It was a Monday evening. It had snowed a few days earlier, so the streets and sidewalks were full of slushy, dirty snow. I was in my first year of college at the University of Michigan and working as a pizza delivery guy for a company that was then only a regional business but which was within a few years to dominate the pizza delivery world. Since it was Monday, it was pretty slow – although because it was near the end of the semester, more students were staying home and studying over pizza, so it was a little busier than usual for a Monday. The banged-up car the company had me driving – some sort of Ford or Chevy, I can’t remember – only had AM radio, so I was probably listening to CKLW out of Windsor, Ontario, just south of the border (Canada is south of the US at this point, curiously), because Canadian content rules meant that there was a bit more musical variety than AM stations in Ann Arbor or Detroit could provide. Of course, that sometimes meant April Wine…but it also meant the occasional Bruce Cockburn or Klaatu track.
I don’t remember exactly where I was when I first heard the news that he’d been shot – I think for a while I was driving in a bit of a daze – but I know exactly where I was, twenty-five years ago this evening, when the radio announcer confirmed that he was dead. I don’t remember the street names, but if I were in Ann Arbor I could drive directly to the intersection where I was when I heard the news, on the way back to the store, where I pulled over, because I was unable to drive anymore.
I wouldn’t have dreamed that I would be so affected. I wouldn’t have imagined it would mean as much to me as it did. I think the whole measure of joy I’d taken from his music snapped back in reverse, all at once, as stinging sorrow. I worked the rest of the shift and walked the few blocks back to my dorm room. I couldn’t think of anything else to do, so I cleaned off the little dry-erase board my roommate and I had on our door and wrote:
October 9, 1940 – December 8, 1980