Track 8 of Hamell on Trial's second album, The Chord is Mightier than the Sword could be fiction, but if it is, it's exactly the kind of fiction that suckers me into believing it's truth: great autobiographical storytelling that's utterly steeped in sincerity. It's spoken word with simply amazing acoustic guitar accompaniment --- it's hard to believe that it's just one guy playing, but it really is just Ed at his rockingest.
Update, 31 August 2007: The last time I heard Ed perform this, he improvised a little parenthetical comment at the end about how becoming a father has made him more heartbroken than ever at the thought of John Lennon never knowing his grown son. I love Hamell's take on parenting as a personally and politically radicalizing experience, yes I do.
In eighth grade, I was short, had glasses, and a squeaky-ass voice that refused to change.
Two things dominated my thoughts: James Cartino and John Lennon.
Cartino I came in contact with daily, in gym class, where he pounded the shit out of me at every opportunity.
Lennon I came in contact with in my wildest dreams.
In 1971 John Lennon spent a week in my hometown of Syracuse, NY
Yoko gave an exhibit at a museum there
Some friends of mine skipped school and got hired to do odd jobs for her
I'd tell them of my day of Cartino-poundings
They'd tell me of their day with John and Yoko
I was envious as hell.
My friends told me there was to be a private party, and I begged them to sneak me in.
They were skeptical but agreed.
I waited outside the museum for about eight hours
I had to piss real bad but I didn't dare leave
At about midnight, the back door opened and I snuck in
I couldn't believe my luck
I'd be invisible.
I'd watch. I'd wait.
The room was dark and crowded.
I saw Allen Ginsberg and some others I recognized
but no John and Yoko.
After an hour I felt I could risk a much-needed trip to the men's room
I made my way through the crowd, entered a hallway, took a few steps
and looked up to see Lennon approaching
A group from the party had targeted him
From behind me they rushed
I was carried, on a path straight as a bullet
closer... closer... closer... closer... closer...
till my chest slammed into John Lennon's.
Lennon looked down at me and barked:
It sucked to be me. I hit the men's room.
The hometown buzz from Lennon's visit lasted a month.
For me, of course, it lasted longer.
Cartino thrashed me the following Monday,
but it didn't seem to hurt as much.
Something had changed for all my life.
I didn't cry when Lennon was murdered, I was bewildered and angry.
I respected him so much, I may even have felt guilty.
Last year, while getting my baggage at LaGuardia Airport,
I found myself standing next to Lennon's son, Sean.
Tall, handsome like his father
With his mother's beautiful eyes
The son Lennon never got to see become a man
It was then that I noticed
I was crying.
—Hamell On Trial
Copyright Ed Hamell. Lyrics reproduced by permission --- see Hamell on Trial for full details.