by Kent Sterling
I was a miserable college freshman in Briscoe Quad on Indiana University’s campus on December 8, 1980. My roommate, a drug-addled boob from Connersville (IN), built a loft in our dorm room to clear my bed and me from the floor so his drug-addled friends had more room for misusing and wasting the precious few operation brain cells at their disposal. I lived on the loft, and they giggled, ate cold pizza, and smoked hash everywhere else.
It was like living in one of those drawer style Japanese hotel rooms Kramer crafted for his guests in his Karl Farbman. The room was filled with morons buying, selling, and using pot, hash, and speed, and I was in my tiny space watching a 10-inch black & white TV (I could explain what those are to people under 30, but it makes people in their 40s sound like they are in their 90s) counting the minutes until the semester ended and I could get the hell out of there.
The Patriots were playing the Dolphins, and the game sucked. Then, Howard Cosell told me about the tragic shooting of John Lennon. The coolest Beatle was dead, immediately following a musical renaissance. He was on the cover of Playboy that month because of the release of his first collection of original music in years.
“Double Fantasy” was an album that was half-Lennon and half Yoko – with the songs interspersed, so Yoko was impossible to avoid without getting up and moving the needle at the end of every Lennon song. This needs explanation for music enthusiasts under the age of 30, but it will make everyone over 30 look like the Flintstones so I’m better off saving my time and effort.
I wondered what kind of nut would shoot a man who risked his residency in America as an advocate for peace, and then heard “Strawberry Fields Forever” from the hallway. Needing no excuse to abandon the stuporous den of idiots in the room that surrounded my sleep chamber, I wandered out and found several of the guys on my floor crying. I felt like Mr. Spock from “Star Trek” as I had no tears for the death of a man I had never met.
The guy at the center of the group was Jeff Stanton, the Indiana University student body president, and the unquestioned leader of whatever went down on Briscoe 3A. Jeff was an iconoclast who bucked authority wherever and whenever he found it.
If I ever had a mentor, it was Jeff. He was a blogger long before anyone knew what the internet was. He used one of those dry erase memo boards to post his thoughts at least once a day. His societal critiques were usually mean-spirited and hilarious.
Most of the guys on the floor joined Jeff every Sunday night at 10 to sing a song of Jeff’s choosing to end the week. When people complained about the noise, Jeff decided that we should sing the National Anthem every week because no one would risk being branded anti-American is barring students from celebrating their Patriotism.
A year before, as the story was told, when Stanton ran for IUSA president, the Indiana Daily Student endorsed a competitor. Stanton engaged a network of friends to drive to each distribution point for the paper and load every copy into their cars and then dispose of them off campus. He was an unholy combination of Hunter S. Thompson and Richard Nixon, and I liked him very much.
As I watched Stanton take this senseless murder of an icon so hard, I decided to investigate what it was about Lennon that affected him so profoundly. I began reading biographies, and reading interviews. Lennon was a troubled man with too many weaknesses to list, but he consistently championed the concept of peace, which given the world we live in is a bit of a weakness in and of itself because it is so counter to reality.
Being a lone voice in the wilderness didn’t discourage Lennon from leading protests and writing a song like “Imagine”, which remains an anthemic call for man to love one another, and cast aside those beliefs that create our differences.
It was Lennon’s death that spawned my appreciation for his willingness to challenge the status quo, and it was the acerbic and soft-hearted Stanton’s death several years ago that made me truly sad.