Every year this fills us with sadness…and with hope:
On Sunday night, I found myself attending an interfaith Thanksgiving service held at a Protestant church in Central New Jersey.
There were Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Jews. There was music, ranging from songs by an Indonesian Christian choir, to klezmer, to something called the Dalai Lama Mantra. There were readings and prayers, from the Quran (in Arabic and then English), and from the Testaments (old and new).
Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, bombs and missiles — fueled and propelled by ethnic hatred and religious intolerance — were destroying lives in Palestine and Israel.
As good as it felt to be in the midst of this Thanksgiving gathering, I found myself wondering if it truly offered reason for hope — or whether it was really cause for despair, an illusion of harmony, a cruel mockery, a comfortable delusion.
My thoughts have settled somewhere in the middle.
Yes, it was a good thing that people could come together at a church in New Jersey in the name of brotherhood and peace, joining in a celebration of their shared belief in love and in joyous celebration of life.
Folksinger and activist Pete Seeger says it will be small groups of people, not big organizations and governments, that will solve the problems of this world. Pete’s banjo is inscribed with these words: “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.”
Well, I agree with the many people who believe Pete deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for all the good he’s done and the difference he’s made in this world, but Pete’s approaching his 95th year on this planet and when he goes to his grave there will still be wars raging and people dying and babies crying as bomb blasts rock their cradles.
My 80-year-old mother, who was a girl during World War II and had two older brothers see combat in Europe and the Pacific, was watching a news account of the recent violence in the Middle East, and said as she shook her head sadly: “Why can’t people just be nice to each other? Why can’t they just help each other?”
I’m afraid it’s the nature of the beast. This has been going on since the world began and will continue until the day a big meteor comes whizzing out from behind the sun and returns mankind to the cosmic dust.
I’m glad that Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Christians are able, sometimes, to come together in peace. But this time of year, a couple of weeks before the anniversary of his murder, I hear John Lennon’s challenge: “Imagine there’s no countries…No need for greed…No hunger…And no religion too.”
But even John Lennon, a man of peace and a man of dreams, could not escape the violence of hatred. Still, I believe his heart was in the right place. So is my mother’s. Why can’t people just be nice to each other? We need to keep trying to imagine, even when reality makes it very hard to do.
Pete Townsend wrote it and Roger Daltrey sang it and I’m sure both of them are glad they didn’t get their wish: “Hope I die before I get old.”
Creepy and callous talk about the “27 Club” followed last week’s tragic death of the substance-addicted 27-year-old British singer Amy Winehouse at age 27. She joined the pantheon of other 27-year-old pop icons — including Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain — who also died tragically at age 27, burned out from drugs and alcohol and fame’s bright flame.
Not mentioned as frequently were other pop and rock stars who died too young — from gunshots, from drugs, from drink, in plane crashes and car crashes, in freak accidents, by their own hand or at the hand of others: John Lennon, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, Pigpen (of the Grateful Dead), Dennis Wilson, Johnny Ace, Duane Allman, Mike Blookfield, Marvin Gaye, Nick Drake, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Sam Cooke, Sandy Denny, Mama Cass, Tupac Shakur, Keith Moon, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Gram Parsons. And Elvis, who died when he was just 42.
I really have nothing to say about Amy Winehouse or the others, except the usual empty and vague generalities: such a loss, such a tragedy, I wonder what kind of music they would have created had they lived, can you imagine that John Lennon would now be seventy years old, and so on…
But I do have something a little different to add — two names of artists who were not pop stars or rock stars, both of whom died at age 27.
The artwork at the top of this entry is by the painter and graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, who died of a drug overdose at age 27 in 1988. Appropriately, it’s called “Fallen Angel.”
And then there’s the legendary Delta bluesman Robert Johnson, who died in 1938 at age 27, apparently poisoned by a cuckolded husband or lover:
The greatest, saddest, truest, most hopeful Christmas song ever…
Amazing. Sad. It’s been thirty years since the murder. Lots of great post-Beatles songs — “Imagine,” “Jealous Guy,” “Watching the Wheels,” “Mind Games”…..but today I am thinking about The Beatles at Shea Stadium performing “I’m Down,” featuring a great lead vocal by Paul McCartney and wild organ playing and spectacular showmanship by the band’s leader, the late lamented John Lennon.