Yesterday marked the thirty-fifth anniversary of the gunning down of my childhood hero, John Lennon, a man I commemorated in these pages at this time just last year. It was 1980 when Lennon was murdered. I was a sixteen-year-old Winnipeg high school student with a part-time job at a local record store.
December 8th was also the birthdate of another of my childhood heroes, my own father, Harry Loewen.
I remember my father driving me to work on that day in 1980. Winnipeg was a mess of icy roads and a storm was bearing down hard upon the dreary prairie dorf; and instead of staying at home to celebrate his birthday with dinner and cake, Dad did his paternal duty and got me to my after-school shift on time.
Lennon’s last album was blaring from within the shop and out into the mall, easily one of that Christmas’s top-selling records, when I arrived. For the time being, Lennon was still alive — he wouldn’t be dead until a few minutes before the end of the business day. And when my father picked me up at nine that night, he told me the news and turned up the volume of CBC radio for the dumb, sullen, ride home.
In 1980 when John Lennon had just turned forty, and buoyed by the success of what would be his final record release, “Double Fantasy,” no one would have guessed that Lennon would die such a tragic and untimely death. Baby-boomers didn’t die at forty. Most of us are still under the illusion that we’re immortal at that age. I suspect that for many late boomers like myself, Lennon’s death would become one of the first real intrusions of life’s inevitable finality into our hitherto comfy if wintry-cold worlds of white privilege.
The two men — John Lennon and Harry Loewen — separated by a mere decade of life in 1980, couldn’t have seemed more different to me as a sixteen-year-old. At sixteen, I was still under the misconception that my father, although a highly-esteemed academic, was anything but cool. Accomplished, well-read, a loving father, yes. But cool like Lennon? Cool like a guy who changed the course of popular culture? Cool like a guy who flipped the bird to successive presidents? Cool like a guy who dared to preach pacifism to the soon-to-be globally-hegemonic American industry of Death and Destruction? No way.
It strikes me, now that my own father is gone, passed away at eighty-four this past September, that John Lennon and Harry Loewen were not as wildly dissimilar as I had originally thought.
Both were fatherless. Both men fought inner battles that often were incomprehensible to those on the outside. Both had highly developed senses that the world is a shape-shifting chimera, a place hostile, beautiful and utterly inconceivable all at the same time. Both men learned intimate knowledge of the world that only close relationships with women will confer upon the more commonplace brutish nature of most men. And, in the end, both men came to the conclusion that our more or less accepted neoliberal political economy will always only serve to enrich the elite holders of power over the interests of the rest.
Looking back on December 8th 1980 I recognize that I and many of my friends lost a chunk of our innocence as we heard the news that our hero was dead.
But I remember equally the empathic gesture of my father, schlepping me to and from work that cold day that was his own birthday, exemplifying the kindness and understanding that only a loving father can, when he sees that a child’s world has ground to an unexpected halt.
I remember arriving home to our suburban Winnipeg house, the prairie wind whistling and swirling relentlessly, as we emerged from Dad’s car. He had his arms open to me as I walked towards him, and as I cried, forlorn, I felt the puffy embrace of his parka-clad arms wrap around me, felt his chest heave in sympathetic resonance with my own. A father and his boy crying in the cold.
The World was never more beautiful.
— Jeffrey Loewen is a Kelowna-based writer who plays music by day and politics by night