Stephen Andrew
Yarra River, Warrandyte, December 8 1980

Charter Arms Under Cover .38 Special

It is sweltering summer
Sparkle-bright and glared
Teenaged and tangled
I shoulder towel and go to the river

The shallows are oil-stained with eucalyptus leaves
The banks infuse the languid air with the scent of baking clay
Crisp undergrowth crackles in the wind
Ominous cicadas hiss thickly

Eighteen years old and I feel the real beginnings of salty manhood
I duck dive and swim to the rock islands in the rapids
Oh, the water
Let it run all over me

Cooled and cleansed and muddied
I end the afternoon

Word comes from a car radio in the riverside car park
Calling out, surreal, to nobody
“John Lennon
has been shot”.

Injured by the gun blasts
I scramble home and crouch in my room
Eighteen years old and as tiny as a child
In shock and trembling denial

Radio on
Beatles songs in an unending line stretch into the night
So familiar yet, new now,
and, old, and, without time

As I waited for news that he hadn’t died
that there had been a mistake
that the surgeons had saved him
Somebody played
Double Fantasy

The last song on the album
Yoko’s now elegiac hymn
Hard times are over, she sings,
over for a while

She cries unknowingly at the unanticipated
Impossible loss
I weep too for the first time that day
As she sings sad, cruel release

The song is a sigh
Clean and clear of this place
Flying beyond my room, the river, the Dakota,
And the sick man who fired the Charter Arms Under Cover .38 Special

The song floats above the gathering, grieving hoards
The blood stained glasses
The memorabilia and collectors items
And the album cover with the scrawled autograph.

Thirty years later the song is remixed, remastered and rereleased
This time it’s a gospel tune, a comfort, a eulogy, a lie, an irony, a hope,
an ache
She sings to me

“It’s been very hard
But it’s getting easier now
Hard times are over
Over for a while.”

© Stephen Andrew.


Stephen Andrew is a psychotherapist, writer and musician. A former contributor to Rolling Stone Australia, Rhythms and Juke, he is also a multi-instrumentalist of The Stereo Stories Band. Guitar, bass, vocals, drums...