Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Week The Music Died

I turned 60 on the 12th of October this year. That makes me, of course, a baby-boomer. Over the years, many people have accused us baby-boomers of being narcissistic and self-obsessed. They're absolutely right: we are. It was 35 years ago this very night that former Beatle John Lennon was gunned down in New York by a deranged fan. I was a young newspaper reporter at the time, working at my first job. I'm proud to be able to claim that, even as the tragedy unfolded, I resisted the urge to write anything about it in the paper. That wasn't my job; I covered local government. But that didn't stop my fellow twentysomething journalists from inundating every publication in sight with their various versions of "What John Lennon Meant To Me." Memories of growing up with the Beatles, that sort of thing. I could easily have contributed to all of this teary nostalgia, but I didn't. It wasn't that I didn't like the Beatles; I liked their music as much as anyone. I just decided to keep my mouth shut. Everyone else was shooting off theirs; who needed my contribution?

Having said that...I can't believe it's already been ten years since I was asked to write a 25th-anniversary Lennon piece. 2005. I was freelancing for a local publication at that time, South Bay Review, whose publisher was Michael Inzunza, the brother of former National City mayor Nick Inzunza. Michael and I used to meet at a coffee shop in Terranova center here in Chula Vista once a month to have a conference about what articles I would be writing for that month's issue. On this particular day, over our coffee, Michael had an interesting twist on the John Lennon 25th anniversary.

Anybody remember the 1961 song Angel Baby by Rosie and the Originals?  Lennon was fond of that song, and covered it on one of his albums. "Rosie," who wrote the song, was living in New Mexico at the time. Michael got her phone number, and my assignment was to interview her and write an article about how the song came to be written, recorded, and how John dedicated his cover to Rosie herself. I called her up. She was a very nice lady, and we had a long and fascinating chat. (Angel Baby was originally recorded in an airport hangar in north county--it was the only place they could find recording equipment. Rosie and her band made an acetate, then forgot about it. Imagine their surprise when, one day at the beach in Coronado, they heard themselves on the radio.)

One of my more enjoyable, and informative interviews. Ranked right up there, in terms of interest, with the time I interviewed Major Charles Sweeney, the man who piloted Bockscar, the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki in 1945.

But I digress.

It's much too late (and my generation is getting old) for an essay on What The Beatles Mean To Me. They mean a lot to a lot of people. No, what I'm going to tell you now is about my memories of that week, one of which was rather strange (not that learning of John Lennon's murder wasn't strange in itself.)

On the night of December 8, 1980, when John Lennon walked out of his apartment in the Dakota building in Manhattan and, approached by a fan, innocently thought he was going to be asked for an autograph and got a bullet instead, I was living in El Centro, California. As mentioned above, I was a reporter on the local newspaper. It was a Monday night, and many people remember getting the news of this shocking event from Howard Cosell as they watched ABC Monday Night Football. I wasn't a football fan; I was watching Little House On The Prairie. But then my telephone rang. It was my mom, who did like to watch football, and she had obviously been drinking. But anyway...I learned about the death of John Lennon from my mother, who had heard it from Howard Cosell.

It was terrible news. Not only because of how important the Beatles had been to my generation, but also because, just days earlier, I had listened to a radio interview with Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono, and it really sounded like the guy was about to grow up and stop acting like the spoiled child he had been playing for years, moping around taking drugs, sulking and trying to change the world. Now he sounded energized, mature, and most importantly, ready to start new musical projects. He wished everyone a Happy Christmas, as they say in England, and sounded like he was off to the studio to get back to work. It was a heartening interview. Then this.

I had a friend in El Centro named Albert Tapia. Albert was, by anyone's definition, a "character." I could write a whole separate essay about Albert, but of that another time. For now, I'll simply mention that he loved being a gadfly. He was frequently seen at city council meetings, yelling about whatever had him stirred up that week. Perpetually at odds with the local Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), Albert loved doing anything that would piss them off. That fall he decided to piss them off by inviting former Ku Klux Klansman Tom Metzger, who was running for Congress (as a Democrat, by the way), over to his house for coffee. I was there: me, Albert, Metzger, and Metzger's two bodyguards.

MAPA threw a fit, which is exactly what Albert wanted them to do.

But again, of that another time.

A couple of days later (maybe it was Friday) Albert invited me and my then-girlfriend Jamie over to his house for dinner. Albert's wife Dolores was an excellent Mexican cook (she never bought tortillas from the store--she always made her own), and I said, "Yeah. Great. What time should we be there?"

Everything would have been fine; I'm sure it would have been a very enjoyable dinner. Except for one thing: Albert had a job working security at the Imperial County Fairgrounds, and at the very moment Jamie and I were driving over to his house, he got called in to work an unexpected shift. He greeted us at the door, invited us to sit down at the table and enjoy our meal....and off he went.

Swell. Dolores didn't speak English. She was a lovely lady, but she didn't speak English. And now Albert, who did speak English, was gone.

There was only one person left in the house who did speak English: Albert and Dolores' teenage son. And here's where John Lennon gets back into the picture. Albert's son, whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, was reacting to Lennon's death as teenagers would in those days: he was in deep mourning. Deep, theatrical mourning. He was closed up in his bedroom, playing one Beatle album after another, having his own private memorial service for John. Well, I understood how he felt, but Jamie and I needed help. We were sitting at the dinner table with his mom, who spoke no English. Jamie knew a few simple phrases in Spanish. I didn't know shit.

Well, the boy came out of his room just to be polite and say hello, then he said "Enjoy your dinner" and withdrew back to his room to continue playing Beatle albums to himself.

As I say, I understand how he felt, but he certainly left us adults in an awkward position: our hostess spoke no English, we spoke little or no Spanish, and the three of us were left to enjoy our dinner in embarrassed silence.

And that's my prevalent memory of The Week The Music Died. 35 years already. John, rest in peace. Albert, why did you have to go to work that night? I think maybe I should go work on my Spanish. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Goodbye, Cynthia

My cousin Cynthia Noel Winrow Summers, 61, died October 26, 2015 at a hospital in Oceanside after a long battle with cancer.
Cynthia Noel Winrow Summers, 1954-2015
Born Dec. 20, 1954 to my aunt and uncle Bert and Mary Winrow, Cynthia, a very brave and optimistic soul, survived not only a long struggle with cancer which eventually cost her an arm, but also distinguished herself by becoming an extraordinarily long survivor of two liver transplants. A first liver transplant, caused by a rare disease in the early 1990s failed, and she had to endure a second one. The average life expectancy for liver transplant patients is said to be about five years; Cynthia survived more than 20 years after hers, and right up until the end she kept a smiling face. She was an inspiration to us all.

I knew Cynthia all my life. She was about a year older than me. We didn’t see each other very often, but always had a few laughs when we did.

Cynthia graduated from La Jolla High School in 1973, and was a student at the University of California at San Diego, where she studied Oceanography and Psychology before deciding to leave the university just short of her graduation. An avid surfer, soon after leaving UCSD she relocated to Hawaii, where she spent a number of years living and surfing, and made many new friends.
Noted for her physical resilience, just days after her liver transplant, she was out rollerblading, according to her family. But surfing was her main passion, both in California and in Hawaii. According to her husband, Steve Summers, she continued surfing right up until losing her left arm to cancer.

A devout Christian, she was a member of the Calvary Chapel in Oceanside, where a memorial service was held on Oct. 31st.  Her pastor, Gary Currie, cited Summers’ favorite Bible verse as Proverbs 3, 5:6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence rely not. In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your path.” 

An avid artist, Cynthia worked in many media, from painting to jewelry-making. She was also a musician, playing both piano and flute.

My cousin is survived by her husband Steven, her mother Mary, her brothers Skip and Steve, her niece Brooke and her nephews Bryce and Cameron. We are planning our annual “cousins reunion” next spring at her brother Skip’s place in Escondido. It will not be the same without Cynthia there.
RIP, my dear cousin.