Dec. 8, 1980: The Day the ’70s Ended
My first favorite album was the American edition of the Beatles‘ ‘Rubber Soul,’ handed down by my aunt. She bought it during an earlier Beatles epoch, when the Fab Four were transitioning from their role as the very first boy band to serious musicians. By the time I got to them, they were done. Not by much, though: The Beatles broke up in 1970, and best I can remember, ‘Rubber Soul’ landed in my preschooler hands in 1971.
They may have disbanded at the start of the ’70s, but they loomed large over that decade. Ex-Beatles popped up with varying frequency. Paul was the most ubiquitous, the rock star who remained bigger than life. I had beef with Paul, though. In the fourth grade I tried to win a musical show-and-tell with Wings’ ‘Silly Love Songs’ and was laughed out of class. How dare he throw me under the mellow bus like that.
"As a kid growing up during the ’70s, I was never quite sure what to make of John."And then there was John. As a kid growing up during the ’70s, I was never quite sure what to make of John. He was deadly serious about the kinds of things that the grownups in my world hated: peace, rights, art. On the other hand, he popped up in places every bit as poppy as his arch-nemesis Paul — singing backup on Bowie’s ‘Fame’ or sharing the mic with Elton John on ‘Whatever Gets You Through the Night,’ for example.
But were they really arch-nemeses? We discussed this stuff on the playground right alongside deep analyses of ‘Batman’ and ‘Gilligan’s Island’ episodes. If John and Paul didn’t hate each other, then the Beatles could get back together. You know crazy Uncle Ringo would be up for it.
That’s the Beatles of my childhood — the “reunion Beatles” — the band always on the brink of getting back together, or so the rumors said. We wanted it so badly that when a faceless band named Klaatu dropped a record in ’77, we convinced ourselves that it was a Beatles reunion in disguise.
Rumors really hit their peak after ‘Saturday Night Live’ producer Lorne Michaels mocked a multimillion dollar reunion offer by offering three grand for the Beatles to reunite on ‘SNL.’ John and Paul were watching the show from Lennon’s New York apartment, and the two briefly considered driving over, just as a gag.
By the time the story reached the playground, though, Lennon and McCartney were in a cab and on their way to 30 Rockefeller Plaza when the deal fell apart after another bitter feud.
Poor Uncle Ringo.
We all knew where John lived. Even in my tiny little town a million miles away from New York City, we all knew that John lived in an apartment building named the Dakota. We all knew John was a regular guy, too. Paul may have been a superstar, but John took his kid to play in Central Park.
I’m not really sure why we were so convinced that John was an average Joe. This was the same guy who once owned a psychedelic Rolls Royce, after all. Maybe it was because he kicked the pedestal out from under himself with lyrics like “I don’t believe in Beatles,” or maybe it was because we’d all seen clips like this:
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That kid wasn’t the first to think that the Beatles were talking to him directly, nor was he the last. Others just couldn’t understand how the guy who said “Imagine no possessions” had so many, or resented his “bigger than Jesus” statement from years earlier. Some even grew angry about such things.
By the late ’70s, Lennon was more a stay-at-home dad than an ex-Beatle. He was young Sean‘s primary caregiver, and after what is often referred to as his “lost weekend,” a devoted husband. After a five year hiatus from recording, he released his first album of new material on November 17, 1980. ‘Double Fantasy’ found John happy with middle-age, songs like ‘Woman,’ ‘Beautiful Boy,’ and ‘Dear Yoko’ demonstrating where his priorities now laid.
I was 13-years-old when that album dropped. I remember listening to it with the 30-year-old couple for whom I did yard work. The songs flew over my head, but I saw the recognition on their faces. Lennon was connecting with them as adults, just as he’d once connected with lost kids. I watched and I listened, and I wanted to be a grownup someday who lived inside of ‘Double Fantasy’ rather than ‘Rubber Soul.’
It felt to me like the beginning of a new Beatles epoch, like we were finally going to accept that the Fab Four were never going to get back together, but that was okay because we were all on to other business now. Still, as long as John, Paul, George and Ringo roamed the Earth, there was always a chance.
On Dec. 8, 1980, in front of the Dakota, the apartment building that we all knew was John’s home, we got a new kind of epoch. The ’80s weren’t going to be “middle aged Beatles” but rather “mourning Beatles.” There would never be a reunion — the ’70s were truly over.
Twenty-four years later to the day in Columbus, Ohio, Dimebag Darrell from the recently disbanded Pantera was on stage at the Alrosa Villa with his new band, Damageplan. Just like in Lennon’s case, a troubled fan with a gun took the musician’s life.
I remember thinking that I knew exactly how Pantera fans felt as the news rippled across the planet.
Like things had changed forever.
Like it was truly over.