If You Want It

Thirty years ago tonight, John Lennon was murdered in New York City. And because countless other writers on the Internet will do the anniversary’s heavy lifting today, I’m not doing much of anything myself, except to call your attention to other writing I’ve done on the subject in the past.

—Over the weekend at WNEW.com, I wrote a post about how sportscaster Howard Cosell broke the news to Monday Night Football viewers. Please read it. I think it’s pretty good, but the response to it at WNEW’s site has been distinctly underwhelming. (There’s an extraordinary piece of audio at ESPN.com of the off-the-air conversation between Cosell and Frank Gifford as they decided whether to report the shooting. Cosell thought it wouldn’t be appropriate; Gifford did, and Cosell readily went ahead.)

—Two years ago, our friend Yah Shure offered his memories of that night, with pictures of the wire-service bulletins that were sent.

Five years ago, I quoted one of the mightiest pieces of writing I’ve ever seen (on any subject), which appeared in Salon on the 20th anniversary in 2000.

I’d rather just listen to some music this year.

For a long time, I believed that nobody should cover Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”—not so much out of respect for Lennon’s memory, but because it’s so closely identified with John and Yoko, like “Stairway to Heaven” with Led Zeppelin. Cover versions of songs so famous and so distinctive are generally destined to fail. But not all of them do. Sarah McLachlan’s unaffected performance, which first appeared on her 2006 album Wintersong, does right by the original. The video, featuring a choir of kids and McLachlan looking like a middle-school music teacher rehearsing them for the holiday pageant, is charming.

In my library, I have a version of the Lennon original with everything but the kids from the Harlem Community Choir, which is interesting to hear, and brings out Yoko’s vocal, if that’s something you think you need. But a better one is the demo of the song, found on Out of the Blue, a bootleg collection of studio outtakes from the 1970s, compiled in 1989. John hasn’t got all of the lyrics yet, and it’s musically imperfect in ways you’d expect from a demo. It’s just a guy and his guitar, sending holiday wishes from his house to yours.

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (demo)/John Lennon (bootleg)


3 responses

  1. Nice job, sir. You hit one out there.

  2. Thanks, Jim. Like you, I prefer not to pore over the details of that night, but reflect on why it was significant and remains so thirty decades on. I’ll probably cap the evening off with the Classic Albums docu for Plastic Ono Band.

  3. wardrobemalfunctions | Reply

    Since I saw Howard Cosell mentioned,

    To set the record straight, Howard Cosell DID NOT say “Look at that little monkey run” when he was referring to Redskins wide receiver Alvin Garrett. Cosell made this remark 11 years earlier in 1972 in reference to a play by Kansas City Chiefs Mike Adamle. It was 1983 on Monday Night Football when Cosell made his comment about Alvin Garrett which was “That little monkey gets loose doesn’t he.”

    I am still looking for a sound byte or video clip of Howard Cosell saying “Look at that little monkey run.” I hear that it might be contained in a Preseason 1972 K.C. Chiefs @ Giants 07/29/72 “Hall of Fame” Game. Can anyone locate an actual clip?

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