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Binky Philips

Binky Philips

Posted: December 6, 2010 05:02 PM

December 8, 1980 in New York City: The Day Lennon Died


30 years ago, December 8th...

Like at least a few million other Americans, I was watching Monday Night Football on ABC. Frank Gifford had just offered a bit of color commentary on the play that had just been run when Howard Cosell interrupted him...

"Yes, we have to say it. Remember, this is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses. An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City... John Lennon, outside his apartment building on the west side of New York City, the most famous, perhaps, of all the Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead on arrival. Hard to go back to the game after that news flash, which in duty bound, we have to take."

Whaaaaaaaaaat?!?!?

I jumped off the couch, ran into my bedroom to tell my already-in-bed girlfriend. She stared at me agog. "Oh My God... John Lennon has been mugged and killed in the street!"

Without any details, that was the natural New York City assumption we'd leapt to. I even said out loud, "Fuck... Now, we're gonna be the new Dallas... only worse."

I suddenly remembered that the current issue of Playboy had an interview with John and Yoko and that I hadn't bought it. For some reason, getting a copy seemed of paramount importance at that moment. I threw my coat on, told Jo Ann where I was going and why, ran downstairs and all the way to the newsstand a block west.

This was within minutes of Cosell's announcement and you could already feel everyone on the street was in a daze. It seemed like the news had traveled by osmosis.

When I handed the newsstand guy my money for the Playboy, he said "Terrible!"

That night I had a dream that John came up to me and said, "It's true... I'm dead," and I burst into tears.

When the Beatles were first on Ed Sullivan, at one point during a song, CBS did close ups of each of the four with their individual names super-imposed under their chins. John instantly became my favorite Beatle when they flashed on the screen "John - Leader". The Beatles were so very impossibly cool that if one of them was their "Leader," well, he simply had to be the Coolest of the Cool.

The morning of December 9, the only glimmer of relief was the fact that John had been killed by a doughy-faced dipshit who flew in from Hawaii to do the deed. At least it wasn't some street hoodlum, thank God!

After all, for years, John has long been comfortable walking around his neighborhood.
I even saw him once.

That next day was surreal. The entire city seemed to be grim, even grief stricken.

The record store I was running on the main drag of the East Village, St. Mark's Place, was stone empty for the first few hours we were open.

Eventually, one of our regular customers came in, a very aloof black guy, in his usual three piece suit, who always bought soul and jazz exclusively, and never ever had interacted with any of us beyond a perfunctory thanks at the cash register.

I hadn't put any music on and I was staring into space in the silence when the jazz and soul brother suddenly said... "John Lennon... now, that was a MAN!"

From that moment on, Larry and I were fast friends... secretly, my favorite customer. He even came to my wedding. Thank you for that, too, John.

Soon after, the all-important Village Voice hit the stands with a front page eulogy by The Dean of Rock Critics, Robert Christgau, in which he asked, "Why is it always Bobby Kennedy or John Lennon? Why isn't it Richard Nixon or Paul McCartney?"

I immediately dashed off a one-sentence letter to the Village Voice asking, "Why couldn't it have been Robert Christgau?"

I remember reading that one of the two cops who'd vainly raced John to the hospital had turned to him in the back seat and asked "Are you John Lennon?"

"Yeah." John's last word.

I am quite the conspiracy theorist, but I've never been sure about the rumors/theories regarding Lennon's death. There is no doubt in my mind that to the people behind Reagan, who was about to take office, Lennon was a very dangerous man. And they were right!

On a happier note...

I couldn't help myself.

By the time she was 3, I'd been playing my daughter, Ellie "Happy Jack", "Boris The Spider," "Pictures Of Lily," "I'm A Boy," and a few other kiddie-friendly Who songs for a while. Pure indoctrination by still-obsessed Daddy.

Then, one day, I had an epiphany! It occurred to me that it would be way more interesting, as a parent and a music business type, to watch Ellie's musical taste grow organically with as little interference from me as I could stand.

Except for one more artist...

So, just before her fourth birthday, I walked into her room and plopped the CDs of the first five Beatles albums on her bed. Casually, I said, "You might like these guys, Ellie," and walked out.

The next day, when I got home from work, Ellie was sitting on the couch with a worried look on her sweet little face. In fact, she seemed really upset.

"What's wrong, Pup?"

"You're gonna be mad at me, Daddy."

"What?! No, of course I won't. I promise! Tell me what's wrong, Ellie."

I watched her go through the process of screwing up her courage... "I like The Beatles better than The Who."

My heart hurt with joyously amused love. "Ellie, The Who are Daddy's favorite band... The Beatles are the BEST band."

"Ohhhh..." I saw the gears turning in her eyes. "Okay, Daddy," and she skipped off to play with her Thomas the Tank Engine toys.

Just tell 'em the truth!

Crisis over.