Thursday, May 9, 2013

Gurning With Lennon

Television played an important role in my life during the period following December 8th, 1980. That evening, I was watching a rerun of Kojak with my father when the program was interrupted with a still photo of John Lennon. "Hooray!", I shouted, not comprehending what it meant, while my father shushed me.

I don't recall whether we switched to any other channels that night for further updates, but I remember calling my Beatle buddy at the time, Oliver, to tell him. His father answered and said he had gone to bed already. Rather than wake him up with the horrible news, I let him sleep and we commiserated the following morning at school. 

I remember watching the Today show the next morning while getting ready for school, and still not quite believing it was all true. Most of the next week was spent listening to Beatles and Lennon music and tributes on the radio. On Sunday afternoon, December 14th, I was at my friend Jenny's house and we watched the 10 minutes of silence in Central Park together live on her TV:

The TV tributes continued throughout the month, and one of the first was a half-hour special hosted by Casey Kasem. He hosted the syndicated countdown series America's Top Ten, and the show's production team hastily assembled "A Tribute To John Lennon 1940-1980" in time to air December 15th in New York:

I'm not sure when it aired in the Bay Area, but my father recorded it as item #2 on our first VHS tape, and I watched it sometime during Christmas week. The show is less a tribute than a cursory overview of his career, with a heavy focus on the Beatle years.

On the plus side, film archivist and major Beatle fan Ron Furmanek supplied the clips, so there was plenty of then-rare footage, albeit in short bursts. Promos for "We Can Work It Out", "Help!", "Rain", "Strawberry Fields Forever", "Revolution", and "Give Peace A Chance" were used, along with various newsreels, TV performances, and a bit of "This Boy" from the Washington DC kinescope.

Of the people interviewed, two were fellow announcers with minimal ties to Lennon (Bob Eubanks had at least promoted their Hollywood Bowl show when he worked alongside Kasem at KRLA). Walter Shenson shares an amusing anecdote, and Elliot Mintz makes a creepy cameo.

It's Kasem who fares the worst, reading a script full of cliches from page one ("Webster defines genius as..." Really, Case? That's your opening line?) to the final account of John's murder ("He fired. Strawberry Fields are not forever.").

I do love the moment ten minutes in when Casey starts reciting the lyrics to "Hello Goodbye". "You say yes, I say no, you say stop, I say go. Oh, no." It reminds me of Dana Carvey on SNL promoting Casey Kasem Sings The Beatles.

This show is unavailable on YouTube, so here is my copy, direct from tape A1 in my library:


  1. Wow, thanks for the Casey Kasem tribute! I never did see the show, but I clipped out an ad for it in the TV Guide (it featured John's White Album portrait). I've wondered about it ever since....(although by now I probably have a copy somewhere in my pile of Beatles DVDs).

    1. If you ever find that clipping, scan it and send it to me so I can add it to the blog!

  2. Whoah, John, taking me back. I guess you and I are about the same age! (i always figured you for a first generation beatlefreak!). I remember getting ready for school on the morning of the 9th, a phone call came which my mother took....the blood drained from her face, she hung up, told me she had bad news....about the Beatles. In that moment, I knew it was something bad....but what she told me was even worse than I could have imagined. I just started bawling like I was a baby, my mom kept me home from school, I ended up going to the local record store and commiserating with other (older) mourning fans.

    I remember this special, haven't seen it since it aired though!! Thanks for uploading it! And super psyched for your new blog!!!!! Viva VHS Rewind!!!!!

    Keep up the great work, Sgt. Pepper! - mg

  3. A friend had a VCR (Betamax, of course) back then, so he was able to record all of the various news items on Norwegian TV relating to the murder of Lennon. Richard Lester happened to be in Norway at the time, promoting one of his "Superman" films, so he was hauled in to the TV news studio to reminisc about Lennon. Also, some reprogramming took place and they showed an edit of the John & Yoko episode of the Dick Cavett Show, the one where they previewed the "Imagine" film.