That night I was working in my lab at Hunter College on 68th St and Park Avenue (not that far from the Dakota). I was 26 years old and a huge Beatles fan (I saw them at Shea Stadium in August 1965). One of my friends called me around 11:45 PM to tell me that John had been murdered. I dropped everything and ran over to the Dakota where there were already more than 100 fans outside the building. I stayed there for a few hours, crying and singing. Hard to believe that it is 40 years later–John is frozen in time. We are so lucky to have had him in our lives (reminds me of a song :).
In early-to-mid December 1980, as my first semester as a Ph.D. student wound down, I worked on a side-project, transcribing all of the vocal and instrumental parts of Abbey Road (in the days before any such scores were available) for an essay I’d hoped to write.
I was actually copying John Lennon’s voice at the time my dorm neighbor ran in to tell me that Howard Cosell had just announced that John Lennon had been shot. I had trouble at first determining whether I was awake or dreaming. I went to the TV to get the ultimate word of John’s death and walked away speechless.
The next morning, I wore a black armband (cut from a sock) to teach, and that afternoon walked from one record store to another to commiserate with fellow Lennon lovers. I made ridiculous purchases, such as Capitol’s paired single-LP reissue of an album I disliked, Rock and Roll Music, because new vinyl had always been my way of getting close to the Beatles. I sympathized with Paul when he was asked to react, for a worldwide audience, when totally unprepared for such a shocking event. A candlelight vigil was held on the UM Diag on the 14th, when hundreds of us sang John’s songs without joy. I wrote to Yoko, to pour out how important her husband had been to me and to the world, and she was gracious enough to send me a card in return.
To this day, I cannot deal with this death; I rarely participate in conversations on the topic, as it is too painful and so confusing. Of course, I frequently wonder how John’s life and music would have continued to unfold. I know that but not for John Lennon, my life would lack the richness and purpose it has had, and in that I am profoundly fortunate.
The last time I saw John Lennon was on December 6, 1980, just two days before he was brutally shot to death. I was one of the assistant engineers on the Double Fantasy project, and this was six weeks after we’d finished the album. John and Yoko booked the studio to record a radio interview with Andy Peebles of the BBC. I was the engineer on the session.
The interview took place at the Hit Factory on West 48th Street, in the same studio we used to record Double Fantasy. Around 6 PM, John and Yoko arrived at the studio. John came bounding into the control room with a giant grin plastered on his face. He held up a cassette and practically squealing said, “Jon, wait till you hear what we did to ‘Walking on Thin Ice’! It’s going to blow your mind!” He was practically jumping up and down as he thrust the cassette tape into my hands and asked me to load it up. “And play it loud,” he told me emphatically.
I put the tape into the machine, we all found a place to listen, and I hit play.
I don’t think Yoko had recorded anything like this ever before. It was far and away at a new level for her music. When we recorded the basic track for this song four months earlier, as the last note was dying out, we all sat in the control room hypnotized by what we had just heard. John hit the talkback button and from the control room announced, “Yoko, you’ve just cut your first number one single!” You could tell by the looks on our faces that we all agreed with him.
Since then, at the Record Plant Studios, John had overdubbed incredible guitars that were astonishing in their power and totally contemporary in their sound. As the rough mix of the overdubbed song ended, my heart was pounding. To think I had actually been a part of this song, had seen it grow from infancy into such an astonishing piece of music. I was overcome with emotion.
After we’d all recovered, it was time for the interview. I took John, Yoko, and Andy Peebles out to the studio and showed them the setup. They took their places and I went to the control room to get levels. They were out there chatting, and it wasn’t more than a couple of minutes before I hit the talkback button and told them I was recording.
At the end of the session, everyone said goodbye, Andy Peebles and his BBC comrades asked John and Yoko if they could take some pictures with them. Of course, it was fine and they all posed together while the photos were taken. John and Yoko thanked me and we said goodbye. I never saw John again.
Two days later, on December 8, I was at home, which at the time was pretty unusual. We assistant engineers did not have a lot of down time. So I was sitting at home watching a rerun of the TV show “M*A*S*H” when the phone rang. It was Ross who worked in the maintenance department at the Hit Factory. He asked if I’d heard the news yet. I asked what news, and he told me there were reports that John has just been shot outside the Dakota.
It was like an electric shock ran through my body. It started in my stomach and radiated out through my entire being. I started flipping through the TV channels in disbelief, looking for news and hoping, but not believing, that Ross might have been mistaken.
Nobody was talking about it at first but a few minutes later the reports started coming. I stayed up most of that night flipping around the TV dial watching as the news spread around the world.
Since that night, I have never heard “M*A*S*H” without thinking of John and that terrible night. I don’t think I ever watched the TV show again.
Living through this experience taught me an important lesson about the preciousness of time, friendship, and family. We only get one shot at life, so we should treasure every moment of it.
I very clearly remember hearing a rumour that John Lennon had been killed whilst locking up my push bike in the bike sheds when I arrived for school that morning. However, no one seemed to know if it was true–or even which Beatle it was for certain. And being stuck at school, and long before the Internet, there was no way of checking. I think in the end someone tuned into the news on the radio, and we heard it confirmed.
It was the first celebrity death I remember that felt genuinely shocking. Some major figures had died over the past two or three years–Elvis and John Wayne spring to mind in particular. But they felt like they were from a different era. And there had been Ian Curtis, of course, who was tragically young, but I knew him more through grainy black and white images in the NME.
In the days that followed, I remember devouring all the news reports, the press coverage and then the commemorative magazines, which followed a little later. They’re still somewhere up in the loft. Forty years later, it still seems such a tragic and senseless waste.
Very early on the morning of December 9, 1980, at around 5 o’clock UK time, I took a call from the security man on duty at EMI’s Manchester Square offices. Bob–and it’s odd to think that he was probably the first person in the famous old British record company to hear the news–told me that John Lennon had been killed in New York.
He rang me for two reasons: firstly because I was head of press for EMI Records and secondly because he was being inundated with calls from the media who were anxious to get our response to the tragic news.
Following Bob’s call, I left my home some 30 plus miles out of London and drove to my office where I met with the executives who had already arrived and we discussed how we were going to deal with things. We created and issued a statement of sympathy and sadness and also collected comments from those people who had been long connected with John–former EMI chairman Sir Joseph Lockwood, retired managing director L.G. Wood, Abbey Road manager Ken Townsend, and my boss Bob Mercer, who had spent some time in New York during the mid-seventies trying to get John to re-sign with EMI. Indeed, Bob proudly told me that John had taken to calling him “Bob Have Mercy.”
The rest of that day–and a good part of the evening–was spent fielding calls from press, radio, and TV as they searched for talking heads, information, and comments plus details of our plans concerning John’s recordings for EMI both with the Beatles and as a solo artist. What none of them realized was that no Beatles or Lennon records had ever been deleted from our catalogue, so we re-issued nothing, but just re-pressed a lot as demand for his records grew, eventually taking “Imagine” to number one and “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” to number two on the UK singles chart.
It was a weird and hugely sad time not helped by one of our finest “heavyweight” Sunday papers calling within days to ask if we would do a deal with them and offer all John’s recordings to their readers at a special price. I gave them a resounding NO!
The renewed interest in “Imagine” also brought about calls from parents whose children (presumably too young to buy the record in 1971) had bought “Imagine” in the aftermath of John’s death only to discover that the B-side “Working Class Hero” included the f-word. They were incensed and annoyed that we hadn’t censored or re-recorded it before putting it out again. It gave me great pleasure to point out that the record had not been re-released, it was the original version as John recorded it in 1971, and he was now dead for Christ’s sake. Not very diplomatic, but. . . .
John’s death was a tragedy, not just for me but for all music lovers. Musically, he was my favourite Beatle and the only one I never met during my time at EMI and, while I would not have expected him to be Mister Charming (I had heard all the stories about his sarcasm and cruel wit), I was disappointed that the various plans we put together during the seventies for a welcome home “do” whenever he came back to the UK never materialized.
I was there–there being the night of December 8, 1980, in bed wondering who could be calling me this late. This was before answering machines, so the phone kept ringing, and when I picked it up, the worst man I had ever been involved with, a man I never wanted to see or hear from again, was on the line. His message was short: John Lennon had been shot. He was dead. Howard Cosell had interrupted the football game to announce the sad news. This phone call was the nicest thing my ex had ever done for me. He was a Lennon fan and knew I was too, so he extended that courtesy, for which I’m thankful.
Stunned, I went back to bed, and in the morning my mission became clear: watch every TV news show I could, listen to every radio in the house, and do this for a few days because all that we had now of John Lennon was his voice, his marvelous, one-of-a-kind voice. I had to hear his voice, and so I channel-surfed, sat and watched, sat and listened, sat and cried.
How has John Lennon, and the Beatles affected my life? Well, that’s a long, wonderful story, one that would take a book to tell. So, after I retired, I wrote the book. To answer the question in a few words: John Lennon inspired me to be who I became. I didn’t know how inspiring he had been until I began writing about him and the band.
I was watching the football game when Howard Cosell announced the horrible tragedy that was unfolding in New York City. In total disbelief and denial, I immediately tuned into WBCN, Boston’s top rock radio station. They were playing nothing but Beatles songs, so I knew it was true. John Lennon had just been murdered by a crazed fan in front of the entrance to his apartment at the Dakota.
As shocked disbelief gave way to utter sadness and tears, all I could think of was four short months ago, on August 7, 1980, when I photographed John and Yoko in that exact spot. They were exiting the Dakota, crossing the sidewalk and stepping into their awaiting limo that was taking them to the Hit Factory. It was the first day of the “Double Fantasy” recording sessions, and I had been hired by Yoko to do publicity photos.
A small group of fans had assembled in front of the Dakota that day to get a glimpse of the famous couple and maybe an autograph. I remember hearing voices right behind and next to me as I clicked and backpedaled out of the entry tunnel and onto the sidewalk. I heard a woman say, “Oh wow! That’s John Lennon.” Another person shouted, “Hi John.” And a loud male voice just to my right shouted something that had John turning his head and shouting back, just as I was taking a picture. “Darn,” I remember thinking, “this crowd is wrecking my shots.”
As I pivoted around to photograph John departing in the limo, the small crowd moved in closer behind me and I remember feeling vulnerable, like I might get pushed into the street. I recall thinking, “Why are all those people here? It doesn’t feel right.”
I will never forget my clock radio waking me up in my Freshman dorm with the news that Lennon had been shot. I didn’t listen to “shock jocks,” but I was sure it had to be a sick joke from the DJ. When they started playing Beatles and Lennon music, reality set in. It felt surreal. It felt horribly sad. It felt like things would never be the same again.
My first class that day was Music Theory, and my teacher (the Broadway composer Maury Yeston) spent the class analyzing “If I Fell.” He was visibly upset.
That evening, there was a gathering on the New Haven Green that was packed with people who, like me, were trying to process Lennon’s death. A preacher spoke and said, “We must open our hearts and forgive the shooter.” I remember the crowd shouting him down. We were all distraught–depressed, angry, frightened. If John could be taken from us in such a senseless act, what else could be taken from us? When did it say about our society?
At only eight years old, I was not as impacted by John Lennon’s murder on December 8, 1980. Today, of course, I fully comprehend the tragedy and senselessness of the act, and its lasting impact on music and culture. One cannot help but wonder what artistic direction Lennon would have traveled—Milk and Honey suggests that he enjoyed delving into new wave, reggae, and other genres. We can only speculate if he would have collaborated with other artists and experimented with other genres. Forty years later, his spirit lives on in musicians who have carried on his sound and confessional lyrics. The 1980s brought artists taking inspiration from Lennon’s political work in works like Prince’s “Sign O’ the Times” and Lenny Kravitz’s “Let Love Rule”; in the 1990s, grunge bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden took their cues from the Plastic Ono Band album’s starkness. Today, the Foo Fighters, Rage Against the Machine, and System of a Down among other bands continue Lennon’s raw sound as well as his political and confessional style of songwriting. Through his work with the Beatles and as a solo artist, Lennon’s legacy will continue to shape music and culture.
I was in my very early 20s and still living with my parents at the time. As I was getting ready for work, I could hear Good Morning America’s broadcast from our living room where my mom was ironing my skirt for me. That’s when I heard the words, “Beatle John Lennon was shot last night.” Mom called “Anne!” just as she heard the news, and I came running down the hall. I had not read the morning paper yet, and apparently neither had mom and dad or they would have been after me even sooner. They always discussed current events over their morning coffee.
It didn’t take long for my emotions to get the better of me. I sobbed all the way to work. I had been hooked on the Beatles since the tender age of five 1/2, when I sat in front of our old set and watched them on the Ed Sullivan Show with my 17-year-old sister. I even owned a Beatle wig and little plastic toy guitar. There was no turning back. I proudly carted my new Rubber Soul album to my Catholic elementary school one morning after a classmate brought her Mary Poppins soundtrack in the day before to the delight of our teacher. My offering was turned away, even though by the second grade I could recite “Norwegian Wood” by heart.
With John’s death, we were all left to wonder how he might have responded to the musical changes over the past several decades. How would he have responded to New Wave? Rap? And yes, I just can’t help it, would he have returned to the studio with Paul, George, and Ringo?
I remember watching Monday Night Football with my father, and then Howard Cosell came on and said that John had died at Roosevelt Hospital. I went into a state of shock. The rest was a blur. I took the train to Grand Central the next morning and walked up to the Dakota. There was silence and wailing. And then I walked into Central Park—sheep’s meadow—and it seemed all of us were there crying, lost. Our shepherd was gone.
PS: Fast-forward 20 years later—my son was born in the same hospital where John had died; three years later, my daughter was born there, too.
My dad and I were watching Monday Night Football when the phone rang. My brother-in-law was calling from New York City. My mom handed me the phone. She looked shaken. As my brother-in-law told me the news that was only just beginning to creep out into the world, Howard Cosell, his signature baritone betraying disbelief, confirmed what I was being told long distance: John Lennon was dead.
I was in shock and couldn’t sleep, flipping through the dial on the clock radio by my bed until I drifted off. The next thing I knew my alarm was ringing, and Imus in the Morning was discussing the shocking events of the previous night. It was true.
On the bus to school, my classmates avoided eye contact with me. They all knew how important John Lennon was in my teenage life. But when we arrived at school, waiting for the doors to open, one of my snarkier pals sidled up to me and asked, “So, do you think the Beatles will get back together?” There was an audible gasp from one of the girls standing to my left. I heard another start to sob. “You know,” I replied, without betraying a hint of the unimaginable pain the question caused me, “I think they will.” I wasn’t wrong.
Each evening after working on the White Album, George Martin would kindly give me a lift on his way home in his Rolls Royce to Marble Arch, where I would wait for the hourly night bus to take me back to my parents’ house. Quite often there would be nothing to say because we would both be very tired, it would normally be about 2 AM, and it was a very short 10-minute journey.
One night, out of the blue, George said, “I think John is going to die a very violent death.” I knew that George felt concerned about John, but I was taken aback, and I asked him what he meant. He said it was just something that he felt.
In December 1980, I was recording the Pretenders’ second album in Paris. We finished the last day of recording, and I was to fly back to England the next day. In fact, and as usual, I got to bed about 5 AM. The telephone in my room woke me up unusually early. It was my Parisian friend Jacky, who would know never to call me too early. He just said, “John is dead.”
At first, I couldn’t make out what he was saying. Jacky was crying, and he repeated himself. He explained that John had been shot and was, indeed, dead. Through my late night/early morning confusion, I deciphered his message. I remember putting the phone down and hiding under my bedsheet just as George’s words from 12 years earlier hit me like a guided missile.
There are two dates that will linger in my memory forever. The first was 6th June 1962 when George Martin had persuaded both Norman Smith and myself to work on a two-hour artist test that evening, despite it being the 18th Anniversary of D-Day. As we walked down the stairs of Studio 2 to meet the Beatles for the very first time, neither of us could have anticipated what lay ahead. They were like four peas out of a pod, all with rich scouser accents, and it took me quite a while to know which one was which. It became easier when Ringo replaced Pete Best next time round.
The second was 8th December 1980 when I was now the Manager of Abbey Road Studios. We were at home celebrating the 19th Birthday of our younger son Martin, when the sad news broke of John’s untimely death. One of my staff Allan Rouse was working late at the studios when he phoned me to say a large crowd was gathering outside. He suggested opening the window of Room 41 at the front of the building and playing “Imagine” for them. We went one better by opening the front gates and letting them drown their sorrows listening to that wonderful song in the studios’ car park. RIP John Lennon.
On Monday evening, December 8, 1980, I was in Rockefeller Plaza to see the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. In those days, the tree lighting was a local half-hour telecast, not the two-hour network plugathon of today. When the tree lights were turned on, it was a very un-Christmasy 67 degrees in New York. After that, I waded through the crowd to find a couple of friends. Failing that, I walked back to the Port Authority Bus Terminal for the ride home to Hackensack, New Jersey. After I arrived home, I called a friend who had been in Philadelphia over the weekend to see Bruce Springsteen in concert at the Spectrum. We were just about to finish up when his mother was trying to get his attention. She had been watching the nightly M*A*S*H rerun and Channel 5’s sports guy, Bill Mazer, had reported a bulletin that a man identified as John Lennon had been shot and was being taken to Roosevelt Hospital. We quickly said good night, and I dived for the radio, as I had when I heard the news of the death of Elvis Presley some 3 1/2 years before.
I turned on WNEW-FM and, within seconds it seemed, Vin Scelsa came in with the confirmed wire service report that John had died. At that moment, I became what Archie Bunker called a meathead–dead from the neck up. I spent the next few hours scanning the radio dial and taking phone calls from friends who wanted to make sure I was okay. And, being Beatlefan’s New York correspondent, I called in and left a message with some information, as if the whole world didn’t already know the news. Somewhere around 3 AM, I guess, I heard Jackson Browne’s “For A Dancer” and, upon hearing the lyric “I don’t know what happens when people die,” the reality of what had occurred suddenly made itself known, and I lay down and cried myself into a brief, fitful sleep.
For me and millions more, the psychic wound from that night and that week, culminating with the silent vigil on a frigid Sunday afternoon quite different from that balmy Monday night, simply doesn’t heal and can be easily ripped open by hearing particular songs that are remindful of that night. For me, it’s “Watching The Wheels,” which seemed to pop up on the radio more than any other that night, even though Double Fantasy had only been out for two weeks.
John Lennon has always been dead to me, the wished-for reunion of the fabulous foursome always impossible. But perhaps since I did not learn about the news of his assassination when it happened, Lennon has always seemed alive. Lennon lives on in his music of course, but he is also kept alive in the stories told about him. History, after all, is not a collection of facts, but of ever-changing narratives that evolve with the times; we hear, for example, the epic of the homebound Odysseus differently than the ancient Greeks did. At one point during his last year, Lennon himself was another seafaring man, away from home and then writing love songs to Yoko in the poetic vein of the Brownings. Although stories about Lennon are often compelling, the story of Lennon in 1980—when he looked forward to a future that would never come to pass—is perhaps even more poignant and relevant from today’s vantage point.
The morning the news broke about John Lennon’s murder, I was working at my desk in Westfield, New Jersey, when my wife, Cindy, who had left for work minutes before, came rushing back into the house to tell me what she had just heard on the car radio. Like millions of others, I couldn’t believe it. I remember slumping back in my chair, stunned, and wondering how anyone could have done such a thing. Of course, I turned on the radio in my office to hear for myself the shocking news. I had been working on a book about the music of the 1960s (Sixties Rock: A Listener’s Guide) and though I wasn’t writing about the Beatles just then, I remember having a hard writing about the group for weeks afterward.
In New York City, word could not have traveled faster if it had been hardwired to an electrical grid. At the time the impossible news came to me, I happened to be in musical oblivion at a downtown Texas style honky-tonk called City Limits. Stomping the stage in red Tijuana cowgirl boots and wailing away in the Soozie Tyrell band, I admit to tequila in my blood stream, and I nearly fell over.
Someone came stage-side and managed to say these words: “John Lennon has been shot and killed outside the Dakota.” Each player stopped cold as this was communicated from band member to band member. Daunted and stilled under the spotlights, someone finally managed to include our audience by announcing it on a microphone. They provided his name, yes, they said his name, accompanied by the impossible verb, “killed,” on a microphone. After which, I muttered something entirely witless and bitter. Which I I can only explain, I guess, by suggesting it was a failed attempt to buttress myself against the crushing pain. Understand, I had plans to grow old with John Lennon. We ALL did.
About a month before that, I’d been walking across Central Park South and John and Yoko came into view. They sauntered peacefully, holding hands about 20 feet ahead of me. Keeping my distance I wallowed in the unearthly plane their presence afforded me, from Fifth Avenue to Central Park West.
It was small consolation that the death of our generation’s most beloved musical muse did not go gentle into that night. By that time he was making the kind of music suggesting a maturity I had not yet learned. It had a selflessness about it, a way of saying, don’t look outside yourself, just be the thing you want to see manifest in the world.
Honestly, the guy could have played a hockey stick and sang limericks in onomatopoeia gibberish at this point. Yoko and he had expressed reams about that, and even so, he couldn’t avoid a great meshing of killer melodies, hooks and feel, with a touching pained honesty that drew us all into attention about the human condition. A great artist can do this, and have it resonate beyond his generation. Almost beyond space and time. Unencumbered, as with politics and fame, we can all do something with this. Be alive! Weep! Love madly! Be angry at the right things.
A love like that will never die. I am sure he will always be near me. I happen to know that he wrote that middle eight, it was in a Playboy interview.
Like so many folks, I have vivid memories of that time. I was 14 years old when it happened. I remember my father coming upstairs, presumably to tell me the news after having heard it on Monday Night Football. As it turned out, I had gone to bed early that night. When my father pushed my bedroom door open, I feigned sleep, as teenagers become well-practiced at doing, because I must not have wanted to be bothered at the time. The next morning, I woke up to see the Houston Post and the awful news splayed out across the front page. When I think about the terrible loss that evening, my thoughts always go first to Yoko, Sean, and Julian, for whom the tragedy was the most impactful. But ultimately, when I think back on the events of December 8, 1980, I realize that with each passing year, the senselessness of it all becomes even more acute and sadder still.
The night of December 8, 1980, was my generation’s “Kennedy moment”–that shared instance that people who experienced it would never forget if they lived to be 1,000 years old. Too young for the Kennedy moment, and for that matter the Beatles’ invasion and the Ed Sullivan Show, I was right in the sweet spot when it came to that terrible day. As a college freshman, my whole world was already changing, by definition and circumstance. My experience of hearing the news was far from unique–I learned about it on the Monday Night Football broadcast along with millions of Americans. But for me, the experience was personalized due to a specific confluence of events: my friends all having moved away to college, my registering for the draft, and voting in my first-ever presidential election. And now, quite suddenly, the Beatles were never going to get back together. It would not be an overstatement to say that John’s murder was the moment I realized my childhood was officially over. I remember vividly my first class at Rutgers University on the morning of December 9th. Our music theory professor came in and told us to put our books and homework away. That day, we would be going off-script to spend our time talking about “music appreciation.” To say that it was “just what the doctor ordered” would be a gross, gross understatement. But even now, I can’t believe John’s been gone for as long as he lived among us.