News The Day the Music Died
Reprinted from:
December 8, 2005


Register-Star By John Mason
John Lennon, who was murdered 25 years ago today, was in this area not too long before his death, according to Rob Caldwell, owner of Musica in Chatham.

Lennon and Yoko Ono were glimpsed around 2 a.m. at the Price Chopper in Great Barrinton, Mass., Caldwell said. He remembers because he wrote a short story about it.

"I'm pretty sure what they bought was a pair of rubber gloves and Hustler Magazine, and, I think, a zucchini," he said. "They probably just needed the zucchini. Obviously, he knew he was being watched, and was sending a message."

Caldwell recalled Ken Kesey's description of his meeting with Lennon.

John walked into the room and Kesey realized what it was like to be in the presence of Christ or Buddha," Caldwell said. "He (Lennon) was so used to being scrutinized. He had a serenity: He didn't care what people thought of him. He had a glow."

Lennon, Caldwell said, "debatably had the best rock-and-roll voice that ever existed. 'Twist and Shout'...the early stuff, it was his voice that made them unique...'Please, Please Me.'

"Today, kids look down on anybody who does covers," Caldwell said. "The Beatles became the Beatles because they were playing in a strip joint in Hamburg doing nothing but covers, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent. They honed their act to find out what works, what doesn't work."

Tony Widoff of Hudson, leader of the band "Weak," liked the post-Beatles Lennon. But he said he didn't come to appreciate Lennon until after the rock star's death.

"The day he died I was in school in New York City," he said. "We cut school and went to the Dakota and sat with it for awhile. I didn't quite understand it till years later."

As a band that was edgy but not dangerous, the Beatles initiated "an incredible flowering of the new pop music market," Widoff said. "There was the voice of a certain feeling of liberation in progressive society, and also a way of making those voices acceptable to existing power structures interested in furthering their power aims.

"The death of John Lennon was the nail in the coffin for the idealistic notion that through pop culture we could bring about meaningful and lasting change in line with counter-cultural principles," he said.

Widoff said his favorite Lennon record was "Plastic Ono Band," in which "it seems to me he stripped down a lot of excesses of what had been happening in rock-and-roll, back to what it means to be human, to exist, not fantasy images or escapism.

"John Lennon recognized a need for things to be real," he said, "and this was one of the most hones expressions of that, a high point of his career.

"He was not just a crafter, but someone who thought about what he wanted to say," Widoff said. "He wanted to do right by his audience. He was dismayed by things that happened to his audience."

Allen Kovler of Catskill, know on stage as the rock poet Allen Shadow, called Lennon "one of the great literary songwriters. He had a great influence on me as I was growing up and as a songwriter as well, the way tackled his music and the imagery would apply.

"I'll never forget the day died," Kovler said. "It was very strange because it was Dec. 8, a strangely warm day. It was almost disturbing, the temperature in the 60s. At night, I had an FM station on. I started flipping the dial. They were playing John Lennon. I flipped to another station - John Lennon. Another - John Lennon. I knew something was wrong, so I checked the news.

Kovler likes "Hey Jude" (written by Paul McCartney for Lennon's son Julian), and the "White Album," and the early single "Rain."

Dan Seward of Hudson, founding member of "Bunny Brains," said, "John Lennon is still obviously and enormous influence on music. You still hear music that people term Lennonesque: Usually, a pointed way of singing, Beatles-type chords...He was a great power-chord guitar player.

"Lennon was the worker, the realist, McCartney was the romantic, the dreamer," he said. "[Lennon] maid it IK to sing about ugly stuff - 'Working Class Hero,' 'Mother.' Not love songs anymore. You were allowed to talk about that as a folk singer, but not as a rock singer: He didn't have to write songs that were that painful."

Chatham pianist/composer Lincoln Mayorga was a member of a group that influence the Beatles, the short-lived Piltdown Men, whose hits included "Brontosaurus Stomp," Piltdown Rides Again," a take-off of the "William Tell Overture," and "Bubbles in the Tar."

"I never had any contact with John Lennon," he said. "I certainly admired him. My only contact was with Ringo Starr - I played piano on his 'Good Night, Vienna' album. He said the Beatles listened to the Piltdown Men, that they were an influence on them. I was flattered...

"All of us in music were influenced by the Beatles," he said. "They were a breath of fresh air, so creative and original. Each single was awaited with great expectation, and it was always fresh and really good."

Caldwell praised Lennon's songwriting.

"He was not stuck to 4/4 time," he said. "'Happy Christmas' is 12/8. He does 3/4 time a lot. A lot of times he'll add an extra beat to certain measures - drives me nuts. 'Starting Over' uses the chord progression for 'It's My Party.' He makes a very cool use of augmented chords in the beginning.

"He would have notes or a theme go from low to high if happy-ish, descend if sad. He was a real craftsman.

"He changed music," Caldwell said. "Not single-handedly. The analogy that I make - kids are happy to say, 'The Beatles weren't that good.' I said, 'We were living in caves and the Beatles showed up - "Why don't we go out of the caves, take these trees and make boards {build houses]?" Green Day said. "Why don't I carve my initials in this door?'"

The Stones and Kinks were good at doing what they did, he said.

"But the Beatles - take 'Lady Madonna,' 'Bungalow Bill' - you never knew if it was the Beatles. They would go anywhere and do anything, and excelled at it.

"They couldn't fingerpick until the 'White Album.' Then Donovan taught them how and they gave us 'Dear Prudence' and 'Blackbird,' of the most covered fingerrpicking songs there is," he said. "They could have been on cruise control at any point.

"That's kind of the thing about him, too," he said. "John never went on cruise control. Paul really did the same thing, what he was really good at, the whole time, never broke new ground. John did."


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