Monday, November 30, 2015

A [Final] Day in the Life

One of the photos from Annie Leibovitz's photo session with John Lennon and Yoko Ono on December 8, 1980 (above). The photo is one of the few John allowed taken without his sunglasses - or at least his glasses.

Over the next week or so, I'm going to be remembering John Lennon - on the 35th anniversary of his murder - with two posts, bookended by the transcript of his final interview, done on the afternoon of December 8, 1980 in the first-floor offices John and Yoko rented in the Dakota.

The last day of John Lennon’s life is probably one of the most documented days of his life. Where he went, who he saw, have pretty much been covered with photos and audio. Yet there are things that even a Lennophile like me discover years after that unusually warm December night in New York City. I knew that Lennon and Yoko Ono had a lengthy photo session with now-famed photographer Annie Leibovitz on December 8th. The photos Leibovitz took that day have become some of the most-often utilized images of John through the years. The photos show a very thin, but otherwise healthy-looking John, in rare photos without his glasses. That very morning – specifically for Leibovitz’s photo shoot - John had his hair cut and styled in the mode of a ‘Teddy-Boy’ from the 1950s. The fact that the last images of him would look uncannily like the first images of him in Hamburg in 1960, with the leather jacket and Teddy-Boy cut, provided a strange, macabre “circle-of-life” quality to them. He would die looking much like he had 20 years earlier.

The morning started with breakfast at La Fortuna, on Columbus Avenue, in New York City. After the haircut, John and Yoko returned to the Dakota, where Leibovitz soon arrived. The photos were to be for an upcoming Rolling Stone piece. Leibovitz had promised John that a photo of both of them – John and Yoko – would make the cover. John became suspicious, however, when Leibovitz initially tried to get a picture with just John alone. John’s intuition was right: Leibovitz would later recall that "nobody wanted [Ono] on the cover". John agreed to some solo shots but made Leibovitz promise that it would be John and Yoko on the cover.

Toward the end of the photo shoot, Yoko left the apartment to head downstairs for a scheduled interview she and John had with the RKO Network. John stayed behind to allow Leibovitz to have her solo photos.

By this time, Mark Chapman had secured his ‘usual’ place in front of the Dakota. He had been there the entire previous weekend. Chapman had with him a gun, and he intended to shoot John the moment he saw him. Chapman and Lennon had already had an encounter the day before - on December 7th. While there were always ‘Dakota Groupies’ waiting for John, there was also an unspoken rule that the fans gave John his space. What made Chapman stand out that Sunday in Yoko’s mind – that is, stand out in her mind after the murder – was that Chapman came very close, almost face-to-face and began taking photographs “John got angry and ran after him to try to take the camera, though I shouted to him not to do it,” Yoko told author Philip Norman. “[John] didn’t get the camera, and when he came back he said, ‘If anyone gets me, it’s going to be a fan.’”

That would be the first of three encounters with Chapman. The second occurred around 5:30 pm on December 8th, as John and Yoko left the Dakota for a recording session after the RKO interview. Chapman was waiting for them, his revolver resting in his left-hand pocket. He had intended to kill Lennon there and then. But when John graciously signed Chapman’s copy of Double Fantasy and then asked him if there was anything else he [Chapman] wanted signed, Chapman was too taken aback to pull out the gun. Over the next six hours, Chapman would not stray far from that spot, waiting for John to return from the session.

This actually was the second trip Chapman had taken to kill John Lennon. Chapman had flown from his home in Hawaii to New York to kill Lennon on November 1, 1980. He had purchased a gun in Hawaii but, for some reason, hadn't bought ammunition. He had spent much of the previous three months behaving even more oddly than usual. His wife would watch him every evening as he turned out the lights, lit candles and played Beatles records endlessly, chanting “John Lennon must die”. When he got to New York City in early November, Chapman found that he could not buy ammunition because he did not have a license to carry in the state of New York. Frustrated, Chapman got in contact with an old friend - now a gun collector - from his days growing up in Georgia. Chapman flew there and spent a few days with his friend “catching up”. Chapman then asked to borrow some bullets. He told his friend he wanted hollow-point bullets – the kind that explode on impact – and told the friend he was headed back to New York and needed them for protection. His friend handed him the bullets that would end John Lennon’s life.

Chapman flew back to New York with the intention of killing John Lennon on November 6th. That day, however, Chapman decided to take in a movie before killing John. Chapman went to a nearby theater. The film Ordinary People. The movie – about the accidental death of the older son of an affluent family and how it effects the relationships among the bitter mother, the good-natured father, and the guilt-ridden younger son - so touched Chapman that he “snapped out” of his homicidal stupor and decided he could not kill John Lennon. He flew back to Hawaii, where he told his wife where he had been and what he had planned to do. Unbelievably, considering the behavior she had witnessed and now the fact that her husband was telling her he had gone to New York to kill John Lennon, his wife did nothing. She told no one. Worse, when Chapman told her in early December that he was heading back to New York, she did nothing. Chapman told her he’d gotten rid of the gun.

As an aside here, Mark Chapman and Gloria Hiroko Chapman are still married. Indeed, since 1992, Chapman has been receiving conjugal visits with Gloria, as part of the "Family Reunion" program at Attica State Prison, where Chapman is held. There, the Chapmans are allowed to spend nearly two consecutive days with each other in a private setting. According to prison spokesperson Erik Kriss, the goal of the program is to help strengthen relationships that may have become strained due to imprisonment. There is no such balm available for Yoko Ono, whose relationship was 'strained' permanently by Chapman. As for Gloria Chapman, how this woman has lived with the fact that she could have prevented John Lennon's murder is a testimonial to the fact that some people simply have no conscience.

In addition to the photos with Leibovitz, the other noted event in John’s last day was the interview with RKO Radio. RKO was the first commercial radio network to distribute its programming entirely by satellite. When it began operations on October 1, 1979, it was the first new full-service American radio network in 40 years. Satellite distribution allowed high-fidelity stereo programming to its affiliates, and by December 1980 it was the place to do promotional jaunts on the radio, as it would hit a nationwide audience.

The interview was eventually aired on December 14, 1980. Some of the quotes from that interview have been used innumerable times – particularly in The Beatles Anthology. It was an amazing interview, made incredibly macabre by what you know will happen a few short hours from that point. The interview took place immediately before John’s album-autograph-signing encounter with Chapman on December 8th, which was captured by another ‘Dakota Groupie’, Paul Goresh. Indeed, the crew from RKO was right there with John as he encountered Chapman. The limousine that was due to take John and Yoko to the recording studio never showed. The RKO crew offered to take John and Yoko, in their rented limo, to the recording studio on their way to the airport to fly back to San Francisco.

The RKO interview took place in the first floor offices that John and Yoko had in the Dakota. Chapman was waiting outside, no more than 100 yards from where John and Yoko were talking. The original tapes of the recording are available on YouTube. They are 2 ½ hours long and can be incredibly chilling to listen to. But also very funny, inspirational and insightful. I say 'chilling', knowing not only what would happen later that day, but that the man who would kill John was virtually on the other side of the wall waiting to do it while John spoke.

Listening to the raw tapes is surreal. When the RKO crew arrived at the Dakota offices, they switched on the tape recorders and they stayed on during the pre-interview, the interview itself, and the post-interview, during which John graciously signed autographs for friends and family of the RKO crew.

It is an incredible experience to listen to the tapes. A few years ago, after hearing them the first time in full, I was so affected by them that I decided I wanted to read the interview. Somewhere - it had to have been transcribed somewhere, right? Well, if it was, I haven’t been able to find it. The interview did make its way in the mid-1980s onto a bootleg double album. Someone had even written a screenplay based on the interview. But no transcript, at least not one of the entire 2 ½ hours of tape.

I decided I wanted to reproduce the transcript – word for word – here. So, the next group of posts are going to be that transcript. I have tried my best to capture all audible audio. I don’t know if you’ll find it as fascinating as I have, but ever since I heard the unedited version, it has been gnawing at me. I guess I feel that by transcribing it and putting it out there on the Internet, I am doing something for John.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thank You

Weeks ago I'd planned on a post for November 29th remembering George Harrison, on the 14th anniversary of his death. Then I almost got to meet him a lot earlier than I was planning on; so, that's kind of changed the post a bit.

As I wrote on Facebook yesterday, I collapsed on Thanksgiving Night with an as-yet unknown-and-may-never-be-known misfiring of the brain that left me unable to talk and came very near to stopping my breathing forever. My wife kept me breathing long enough for the paramedics to take over. I spent a few days in the hospital and I'm now home doing a lot of resting.

As it was happening, I remember thinking that this is what it is like to die. I could hear much of what was going on but was powerless, unable to communicate. I felt as though there was a struggle going on. On the one hand was the desire for the inability to breathe and the discomfort to stop at any cost. On the other hand was my wife pulling me back and refusing to let me rest just now. The bond between my wife and I - because of all we've been through these last 25 years together - has always been strong. She doesn't want to hear it, but I know that she's the reason I hung on. I knew she wouldn't let me go and that I owed it to her and our children to stay. More importantly, that I wanted to stay. That I fought to stay.

Having said all of that, it didn't hit me until a few hours after I was in my hospital room that I could have died. This seems self-evident, but my mind was so addled that it didn't hit home until I saw the date written on the white-board across from my bed. It had the nurse's name, the emergency numbers, and 'November 26, 2015'. Looking at that I suddenly thought, "This could've been the day that I died" - borrowing heavily from Don McLean.  Later, looking at my hospital ID tag, I saw my date of birth, followed by my date of admission. I realized those dates could've been the beginning of my epitaph.

At one time or another in our lives we all wonder what that date will be for us - that 'death' date on the epitaph. Seeing it there in print was a bit more than I could handle so I immediately stared at something else [you do a lot of staring at things in the hospital].

The list of things I'm grateful for today that I took completely for granted is too long to even start. Yesterday was a typical day in Pittsburgh - rain, rain, cold, rain - but it sure as hell looked like a beautiful day to me. I know that won't last and that's ok, too. I shouldn't spend the rest of my life flittering around marveling at how great everything always is. That ain't me [surprise, surprise].

That being said, I sure as hell am going to try to approach things differently. I'm still in the afterglow of having my life saved. And I'm sure I need to pay more attention to my health and that there may be some follow up things I need to do medically.  I'll face that as it comes. I hope, though, that I can really keep the promise that I've made to try to look at things differently.

Before I sign off [just for today, folks], a note about George Harrison as originally intended: I learned about George's death while in Wichita, Kansas, in a hotel while watching Live with Regis and Kelly. That's right: I learned about George's death from Regis Philbin ["well, well, well, Kelly  - guess who's dead?!?"]. We were in Wichita with our one-week-old twins in the NICU. It was surreal. A Beatle-death would normally have been an Earth-shattering, world-stopping event. With my infants in a hospital 1,000 miles from home, not knowing what would happen or how long we'd be there, etc., however, George's death registered with a tremendous sadness but I had more pressing obligations.

Still, sad it was. A year later, George's widow, Olivia, and his friend Jeff Lynne released George's last album, Brainwashed.  When doctors told George he had only a few months to live in the fall 2001, he went into his recording studio to record as many songs [he had a backlog of dozens of unrecorded songs] as he could. The recordings were raw and as time went on, George's voice became weaker. After his death, Jeff Lynne and George's son, Dhani, went into the studio to listen to George's recordings. They recorded back-up vocals, added backing tracks, and fine-tuned it. When it was released, of course I bought it right away. Listening to it the first time, my son - 1 at the time - joined me and crawled over to the stereo. He pulled himself up to a standing position, obviously listening to the music. I watched this in amazement. I don't know how long it lasted but it was long enough to leave that impression on me.

I don't know what was going on while my son was listening to that album. I really felt, though, that he somehow knew that this man singing was someone special. Maybe in the cosmos there's some kind of connection between them - one coming into the Earthly world, the other leaving one week later. Maybe it's nothing. But I've always taken comfort in thinking that George's spirit helped us get from Wichita back home and has been with the world ever since.

Thank you, George. I'm just not yet ready to meet you just yet.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Book Review: War of Two - Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Duel That Stunned the Nation, by John Sedgwick

The title of John Sedgwick’s book [perhaps the 100th or so such work on the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton over the past 200 years] – War of Two – comes from the Latin derivation of “duel”, duo bellum – “war of two”.

But the battles between Hamilton and Burr from the mid-1770s to that fateful July day in 1804 in Weehawken, New Jersey, involved far more than two. Indeed, had it just been Burr and Hamilton involved – and not their assorted sycophants, followers, enemies and true friends – there would have been no schism between them. No insults. No challenges. No duo bellum. So, while clever, I found the title misleading.  This was more than a war of two.

How these two men came into each others' orbit is the story of early America itself.  Hamilton was born in the West Indies, a bastard – a fact which, Sedgwick claims, “was a stain that Hamilton could never wash off, as desperately as he tried." Burr, conversely, came from virtual American royalty: his father and grandfather were nationally renowned clergy.  While not ‘to the manor born’, Burr was as close to that status as 1770s America provided. Yet – in America in the latter quarter of the 18th century – these two men with vastly different backgrounds would inhabit each others' world in an uneasy balance.

The Revolutionary War would be a central event in the lives of both men.  Burr joined Benedict Arnold's failed campaign to take Quebec from the British in October 1775. Hamilton was permitted to form his own company of men at the same time, and he drew the attention of General Nathaniel Greene, who saw Hamilton working his men on the parade ground one afternoon and was impressed by how much this young captain seem to know about soldiering. Impressed with what he had seen of Hamilton himself, at the end of January 1777, General George Washington invited Hamilton to join his staff, with the promotion to Lieutenant Colonel. [Ironically, Burr too had an opportunity to join Washington's staff. The two men met, but it did not go well. Burr was gone within ten days. Although neither Burr nor Washington ever spoke about what transpired, it would be Hamilton – and not Burr – at Washington’s side for the next four years of the war.]

After the War, Hamilton and Burr both came to New York City as young lawyers. Soon, they came to be regarded as the two finest lawyers in New York City. They knew each other well. As Sedgwick writes, "Because of their celebrity, Hamilton and Burr took part in virtually all of the major cases of the day, usually in opposition, but sometimes in collaboration." The main difference between the two was that Burr hated the work [but liked the money]. For Hamilton, the money was a secondary compensation to the ability to work out his political philosophies of government within the practicing of the law.

Thus it would be Hamilton – and not Burr - in Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention starting in May 1787. While Hamilton took a major role in getting the Constitution ratified, Sedgwick notes that Burr, “was that rare man in public life who did not take sides. As someone who enjoyed secrecy he preferred to keep his options close to the vest and not make enemies by taking a stand one way or the other.”

While Burr was not steeped in politics, Hamilton was. Although not Washington’s first choice [that was Robert Morris, who demurred and strongly suggested the eventual choice], Hamilton became the first president’s his first Secretary of the Treasury. It was from this post at Treasury that Hamilton shaped the American economy.  As Sedgwick notes, “By creating the economic basis for a strong central government, Hamilton...made real the federalism evoked by the Constitution. And it created a party [Federalists] that believed in it - and made Hamilton that party’s leader. Washington may have been the apolitical king, but Hamilton was the highly political prime minister, and he would wield the greater power both to design policy and to execute it."

As mentioned earlier, this was a war of more than two.  If we really needed to limit the main parties, we could perhaps call it a “war of three”.  That third key figure was Thomas Jefferson.  With the Federalists of Hamilton and Jefferson’s founding of the Republican party in opposition, as Sedgwick writes, "(Jefferson) became politically (to Hamilton) what Burr became personally - Hamilton's diametric opposite..."

Still, Hamilton’s outrage at Jefferson was one thing.  As Sedgwick writes, “With Burr [Hamilton’s] antagonism went beyond policy, for the threat was more than just political. To Hamilton, Burr must've been a ghoul, haunting him first at Elizabethtown, then at Princeton, in the war, in New York Court rooms, and now in government…It is not so hard to imagine that Burr went so deep he threatened Hamilton’s reasons for being, making [Hamilton] not just purposeless but vulnerable, and raising the specter that must have always been there, on some level, of [Hamilton being] forced to return to a bankers life [back in the West Indies]…And Burr’s shameless disregard of proper political conduct was exasperating, as Hamilton saw him as a man devoid of political beliefs."

One of many fascinations of Sedgwick regarding his main subjects are their sexual habits.  While the reader learns that Burr more than likely bedded more women than Wilt Chamberlain [albeit without his rebounding and shooting skills], Hamilton’s most famous dalliance became a public spectacle. For those unfamiliar with the story, a Reader’s Digest version: Hamilton met Maria Reynolds in 1791. She was 23-years old and married to James Reynolds.  In the pursuit of money after his finances went bad, James pushed Maria into prostitution. James - knowing of Hamilton's reputation with the ladies - thought Hamilton would be a perfect target for blackmail if he could get him to bed Maria. It was almost too easy and the plan quickly worked, with the expected results. First, Hamilton brought Maria money for food and living expenses when he thought James had abandoned her.  Soon, though, Maria told Hamilton that she and James had reconciled. Virtually the next day, James showed up at Hamilton’s office asking for a job at Treasury.  When Hamilton refused, in December 1791 James demanded money - $1,000. Hamilton paid and continued to do so as the affair continued off and on through 1792.

When Jefferson learned of the Reynolds affair [from James Monroe, among others], he selected James Thomson Callender to ruin Hamilton in print. As Sedgwick notes, Callender wrote in pamphlets that, "The Reynolds letters proved that Hamilton indulged in illicit financial speculation at Treasury. The most electrifying charge came toward the end, almost as an afterthought: ‘this great master of morality… had and an illicit correspondence with another man's wife.'" Sedgwick argues – convincingly – that even as salacious as this was, the issue would have died down had Hamilton not decided to go public with all of the sordid details, to prove that he’d done nothing financially improper. Sedgwick said even if Hamilton had just defended himself on the charges of financial impropriety alone, “his whole life would have been very different." Instead, he chose to defend himself against those charges by, "humiliating himself in the most embarrassing possible fashion...And in confessing to the sexual embarrassment, he only added a second crime. Once a figure of probity, Hamilton became an adulterer and a cheat."

As would become apparent, if Hamilton’s affairs were sundry, they were for the most part not illegal. Not so Burr.  His constant financial troubles generally led Burr to look at illegal means of making money.  Unfortunately for him, Burr had terrible instincts when it came to investments, particularly in land. When a speculative bubble burst in 1796 he was ruined. As a member of the New York State Assembly he found opportunities to remedy – or at least ease – his financial situation.  One such case involved his work to repeal the Alien Law to allow foreigners to own land. Because Burr owned a great deal of land, if foreigners could now buy land, that would drive up land prices and help Burr recover his losses. Shortly after the bill was repealed April 2, 1798, Burr received $3,000 for his “efforts” from foreigners seeking land.  When Hamilton learned about it, he passed on the details to his brother-in-law, John Barker Church.  Church made the mistake of using the word "bribe" in public to describe the story about Burr. Burr challenged Church to a duel – Burr’s first. Each man took one shot at the other. Church then apologized and Burr accepted. The matter was settled.  For now. In many ways, though, this was the first Hamilton-Burr duel, as Church was merely a proxy for Burr’s true enemy in the matter.

The role of the Election of 1800 in the Hamilton-Burr duel is immeasurable.  The story is well known: when the Electoral College voted in December 1800, Jefferson and Burr were tied at 73 votes each, with John Adams and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney trailing with 65 and 64 respectively. Thus, the presidency would be decided in the House of Representatives. The House voting was by state – not individual membership. So, although the Federalists outnumbered the Republicans in House membership, they controlled only six states to the Republicans’ eight [with two other states lacking the majority needed to be officially for one candidate or the other].

A key factor to remember – and one underlined throughout Sedgwick’s book – is that, unlike Hamilton, Burr had no political philosophy. Thus he was free to redefine himself to be whatever anyone wanted to see in him. And while he did nothing to dispel the notion that he could become president, he seethed at the idea that he should withdraw so Jefferson could win. Indeed, Burr hoped enough Republicans would desert Jefferson to join with enough Federalists to secure the presidency for himself. The question that’s been asked for 200 years is whether or not Burr did anything to try to make that become a reality.  Sedgwick concludes that he can find no evidence that Burr overtly made any attempt to make that happen. Sedgwick strongly implies, however, that Burr covertly did his best to make it happen. This would be Aaron Burr’s undoing. It was a terrible miscalculation and was the beginning of the end of his political career.  In this, his actions were quite similar to Hamilton’s aforementioned act of political suicide – his treatise on the Reynolds affair. 

The House ballot began February 11, 1801. Over 33 ballots over the next three days, the vote remained the same: Jefferson won the eight Republican delegations; Burr won the six Federalists; with the remaining two yielding majorities for neither man.  It was only when a Burr supporter, Federalist James A. Bayard, demanded that Burr categorically state his intentions that, "Burr, at long last, became crystal clear: Words he should have spoken immediately after the popular election, he now said after a calamitous and protracted House procedure had almost split the nation in two. He 'explicitly resigns his pretensions' to the presidency...'"

By 1804, both Burr and Hamilton were considered men of the past  As Sedgwick points out, by that point honor was about the only thing either man had left. It explains why Hamilton would be involved in a total of 11 duels – most of them toward the end of his life. While Burr would be involved in only one more after his “appointment” with Church mentioned earlier.

After Jefferson decided to replace Burr, the Vice President decided to return to New York to run for governor. Against Hamilton's wishes, Federalists supported Burr. This, Hamilton could not allow.  Throughout the campaign, Hamilton fed newspaper editor James Cheetham with a steady stream of assassinations of Burr’s character.  The campaign against Burr worked.  Burr lost. And while there were many factors, Sedgwick notes that, "Burr instinctively attributed his loss to one man: Hamilton."

The insult that led to the duel was just one word: “dangerous”. With that one word, Hamilton – unbeknownst to him when he loudly uttered it at a party in February 1804 in talking about Burr – sealed his fate. The conversation stemmed from Burr’s run for governor. When asked about Burr’s candidacy at the party, according to Sedgwick, “Hamilton was dismissive, but, being Hamilton, he expressed himself with memorable acuity. He said that he found Burr to be dangerous. He said other things too, but that was the only one that mattered."

The exact chain connecting Hamilton’s words at a party to the attention of Aaron Burr is a bit murky.  Sedgwick does a fine job, however, of piecing together what seems likely to be the path: while Hamilton assumed he was talking among friends, one person at the party was not, a Dr. Charles D. Cooper. Cooper was so taken aback by Hamilton’s words about Burr that he jotted down a summary for a political friend [unknown], who then passed them on to The Evening Post’s editor, William Coleman, who eagerly ran them in the next edition, where they were read by Burr.

Sedgwick argues that it was the impreciseness of the word "dangerous" that infuriated Burr.  It was a word whose meaning Burr – in his political wilderness – would be desperate to pin down.  Sedgwick argues it was the ambiguity of the word that helps account for why Burr, who could ignore so much, could not ignore this. It did not help that Cooper, defending himself afterwards from the charge that he had fabricated Hamilton's comments, said that he could relate a "still more despicable opinion" that Hamilton held of Burr.

Burr demanded to know from Hamilton exactly what was meant by "more despicable" opinion. Now Hamilton was caught in a bind - he had a choice of just admitting that he had said it and apologizing; or he could engage [as was often his wont] in a lot of legalistic hairsplitting with Burr, not unlike Bill Clinton’s testimony in his 1998 deposition in the Paula Jones case.  Hamilton chose the latter, with fatal results.

A series of back-and-forth letters between the two men ensued.  By the third letter of their correspondence on the matter, Sedgwick accurately points out that Burr is the predator and Hamilton is his prey.  Negotiations closed June 27, 1804, with the duel set for July 11th. Amazingly, during the interval both men lived their lives as if everything was normal. Most who encountered them had no idea that a possibly fatal standoff was pending.

The duel itself remains a controversy to this day.  Did Hamilton really "throw away" his "first fire" at Burr as he indicated he would in a letter written the night before? Burr didn’t think so afterward, believing Hamilton had simply missed with his first shot.   Sedgwick describes the moment and the struggle in the years afterward to define it: "The shots were almost simultaneous...but according to one eyewitness were about four or five seconds apart. It is an unusual gap....Who shot first? That has never been clear, and competing narratives have sprung up to support either position...Both sides labored mightily to persuade the world that the other man fired first....If the evidence favors (Burr), it has been (Hamilton's) position that has won the day. In this, the dead Hamilton outdid the living Burr."

The aftermath of the duel is adequately covered in Sedgwick’s concluding chapters.  Burr's ball hit Hamilton on his right side and he cried out in pain. Burr quickly fled the scene. "I am a dead man", Hamilton said to his physician, "This is a mortal wound." The bullet had cracked through his ribs, shredded his lungs, and pierced his liver before lodging tight against his lower spine, paralyzing him from the waist down. Almost immediately after the duel, the crowds in New York City were alerted by a bulletin that went up at the Tontine Coffeehouse: GENERAL HAMILTON WAS SHOT BY COLONEL BURR THIS MORNING IN A DUEL, THE GENERAL IS SAID TO BE MORTALLY WOUNDED.  Throughout the country the word was not that two men had fought a duel – it was that Alexander Hamilton had been murdered by United States Vice President Aaron Burr.

Burr had planned to stay on and continue living in Manhattan with Hamilton finally out of his hair.  He believed that the people would be with him and that they understood what he did, and even supported what he did to defend his honor.  Burr was grievously mistaken. Within days he realized he had to flee. He traveled first to New Jersey and then Philadelphia.  Meanwhile, before the end of the month a grand jury in New York had delivered a murder indictment against Burr.

Burr’s life after the duel was a series of machinations in treason, treachery and sex with women. He almost certainly committed treason in seeking to detach much of the land in the Louisiana Purchase from the United States and rule that new country as an emperor.  Although he was exonerated on these charges later, Sedgwick provides ample evidence demonstrating Burr’s complicity in the plot. 

After that acquittal, Burr spent the next years out of the United States, looking for a permanent home.  He went to England, Sweden, Germany, and then France.  He returned to the United States and lived on in obscurity until his death on September 14, 1836.  

Although Burr rarely spoke of the duel in years afterward, Sedgwick surmises that it was never for from his mind. A few years before he died, in fact, Burr was persuaded by a friend to revisit the dueling ground at Weehawken. As Sedgwick recounts, “It was a bright summer day, but Burr seemed unusually quiet, lost in thought, as they rowed over to the Jersey shore. After they clambered up the cliff, he had his friend stand where Hamilton had squinted into the sun. As the memories tumbled forth, Burr’s voice rose, according to his first biographer, James Parton. [Burr] recounted how much he’d had to put up with from that popinjay [Hamilton], until he could no longer bear it. Either he would have to slink out of sight…or make a stand against the slanderer, who would keep at it until he was cornered.”

The War of Two is a remarkable tale.  That two men from such varied backgrounds would come to share the same convictions about affairs of honor says much about early America.  As Sedgwick concludes, “That one [Hamilton] was a solitary immigrant of unknown ancestry, the other [Burr] is a scion of a nearly divine American lineage. That one burned with the fire of the dispossessed, the other displayed the coolness of an aristocrat. That one was determined to attain the highest rank it is adopted country, and the other, confident of his place in society, cared merely to follow his whim. That one created the first American political party, and the other nearly served as president in the second American political party. And on it went, the bright contrasts between these two, extending from their school days in the Elizabethtown of 1775 to a fatal disagreement in New York City in 1804. They were two men of nearly the same age, physique, talent, and magnetism. It seemed, ultimately, as if the country had room for only one of them."

Friday, November 13, 2015

Remembering Pelle Lindbergh

*Some of the details on the events of November 10-14, 1985 below [with the exception, obviously, of the parts about me, my cousin, etc.] come from Jay Greenberg’s Full Spectrum: The Complete History of the Philadelphia Flyers.

In an age before the Internet, before there was cable television in my house, I'm not certain exactly how or when I learned that the Philadelphia Flyers' Pelle Lindbergh had been involved in a horrific car crash.  It was Sunday, November 10, 1985.  I didn't even have my driver's license yet - just a learner's permit.  I was due to go out with my mother that day for what would no doubt be another hair-raising drive to practice my ability to nearly hit every parked car within a 10-mile radius.

Since it was a Sunday, probably one of those NFL pre-game shows were on.  Maybe the local station cut into one of those programs with the news of Lindbergh's crash.  Or maybe it was somebody listening to KYW-1060 AM Newsradio. I do remember that, by the time that I did learn of the crash, the word was that Pelle Lindbergh was brain dead. 

My first thought was of my cousin, Jim.  He completely idolized Pelle.  I mean, I loved Pelle, but Jim had taken on Pelle’s persona and style in goal himself in his local street hockey league. Jim was going to be devastated.  I don't remember if I called Jim [no texting or emails], or if he called me.  I do seem to remember us talking on the phone at some point that day, but I can't recall any of the details. I also remember well that Jim went onto his dad’s computer some time over the ensuing days and - on a dot-matrix printer - produced two banners [one for me, one for him] that read ‘Pelle Lindbergh 1959-1985”. It hung in my room until I left home for the final time six years later.

The news said the accident had occurred early in that morning. We were told that Pelle had been taken from the accident scene at Somerdale Elementary School in South Jersey to JFK Memorial Hospital in Stratford, just two minutes away.  It was there, at a 10 am press conference in the hospital cafeteria, that Flyers' physician Dr. Edward Viner informed the media that - for all intents and purposes - Lindbergh was dead.  He would be kept on life-support until his father, Sigge, could arrive from his native Sweden [ironically, Lindbergh's mother, Anna-Lisa, was visiting him in South Jersey at the time of the accident].

By some point in the mid-afternoon, the word was that Pelle had been drunk, which changed considerably the dynamic- feelings went from sorrow to anger at the stupidity of driving a Porsche 930 on a residential road at all - let alone after a night of drinking at speeds exceeding 120 mph.
There had been murmurings among the fan base about Pelle's driving fast cars.  Just rumors.  But inside the locker room, his teammates knew this was no over-hyped 'athlete-gone-nuts-with-a-new-toy' story. Pelle drove too fast and his teammates and management had been concerned for some time.  Indeed, it was not unlike the discomfort in the New York Yankees' locker room in 1978 when Thurman Munson first bought his own airplane. He flew too recklessly, in the opinion of many. And, by August 1979, his teammates’ fears were realized and Munson was dead. In Pelle's case, his teammates were similarly concerned about his driving speeds.  But in the code of young males, there was just concern, not any actual action taken.

Then-general manager Bob Clarke would recall that - when Lindbergh had bought the 930 in 1983 -  he had taken Clarke [then a teammate] for a 'test drive'  After a mile or so, Clarke had had enough and made Pelle pull over. "He scared me," Clarke recalled shortly after Pelle's death. "We told Pelle he had to slow down.”

So, in that pre-Internet age, I waited for the newspaper the next day to read the full details - disbelieving all the while that Pelle was really gone.  The newspapers said the story began Saturday, November 9, 1985.  Lindbergh had sat on the bench for the Flyers' game against the Boston Bruins, with Bob Froese getting the start in goal.  Earlier in their careers, both men - who came up at the same time - had been in fierce competition for the number one goalie job.  Pelle had slammed the door on that competition the previous season as he led the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Edmonton Oilers. Indeed, Lindbergh’s status was such that - just prior to the 1985-86 season, the Flyers had signed Lindbergh to an unprecedented 6-year, $1.7 million contract [which, somehow, Pelle had neglected to sign yet.  Ironically, a signing ceremony had been planned for November 11th. Flyers' owner Ed Snider said the Flyers would fulfill the obligation of the contract even without Pelle's signature].

There had been a long-planned party set for later that Saturday night at The Coliseum, the Flyers' practice facility in Voorhees, New Jersey, [there was a five-day layoff before the next game, scheduled for Thursday November 14, against those same Oilers].  Lindbergh's fiancée, Kerstin Pietzsch would later say that Pelle didn't even want to go out that night, but felt that he should be with his teammates, The night began after midnight at a Bennigan's on Route 73, where Lindbergh drank three ten-ounce drafts of beer before 2:30 am. Pelle then got into the Porsche and drove at speeds in excess of 120 mph to The Coliseum for the party,. How much Lindbergh drank at the Coliseum remains unknown even 30 years later.  While some reported him drinking two mixed drinks and a beer at The Coliseum, teammate Rick Tocchet recalled that he himself had bought Pelle two beers. Yet, others reported seeing Lindbergh without a drink for most of the party.

At 4:45 am, when the lights came on and the bar stopped serving, teammates Murray Craven and Tocchet agreed to meet Lindbergh for breakfast after Lindbergh dropped off two friends [Kathy McNeal and Ed Parvin] to their respective apartments, as both said they were too tired to stay out any longer. Lindbergh's Porsche turned onto Somerdale Road, accelerated, and swerved into the opposite lane before correcting itself upon reaching the intersection with White Horse Pike and stopping for a traffic light. Then, at the intersection of Somerdale and Ogg Avenues, where Somerdale turned sharply to the right, the Porsche continued instead straight towards the wall of the elementary school.

Upon impact, the car collapsed into itself like an accordion, leaving Lindbergh pinned against the wall while his passengers were slumped in the passenger seat. When ambulances arrived, McNeal was the only one of the three who was conscious. Rescuers could see that Lindbergh's leg was badly broken and he was bleeding from his nose and mouth.  

Sadly, even with all of this, at this point in time – moments after impact - Pelle might have lived. Rescuers found a very strong pulse on him. The problem was that his body was pinned up against the wall and the only way rescuers could reach him was to free the victims through the passenger side - a process that took 10-15 minutes before Lindbergh could be removed.  By that point, his heart had stopped and his brain had been robbed of oxygen for an unknown amount of time.  Rescuers using CPR were able to restart Lindbergh's heart. But by the time he arrived at JFK, Pelle had no brain activity.

By that point, it was clear to all of the medical personnel that Pelle was fatally injured. The first Flyers’ official to realize this reality was the first one to arrive, Coach Mike Keenan.  Upon arrival at JFK, he was whisked to the ER to see Pelle. On seeing him, “I knew he was dead,” Keenan would say.  The gruff coach leaned over and whispered to his fallen player, "We went through some good times together, didn't we?" Keenan then broke down and left the room.

In the end, Lindbergh had suffered many injuries. In addition to the badly broken leg, Lindbergh had also fractured his hip, his jaw, and - in two places - his other leg. While being able to reach him in the vehicle sooner could have saved his life, it is more than likely that he would never have played hockey again. In the ensuing months to follow, both McNeal and Parvin recovered, although the latter was left with permanent slurring of speech and a loss of feeling in his right hand.

Then there was the blood alcohol level.  This would be in dispute even 30 years later.  Initial tests reported – and remain the figure cited by many sources – that Pelle’s blood alcohol level was 0.24 - a seemingly inhuman amount. It was the equivalent of drinking ten-and-one-half ounces of 80-proof whiskey within 45 minutes on an empty stomach.  Every person at the party who was interviewed reported that in no way was Lindbergh “falling-down drunk” at any point.  This was born out when a second test indicated the correct blood-alcohol reading was .17 - still over the .10 legal limit, but not the astronomical first figure. Few news outlets reported the second, updated blood alcohol figure.

Lindbergh officially died the following day, November 11. One little-remembered aspect of the tragedy was that Sigge and Anna-Lisa agreed to have Lindbergh's organs harvested for transplant. Subsequently, Pelle's liver was implanted in a 30-year old Delaware man at Thomas Jefferson Hospital. His kidneys were transplanted at Hahnemann Hospital, One of his corneas was implanted in a 30-year old Philadelphia-area resident at Scheie Eye Institute; while the other was transplanted at Wills Eye Hospital.  Finally, a man named John Keeler, 52, of Northfield, NJ, received Pelle's heart after being on the wait-list for a transplant since August.

The Pelle Lindbergh story is a tragedy, of course. That his family was gracious and thoughtful enough to make the difficult decision they did and provide life-altering medical advancements to at least five human beings was a great legacy out of an otherwise tragic waste of what might have been.

There is a final irony.  Five years ago – on the 25th anniversary of the accident – a reporter caught up with Lindbergh’s then-fiancée, Kerstin Pietzsch.  Years later she married a man – not a hockey player – and has had what she described as "a good life".  While her husband isn’t a hockey player however, they have a son.  He plays hockey. 

He’s a goalie.