Friday, December 10, 2004

Greensboro, NC: When John Lennon Was Killed

On the anniversary of John Lennon's tragic murder, we reflect on Greensboro: December 1980. The "Greensboro Massacre" is just one year old.
Lennon Era Comes to an end as the Reagan Era is born

On December 8, 1980 John Lennon died, killed by the bullet of a madman. It was the year Ronald Reagan became President of the United States. Hard to say which event brought more grief...
With the election of Reagan, suddenly there was a whole new breed of hominid strutting about, cocks-of-the-walk, in alligator shirts, lime slacks, hingeheads. The square was back, the 50s were once again upon us. And the hip world went back underground.

I was living in a house on Friendly Avenue right next to the greenway with David Grogan and Chuck Newman, and dating Lucy of Charlotte. She was talking classes at the university, whereas I was only auditing classes. Buddhism, Ballet and the Electronics Music lab. I was also helping Bil (sic) Poole entertain dance classes by playing piano, and occasionally other instruments. I can think of worse jobs.

Greensboro was a hub of creative and intellectual activity, just as it is now, only now it is centered around the illustrious embarrassment of riches, in the form of bloggers. And a good number of the remarkables were students and teachers at UNC-Greensboro, formerly a women's college. The predominance of women in the University area provided the proverbial seedbed for creative activity, and, as in all times when the world turns upside-down and mediocrity is given its turn, the creatives and progressives find one another and pour their suffering into more creative outlets.

John Jones was arguably the best host for serious gatherings. There, he and his friend, Maria Robbins, would host parties for Grogan, Newman, Lucy, Dayna, Chance, Eric, Jonathan Franzel, Fred and Stan, John Pope, and a few other worthies. John would cook up a mahvelous meal in his wok, and allow us to dig through his wondrous library of books and music. John got me up to speed on Brian Eno's "Oblique Strategies cards" in a van trip to Atlanta to see Genesis at the Fox Theatre, and his music was along that line of European avant-garde eclecticism, although he did have Americans Steve Reich and Phillip Glass among his collection. Everyone had the great Nonesuch offerings. Bil Poole was also an audiophile, and yet his collection was more heavily leaning toward the jazz side of the ECM label, where one could find folks like Jan Garbarek, Eberhard Weber , Egberto Gismonti, and even George I. Gurdjieff, who really wasn't all that jazzy. Speaking of Gurdjieff, Eric (I forget his last name) was reading Gurdjieff's "Beelzebub" at my prodding, and even read it the requisite 3 times. We were all probably a little to young and inexperienced to get much out of it, but it was a moment. What can I say?

I sat in on Paul Courtwright's Buddhism class, who, one day, packed into cars and drove to Duke University where Edward Said was speaking on Orientalism, after which Paul treated us to dinner at an Indian restaurant, where he taught us the proper form. It was my chance to see the beautiful Duke University, or Mister Said, who sadly died last year. And sadly, some in our circle have since died, namely John Pope and Fred. May their memories live on...

At night, we could often be found on Tate Street, at Rosewaters, New York Pizza, or Aycock...where such great performances as the Beijing Opera would play. Tashi, a wondrous ensemble with Ida Kafavian, Peter Serkin, Fred Sherry and Richard Stoltzman, came that year, and I can still hear the final strains of Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time" playing in my head. Local favorites were F-Art Ensemble and Glenn Phillips.

One of the fellers, and Lord help me with his name, started up a film class, which showed, among other things Bergman's "Persona", Renoir's "The Grand Illusion" and the avant-garde works of Stan VanDerBeek...who came and gave a talk.

While all this creative activity was going on, there were also seminars and discussions on the KKK-Communist "Greensboro Massacre", which has happened in Greensboro the previous year...strangely. Around the University one could hadly image even a fistfight. Rocky Horror, RocknRoll High School and the Life of Brian were more on the minds than violence.

It was a heady time. It was also the year that I found a big colorful oak tree on the campus, plopped down one fall day and read the whole of the Bhagavad-Gita. A day my life changed. Just like when Lennon died.

The morning John Lennon died, I was awakened to a decidedly 9/8 rhythm pattern, with which I immediately fell in love. Chuck was playing Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk", and it was my first taste of 9/8. So my day started off with a musical theme. By nightfall music would have a very different role. It will die.

And so, as I painted the bare walls of my little room on Friendly Avenue, lost in reverie, smelling the curry onion eggs Grogan was cooking up, I heard the words come out over the radio..."John Lennon has been shot". And with news of his death, spontaneously, people gathered for a candlelight vigil at the University.

The Reagan era had begun. The Peacenik-in-chief had been silenced. No more giving peace a chance, it was a time for greed and mediocrity and John Wayne.

Within months I would pack my backs and move up to Cambridge, where a lot of other folks also found refuge from the brutal Godzilla.

Greensboro Today

Those days in Greensboro are still among my favorite, and I am so happy to once again connect to the city, through such creative souls as Ed Cone, David ("Get outta here!) Hoggard, Matt Gross and Billy the Blogging Poet, as well as the other great bloggers working there, including Ruby Sinreich, Dan Romuald, Jay Ovittore, Ross Myers, Tara Sue, and many other great folks.

I often wonder if any of the old gang of '80 and the bloggers of '04 know one another, as I know they would find kindred spirits. Or if any of the bloggers remember any of the events I have described. If so...please comment profusely!

Lastly, in today's Charlotte Observer, I wrote a graf on Greensboro and the blogosphere, which went like this:

View from blogosphere: Charlotte behind curve
Blogs are the cutting edge of democracy, giving everyone with access to a computer the ability to publish, free of charge and without space restrictions. "Blog" was also the most popular new word this year and is now to be found in major dictionaries.Greensboro and the Triangle seem to have a better grasp of blogging's importance than we do in Charlotte -- hosting conferences and tying in with newspapers and universities.
The Observer might do well to team up with local bloggers in order to help empower the community with this important new skill. North Carolina has a strong presence in the blogosphere, but it can be made stronger still. The best way to predict the future is to create it.
-Dave Beckwith

Please also feel free to comment to the Observer about your own observations...