was getting delivered on time before I had to leave for work, I might have stayed with a subscription all of these years.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Some Ways to Remember John Lennon

Guest Blog by Burt Stein

originally written in 2015

A bit of necessary background:  This story should have appeared in Freetime Magazine of Rochester, in late December 1980.  What kept it from reaching completion then was a combination of shock, anger, and a case of writer’s block that wouldn’t quit.  But I still regret that my days at Freetime ended (though amicably) on such a bitter historical note. 
John Lennon was murdered 35 years ago on the night of December 8, and I think I’m finally ready to get (re-)started, even if nothing of that original attempt still exists except in my memory.  (“Just like starting over?”  Spot on.)  So this, at last, is dedicated to the Freetime staff I once knew, and the world that changed as never before when a madman killed a Beatle.


 “Listen, the snow is falling o'er town,
Listen, the snow is falling ev'rywhere.
Between empire state building
And between trafalgar square.
Listen, the snow is falling o'er town.

“Listen, the snow is falling o'er town,
Listen, the snow is falling ev'rywhere.
Between your bed and mine,
Between your head and my mind.
Listen, the snow is falling o'er town.”

                                 —Yoko Ono (1971)

Sunday, December 14, 1980:  At 12:01:01 PM, a single snowflake softly fell over midtown Manhattan—but, though it heralded many more, hardly an ordinary snowflake.  With the sight of it through our office window, there came the feeling that a cosmic circle was closing upon itself.


It was a time when jobs were precious (though not nearly as much so as today); Jimmy Carter was entering the twilight of his single term as President of the United States (for many critical reasons, largest of all his continued failure to secure the freedom of 52 Americans then being held hostage in Iran); Bruce Springsteen and Debbie Harry were receiving maximum exposure on Top 40 radio; and in New York City, there still existed map points such as the Biltmore Hotel, Reuben’s Delicatessen, and the famously sleazy old 42nd Street from Sixth Avenue on up.

Meanwhile …

Tidbit by exciting tidbit, the news began to spread as summer 1980 yielded to autumn:  After a somewhat cloudy five-year hiatus, John Lennon and Yoko Ono had been signed to Geffen Records and were once more up to something musically, hunkered down at the Hit Factory studio in New York City.

Double Fantasy, then the first new studio album from Lennon and Ono in those five years, was released on November 17, 1980.   Though each passing year makes this harder to recall, we were thereby blessed with nearly 22 days in which to happily experience that album’s original 14 tracks as the newest creations of two living artists.

Apart from this-must-be-uptempo “(Just Like) Starting Over” (which, as the first 45 to represent the collection, had already been released on October 24 of that year), the first such LP track I remember hearing on the radio (via soft rock WTFM, 103.5, New York) was “Watching the Wheels”—piano at its core, and somewhat more mellow than the Lennon sound we had come to expect, but a nod and a wink in seeming celebration of Lennon’s more recent role as father and househusband (“No longer riding on the merry-go-round/I just had to let it go”).

One other standout track among Lennon’s half of the Double Fantasy songs was the nod to his young son Sean that was “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”, awash in steel drums with a whisper of mandolin, and clearly inspired by his nautically perilous yet musically rewarding ocean voyage from Rhode Island to Bermuda that June.  It also contained—in hindsight—the most poignant lines found anywhere on the album:  “Before you cross the street/Take my hand/Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans…”

This excerpt from “A Rare Glimpse of John Lennon, Sailor” by John Clarke Jr. (©2010, 2012 Paste Media Group) tells us much more about that journey, including its most pivotal creative moments:

“…Lennon arrived on the island June 11 relaxed, re-energized and inspired.  He stayed for two months—writing, recording and staying up all night working on his new songs, and visiting clubs and shops in downtown Hamilton.  On a trip to the Botanical Gardens with his son, Sean, they spotted a freesia hybrid flower called Double Fantasy and thus the album title was born.  Another time, having drinks with two local journalists, Lennon came up with the lyrics for ‘Watching the Wheels’.  On the club’s walls flashed projections of turning wheels while one of the journalists lamented to Lennon that he should be writing great songs—not shut in a New York apartment, no longer part of the ‘big time’.  During his stay, he also wrote ‘I’m Losing You’, ‘Beautiful Boy’ and an early version of ‘Woman’.  During that last summer vacation of his life, Lennon was also inspired to write ‘Borrowed Time’ after listening to Bob Marley and the Wailers’ album ‘Burnin’ ’.  In one of his less-poetic moments, he later described this productive time as ‘a diarrhea of creativity’.”

And Yoko Ono?  Back when she first hit the radar as an Apple Records artist at the dawn of the 1970s, we had no way of guessing that her own out-there vocal style would someday become a building block of New Wave music.  By 1980, that genre’s time had begun, and Ono’s equally apportioned contributions to Double Fantasy (most notably “Kiss Kiss Kiss” and “Give Me Something”)—plus a breakthrough 45 all her own, then still under wraps—proved to fit snugly under the New Wave umbrella.  But the full celebration of her own musical triumph would have to wait a while. 

Deeper within the history of Double Fantasy lie the contents of a bootleg CD titled John Lennon: Free as a Bird/The Dakota Beatle Demos.  These 22 acoustic tracks, recorded both figuratively and literally in-house, are without exception both eternally haunting—often giving us an open window into Lennon’s state of mind during those final years—and still more instructive as to the evolution of the Lennon songs that ultimately became one-half of Double Fantasy.  Most beautiful among these is “India” (a.k.a. “India India”, if you prefer):  “I’ve got to follow my heart/Wherever it takes me/I’ve got to follow my heart/Whenever it calls to me/I’ve got to follow my heart and my heart is going home”.

Most haunting, bar none, is “Dear John”:  “…Don’t be hard on yourself/Give yourself a break/Life wasn’t meant to be run/The race is over/You’ve won”.  At one point during this track, Lennon interpolated a portion of the “September ... November” refrain from “September Song” by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson (itself most famously recorded by Jimmy Durante)—and regrettably, if not altogether unexpectedly, when this Lennon home demo was later released legally as part of a Capitol compilation CD, his nod to Durante (or Weill) was conspicuously absent from the track, no doubt for legal/budget reasons.  (Accept no substitutes.)  

 “No friends and yet no enemies
Absolutely free
No rats aboard the magic ship
Of perfect harmony”
                      —John Lennon (1980)

And so to the inevitable question:  Where were you and how did you hear the news on the night of December 8, 1980, after a bastard named Chapman went into combat crouch, and our world came crashing down?

For me, the word arrived through disconnected fragments via Vin Scelsa on WNEW-FM (102.7), then the undisputed album rock powerhouse of NYC.

Here’s the way I recall the rest of that evening in my Brooklyn apartment, though some of the finer points may have grown hazy for me over the years:  First, there was a recorded police dispatcher’s call for cars to proceed to the Dakota apartment building—which, suddenly dropped in among the usual hourly “wheel” of records/commercials/Scelsa’s random observations, at first sounded to me like a sick joke packaged by somebody behind the scenes at ‘NEW.  Several more uninterrupted minutes of music followed before Scelsa returned to the microphone, at which point he was noticeably straining to compose himself while sifting through a stack of just-received wire reports from diverse sources.
Then, more music still, which quickly morphed into a string of Lennon and Beatles tunes—as, standing still near my home stereo system, I felt my stomach begin to churn.
Scelsa finally returned as “Watching the Wheels” faded into a rare bubble of silence; seconds later, while trying in vain to camouflage his emotions, he made the confirmed announcement that Lennon had been shot dead at the entrance to his home.  More silence.  Scelsa’s only comment:  “And I am at a loss for words.  I think for the first time in my career on the radio, I don’t have anything to say.”

Another pause, followed by the opening notes of “Let It Be” … that song itself then quickly interrupted by an NBC News Hotline Report.
At that point, not yet in deep shock but getting there, I switched off the stereo and moved to the TV set in the other room.  On WABC, Channel 7, was the ever-reliable “Monday Night Football with Howard Cosell”—and I was just in time to hear Cosell, having been handed another wire report, provide the most chillingly surreal media moment of the entire night.

And that was all for the radio and television at my place … all I could do was slump into my favorite chair and go numb. 

Sunday, December 14, 1980:  As on many Sunday mornings then, I was doing some very welcome overtime as a proofreader/typesetter at a long-gone shop called Type Systems, on East 38th Street in Manhattan.  On site too was a novice proofreader (Type Systems knew her as—yes—Nancy); we both stayed until about 12:15 PM.  While neither of us had been able to get over to Central Park that week, we knew well of the ongoing daylight and candlelight vigil there by an uncounted number of Lennon’s most devoted fans.
And we had the radio on, once more tuned to WNEW.  It was announced that morning that there would be a moment of silence at 12:00:00 PM, to be immediately followed by the live debut performance by David Sanborn of a new jazz composition dedicated to the memory of Lennon and of his singular career.
At 11:59:59 AM, we both put down our blue pencils and closed our folders.
At 12:00:00 Noon, ‘NEW went silent.
At 12:01:00, Sanborn began to play.
And at precisely 12:01:01, outside Type Systems’ picture window, that first snowflake appeared.
Transfixed for the moment, we stayed tuned until Sanborn’s closing notes faded, then got our coats, shut down the equipment and locked up the office.
And as we parted company down on 38th, with the snow now falling steadily, I said to Nancy with more than a small quiver in my voice, “Get home safely.”
“You too, thanks,” she replied, sounding much the same.  

 “Between tokyo and paris,
Between london and dallas,
Between your love and mine.
Listen, the snow is falling ev'rywhere.

Snowfling, snowfall, snowfall,
Listen, listen,
Listen, baby,

                       —Yoko Ono (1971)