It was Thanksgiving, 1980. I'd just turned 26 and recently traded in an extremely glamorous job that paid nothing for one that rewarded me a bit more, but sent me spiraling down the road towards major alcohol abuse.
Robert and I had houseguests sleeping on our sofa that weekend. A dear friend, an ex-New Yorker, who had been banished back to his Florida hometown for misdeeds and most unbecoming conduct. We had worked together once in a showroom at the D & D Building. That, of course, is another story.
He was back for the holiday, this time with his new beau, a pharmacist by trade. Hooray, we shouted, upon learning this fact. And we weren't disappointed. Said pharmacist did not arrive empty handed. In fact, not long after introductions, he placed an extra large, economy size jar of Ionamin on the coffee table. I had never seen so many diet pills at one time. Ionamin is a fairly low grade version of speed, mostly prescribed for overweight suburbanites. Taken by the handful, it allowed us to stay up all night in the popular clubs of the time. Of course, we had to smoke endless amounts of grass, and drink copious amounts of white wine to keep from grinding our molars into a powder fine enough to snort.
The long weekend was spent hitting the bars, restaurants and clubs. Lunches at 1/Fifth, dinner at Trilogy or Clyde's, 12 West, The Eagle and The Spike. When we weren't running around on a tear, we were huddled around my coffee table. Along with the current dance music of the day, two records played in high rotation. One was the Rolling Stones' "Let It Bleed". The other had just come out a few weeks prior: John & Yoko's "Double Fantasy".
Now the Beatles had long ago made every attempt to alienate all but the most hardcore of their fans. John had proclaimed that he didn't "believe in Beatles". Paul had gone so far back to basics, as to create what was seemingly toddler music. After unloading a pent-up masterwork in the early 70's, George was just getting more and more severe. It was his Guru, or the highway. And Ringo was Ringo. The sum was definitely greater than the parts, though the parts could be quite amusing sometimes.
John had not recorded in years.
Double Fantasy started out with an anthem like no other. It was huge, yet welcoming, from the sound of the little Buddhist prayer bell at the start, to the massed distorted chorus at the fade. It seemed like John was beckoning us back to the warm and jolly hearth that was the Beatles, and it was (Just Like) Starting Over.
We played this record over and over that weekend. In our enlightened states, we studied the passed around album jacket, searching for clues. The back cover featured a picture of John and Yoko, posed on the northwest corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West. They look fit and prosperous, facing east and an unknown destiny. Or was it? I was most unsettled by this picture, and still am to this day. Their expressions are grim, almost determined. What were they thinking? What did this photograph portend?
I know none of this means anything to most of you. The Beatles are something your older siblings, or even your parents revered. Their music, so ubiquitous, cannot even be heard clearly anymore, without the freight of 40 years accumulated memories and references.
You cannot begin to imagine a time when these things actually were fresh, new and had actually never been done before. Nothing was being recycled for the umpteenth time. It was being made up, as we went along. And we all wanted more. Even in the dreary economic and political climes that prevailed through the late 60's and all through the 70's, there was always the "sea of possibilities", as Patti Smith said.
Gun shots and Ronald Reagan finished all that forever. What a grim year 1980 was. The beginning of the end.