A couple of recent anniversaries really have me feeling my age.
You’d think, as a high-school history teacher, I’d be immune to the “Holy crap, that happened HOW MANY years ago?” Teaching teenagers, you’re quickly dispelled of the notion that things you remember quite clearly are still in the zeitgeist. deemed “might as well have been George Washington.” Hell, I had to explain to a FELLOW HISTORY teacher who Geraldine Ferraro was after she showed up on a standardized test. Somehow losing vice-presidential candidates from before you were born don’t come up in casual conversation often.
Did I mention a former student now teaches in my department? I had him as a sophomore.
Sometimes it’s hard to “make things relevant” to students unaware the world existed before 2015 or so. In another couple years, President Obama might as well be George Washington to them. When teaching imperialism, I used to start with a great introduction comparing it to the Iraq War. That stopped working a decade ago. Fortunately, Trump then got butt-hurt because he couldn’t buy Greenland. Why Greenland? Same reasons we invaded Iraq: natural resources, popularity, and to give a giant middle finger to our rivals. Now that he’s soon gone, that reference has maybe three years of legs before new students are only vaguely aware of our foreign policy being run by the Fool on the Hill.
At least I’ll have the pandemic. I’ve done the math. I’m set to retire right around the time this year’s kindergartners graduate high school. So I SHOULD still be able to reference this societal moment for quite some time. Even better than 9/11, it doesn’t matter how young you are, you’ll remember how fucked up 2020 was.
So next year, when all y’all are shocked at the TWENTIETH anniversary of 9/11, I’ll shrug.
But there are still some things that sneak up and smack me in the ass. For instance:
The Berlin Wall. This one shouldn’t have hit me this year. After all, last year was the big 3-0 since the fall. But that was back in the happy times of 2019, when we had outside lives and friends to visit and restaurants to dine at. Who’s going to take a solemn moment to memorialize thirty years since a bunch of Euros with lousy haircuts and even worse fashion senses decided to answer the Scorpions open-call for video extras?
Although the thirtieth isn’t the one that’s bothering me, either. My discomfort goes all the way back to 2018.
After all, 1989 does seem like an awfully long time ago. I too had a lousy haircut and even worse fashion sense. Remember Day-glo? For my entire teaching career, I’ve explained to my students that I was their age when the Berlin Wall came down and my German teacher was hungover for a week.
The reason the 29th anniversary is more earth-shattering for me is because the Wall was built in 1961. Eighty-nine minus sixtyone equals twenty-eight. So sometime in 2018, the Wall had been down longer than it had ever been up. Maybe that feels weird to me because I never knew a world without a Berlin Wall. It was only thirteen years old when I was born, but in my mind it had always been there. And always would. Now it’s a footnote, like the Stuart Restoration.
Here’s another one:
Last week marked the fortieth anniversary of John Lennon’s death. December 8, 1980, although it was only a little after midnight on the east coast, so it was still 12/7 here on the west coast. “A date that shall live in infamy,” indeed!
But John’s not the one that bothered me.
George died in November. 2001. Only two months after the Twin Towers, so maybe that’s why I don’t remember it being such a big deal.
I remember it, to be sure. Kinda shocking. I think I knew he was sick, but not that sick. Kinda like Chadwick Boseman. Although nothing like Chadwick Boseman because George Harrison was never, in his wildest dreams, fit enough to play either the Black Panther or Jackie Robinson, let alone both.
Plus nobody wants to see Jackie Robinson swing like he’s playing cricket.
But still, one day he was here, the next day he was gone. All things must pass. Too soon?
The Beatles channel on SiriusXM did a nice tribute to him on the nineteenth anniversary of his passing. Meaning its been almost two decades since you’ve heard the tacky “three more bullets” joke.
(For those too young to remember it, the question was what it would take to get a Beatles reunion. “One more bullet and one more cancer” doesn’t have the same ring, I guess)
But lets do some math: 1980 to 2001 is 21 years. 2001 to 2020 is 19. So we’re two years (and two healthy musicians) away from living longer with two Beatles than we did with three. How crazy is that?
I think we’ll get there. The remaining Beatles don’t appear to be going anywhere. Sure, McCartney’s aged a bit based on the photo shoot for that quarantine album he recorded. Then again, he just recorded a solo album while in quarantine! And some of us have grey hair by the time we’re half his age. Although, in our defense, at least we’re wise enough to know that nobody wants to hear creepy old dudes singing, “If you come on to me, then I’ll come onto you.” Really, septuagenarian? Aren’t you ejaculating dust these days?
As for the other surviving Beatle, holy hell. I know there’s really good hair dye, but Ringo looks the same now as he did in 1990. Did Barbara Bach steal some MI-6 de-aging formula when she teamed up with James Bond in Egypt?
Seriously, what demon did Ringo make a deal with? I’m not opposed to a diet of fresh baby blood if it’ll thicken up my hair a little. But I’ve listened to “Yellow Submarine” forward, backward, and on super slow speed, and I’ve never found instructions to life everlasting.
So yeah, despite the fact that Paul is 78 and Ringo is 80, I think they’re both destined to outlive George longer than George outlived John.
All in all, it’s just another Beatle in the Wall.
(No Pink Floyd anniversary this month, but that’s never stopped Floyd fans from lighting one up.)
I’m trying to figure out why the Berlin Wall and George Harrison are freaking me out. The Quiet Beatle being dead for nineteen years shouldn’t trump the fortieth anniversary for the… the… shit, I only know the cute one and the quiet one. Which one was John? The full-of-himself one? Probably the serious one, even though that’s pretty much the same thing. What was Ringo, the deal-with-the-devil one? The drummer one? The pahrump-pah-pum-pum one?
Regardless, 9/11 being twenty years ago is fine with me, but George Harrison two months later is bothersome. We just passed the fortieth anniversary of Lennon’s death. Big whoop. But the wall came tumbling down nine years later, and that bugs the shit out of me.
Although again, it isn’t the fact that the Wall fell, it’s that it really wasn’t up for very long. Twenty-eight years? I have t-shirts that old.
(That wasn’t a joke – My Eric Clapton/Elton John concert is from 1992. I don’t think I’ve worn it in twenty years, but ya gotta keep the concert tee from your favorite concert.)
Growing up, the Berlin Wall was deemed as permanent as the Great Wall of China. East and West Germany seemed destined to outlast North and South Korea. After all, East Germany was backed up by the everlasting Soviet Union, while North Korea was only propped up by that upstart China.
By extension, Lennon died when I was six years old, which pretty much means he’s been dead my entire life. Allegedly my mom told me when he died, and I responded by asking who he was. “One of the Beatles,” she answered. “What are the Beatles?” I asked. I didn’t have the good sense to ask her if Stu Sutcliffe might rejoin the club now. If it was two years later, she might’ve told me he used to be in a band with the “Ebony and Ivory” guy. But not Stevie Wonder.
So Lennon being dead for forty years is the same as Teddy Roosevelt being gone a hundred. Their deaths were equally as impactful to my life. Okay, maybe not Teddy Roosevelt, since they’re in different arenas. But Lennon might as well have been Richie Valens or Buddy Holly. Or Louis Armstrong or Elvis Presley. Artists that made good music, but who were dead before I knew what good music was.
So in my estimation, Lennon’s always been dead, but Harrison is recent. When the remaining three Beatles recorded “Free as a Bird,” it felt like a time machine, stretching back to the beforetimes. If Ringo and Paul recorded an unreleased George demo tomorrow, I’d shrug. Sure, I know “Free as a Bird” was different because of the vitriol they shared after the breakup. The key number wasn’t the fifteen years since Lennon recorded it, but the twenty-five years since the breakup. But even that’s a big nothing burger these days. Bands are always getting back together to record one more song after twenty years off. Guns n’ Roses figures if they never finish a tour (or a concert, for that matter), then they each tour can be billed as the reunion tour.
The technology of “Free as a Bird” seems ho-hum now, too. It came on SirusXM the other day, and man, it’s not a good song. John’s demo was seriously shitty sound quality. I know he has some unfinished songs on “Milk and Honey.” You can always tell “Grow Old with Me” wasn’t intended to be the final recording for that song, but “Free as a Bird” sounds like a few bars on a tape recorder. Then the other guys come in, each singing the same crappy lyrics (thanks, Paul). It’s not even verse then chorus, it’s chorus then one line from John at the other end of a 1999 cell phone, followed by a repeat of the chorus.
If Princess Leia can appear in “Rise of Skywalker” (and you know Chadwick Boseman will show up in “Black Panther 2”), then singing with a dead guy isn’t all that impressive. Natalie Cole did it better. And with all the deepfakes these days, isn’t there enough recording of John Lennon singing to make a legitimate “new” song with his voice? A clip from here, a snippet from there, and maybe we can hear him roll his eyes performing, “If you come on to me, then I’ll come onto you.”
Maybe I need to ask some Baby Boomers if the Berlin Wall being so long ago is weird to them. After all, they had a point in their life where there was no Wall, then it was there, and then it was gone. They had a time when there were four Beatles, then there were three, and now there are two. There were two Vietnams. Now there are two Sudans.
Life finds a way.
Holy shit, WHEN did “Jurassic Park” come out?