I was watching Monday Night Football alone in my apartment on Radford on December 8, 1980, most likely settling in for the night with Peppermint Schnapps on crushed ice. There was an interruption and, of all people, Howard Cosell made an announcement that John Lennon had just been shot outside his suite at the Dakota in New York City. Oh MY GOD! I flashed back to when I was eleven years old and they announced over the loudspeaker in the schoolyard that JFK had been shot. My first thought then, as was on that cold night in December that he was probably shot in the arm and would be recovering. JFK didn't recover and neither did John Winston Lennon and later John Ono Lennon. My musical mentor and hero was dead, brutally and premeditatedly murdered by some insane twerp who was trying to emulate the pop/rock icon. He lived in Hawaii and had a Japanese girlfriend and he wore the same round glasses as John. He tried everything possible to emulate his idol but there was one thing he could never do—he could never be John Lennon the man, the icon was still alive—so he shot him.
Mark David Chapman had gotten an autograph a few hours earlier (Lennon signed a copy of the Double Fantasy album) and was waiting in the courtyard of The Dakota on 72nd and Central Park West for him to come back from a recording session. At around 10:50 pm on that fateful day, as Lennon and Ono returned to their New York apartment, Chapman shot John in the back four times at the entrance to the building on 72nd Street. He was taken to the emergency room of nearby Roosevelt Hospital and was pronounced dead on arrival at 11:07 pm. Yoko issued a statement the next day, saying “There is no funeral for John”, ending it with the words, “John loved and prayed for the human race. Please pray the same for him.”
I was more than devastated, I was in shock. Even though Howard Cosell is long gone, I don’t think I can ever watch Monday Night Football again without being reminded of that horrible evening— the evening the music really died. I stayed in my bed on Radford for a week only getting up to stagger down to the liquor store to buy more Kessler’s whiskey, being the only booze I could afford. Even though Marly and I had broken up, she felt so sorry for me, and knew how much I had adored and looked up to John Lennon, she decided to take care of me. We actually got back together for three months and I spent time at both my place on Radford and her place on Shadyglade, about two miles to the west down Moorpark. We finally broke up for good after realizing that we were better at being friends than lovers, still is was a very kind thing for her to do, knowing how I felt about John Lennon and what a complete mess I was after his death.
I had to write a song about Lennon’s murder. Not a gruesome detail of the crime, but more of a tribute to his life. I had one verse and part of a chorus when I called Stephen. He had just spent more than a month sleeping on a cot in my kitchen listening to the electric hum of the refrigerator which, he said, put him into a hypnotic state. I think he was living back in Santa Monica, or maybe it was on Lloyd Street with his mother, Mary. With the receiver wedged between my left shoulder and my chin and a guitar balanced on my lap, we had finished the chorus and the song was really starting to take shape. After we hung up the phone, I worked on it some more but I knew it needed a bridge so I called Larry. He wrote the musical portion of the bridge and later, Stephen and I had written the lyrics to his musical passage. The song was finished in three days. Was this going to be a Silverspoon reunion all brought about by the death of Jon Lennon? It looked possible, but I was going to take it one step at a time and not try and project anything other than we were going to record this song the best we could and then see what happened. We called the song, Last Autograph. Here are the words:
He was a lost and lonely child
Growing up like a hurricane running wild.
And then a meeting with a boy named Paul
Began the dream that would soon be heard by all.
He had the love of the world but he felt alone.
Until his wife and boy became his only home
Another meeting that was set by fate
Ended the dream point bland with a 38.
It was his last autograph
Hey mister, won’t you sign your name?
It was his last, last autograph
Cut down, in the prime of his life.
Now the singer’s gone but the song remains
With words of love and peaceful change
He was a man the whole world cried for
Can’t you see it was the world he lived and died for.
It was his last autograph
Hey mister, won’t you sign your name?
It was his last, last autograph
He became a victim of his fame.
We may have lost our innocence that cold December night.
It’s got to be a lie I heard a young girl cry
We’re wounded in the battle, but we haven’t lost the fight.
(Double chorus and fade)
In early January of 1981, after the song was completed, we booked a studio in Hollywood and hired some of the best musicians we worked with in the past. Beau Segal on drums, Chuck Fiore on bass, Larry on keys, Stephen on guitar and myself, who played electric guitar and sang the lead vocal in my best Lennon snarl. Joey was slated to sing the high harmony but he had to wait around until I had finished my vocal, and then overdub his part on top of that. It was beginning to get late, but we wanted to finish the song, even if we had to go all the way until dawn. We had enough of the white powdery substance to sustain us, and I was doling it out to everyone there, especially the recording engineer, who had invested some of his own money in the stimulant. Joey was frantic and bored—not a good combination. He knew soon it would be time for him to sing, so he asked me for my “stuff”, and then went into the bathroom to prepare himself for his vocal. While this was happening, I was in the control room with Larry, Stephen and the rest of the crew putting the final tweaks on the track, you know, adding echo delay to the vocal to make it sound more like John. With that being done, it was time for Joey to do his thing.
All he had to do was a harmony a third above mine, some ooh’s and ah’s etc. We called out his name—no answer. We looked down the hallway—no Joey. He was gone and had taken every grain of the white powdery substance with him. We were pissed, but no one more so than the engineer who was part owner of the drug. The session was over. We did finish it with Brent Nelson singing the high harmony at some other studio in the San Fernando Valley since nobody heard a thing from Joey after that.
I did see Joey one last time in the middle or tail end of the eighties. He had married a woman named Faith who had a young daughter, Nina, and he was an instant family man. I was hoping the stability of married life would straighten him out, and it did for awhile, but it didn't take. He left Faith and Nina, or he was released, and once again he was a wild single man on the loose and left to his own destructive devices. He was trying and failing miserably at getting sober. I myself was having a rough time and was at an AA meeting in Hollywood when I recognized that chipmunk smile and machine gun laugh of Joey’s. We thought it would be great to catch up on some old times so we decided to go to the Café Figaro to talk and just hang out. He said he had been in and out of rehabilitation centers so often they had his name permanently attached to the door—the Joseph Hamilton wing. He was having a really rough time and I felt bad for him. Even though he had almost single-handedly ruined the session for Last Autograph, I forgave him. What else could I do? He was a poor lost soul who was too caught up in his own self destructive patterns he couldn't escape from. I was bad enough, and Stephen and Larry had their problems, but Joey’s problems were more than all of ours put together. He went in and out of rehab center for the next few years and sadly passed away in 1993 from complications of hepatitis—he had all three kinds, A, B and C. His brother Jeffrey died at the same age in 1995 from the same disease—both at the tender age of 41. I was greatly saddened by Joey’s death (and Jeffrey’s too), but more so by the fact that I never really got to know him. He was a bit of a loner and ran around with a select crowd of people that I never wanted to associate with—nobody in the band did. Joey was stoic and, as I said before, he was harder to read than Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce. Joey was a great singer and a great athlete, but as a person he never did reach his potential and was a disappointment to not only his friends and family, but to himself. I guess it was hard for him to live up to the expectations of his father, Joe, and his step mother, Carol Burnett. I wish that he had tried a little harder to push through his pain and deal with his demons, which were more than plentiful. I still think about him from time to time with an air of sadness and regret.
Back to Last Autograph. The song turned out better than expected, and in late January or early February, Larry and I drove up to San Francisco in Jeff Hamilton’s VW bug to mix the record with Richie Moore at the helm. He was teaching recording techniques in a studio on Hayes Street at the north end of the city. After we were done mixing, we headed out of town but there was an unusual amount of traffic and we couldn't understand why at that time in the evening, especially on a Sunday. We figured there must have been an accident up ahead because cars were at a standstill. We turned on the radio to get a traffic update and we caught the tail end of the sports report announcing the Super Bowl had just concluded in Oakland and we were driving right trough it’s immediate aftermath.
Everyone thought the song was great; maybe the best thing Silverspoon had done since You Hurt Me So at the Record Plant back in 1974. We pitched it to a few record companies but everyone thought that it sounded too much like John Lennon and it was so near the time of his death nobody wanted to touch it with a ten foot pole. Not long after that, Larry went back to his house on Mammoth with Jeffrey and decided he had enough. He knew, as well as everyone else, that Last Autograph would be the swan song, the last hurrah for Silverspoon. With Joey’s antics and the rejection of the song by the music industry, I also knew it was over. Stephen was the only one who still kept the candle burning in his heart for the band. It was so much a part of his DNA that he found it next to impossible to let go. Sometimes I think he still holds out hope against hope the band will re-unite, even though over one third of the members are no longer on this planet.
In September of 1981, after seeing Bruce Springsteen at the Forum, Larry and I decided to form a duo called Two Guys from Van Nuys. We had a gig at the Sidewalk Café in Venice the next night. Stephen, as I said before, had just come back from Carmel with a guitar and amp with designs on joining the Two Guys, but Larry and I wanted to keep it as a duo. Stephen was dejected and it was a year or two before I saw him again. He was, like the rest of us having a tough time with alcohol and it was becoming a real problem for him—not to mention his strict diet of coffee, donuts and cigarettes. One day in 1982 an event of which most likely saved his life occurred while smoking his usual Marlboro light and drinking his coffee hot, blonde and sweet, Stephen looked out the window and noticed a yard sale in the alley behind Jon Marr’s apartment on Fourth Street in Santa Monica. He wandered down to see if there was anything interesting to buy at a meager price, because, at the time, meager was all he could afford. He saw a Smith Corona manual typewriter and had a notion that he would write the next great American novel. Standing next to the typewriter there was an attractive brunette who happened to catch his bespectacled eye. He began talking to her and before they knew it they were falling in love. Her name was Portia, and it still is, and she has been there by his side ever since and still live together in Venice. God bless them.