It was a Monday night, and I was working in my office when the phone rang, and a good friend of mine asked me if I had been watching ‘Monday Night Football’ and whether I had heard the news. I told him I had been working on trying to get my batch of records I was currently promoting on radio stations and setting up strategies.
“My friend knew I had met John briefly in New York City, and he said, ‘I think you’d better turn on ABC. Howard Cosell just announced somebody shot John Lennon and they think he’s dead.’
“I remember I said, ‘What? I hope you are wrong.’ And I hung up the phone and immediately turned to ABC and heard the news John Lennon had just been pronounced dead at Roosevelt Hospital.
“I started to sob loudly and my wife came running into the room and asked me what was the matter. I blurted out ‘Somebody killed John Lennon. Somebody killed John.’
“My three year-old son also heard me crying and came into the room. He had never seen his father cry and it was disturbing him. He walked up to me with a troubled look in his eyes and said, ‘What’s the matter daddy? Why are you crying?’
“I pulled him up on my knee and said, ‘You know The Beatles? You sing their songs and you watch them in ‘Yellow Submarine’? He nodded and I continued, ‘Well, someone shot John tonight. And he’s dead. And now he’s in heaven.’
“My son put his arm around me and said, ‘I’m sorry daddy.’ And then without hesitation he said, ‘I know who did it.’” I said, “What?”
“I know who did it,” he said. “It was a Blue Meanie wasn’t it?” I hugged him and said, “Yes, that’s exactly what it was.”
Meyer says working at Capitol Records was a dream come true.
“I’ve been a Beatles fan since they arrived on American radio,” he says. “I never imagined that night as I watched them on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ that within five years I’d be lucky enough to get a job working for Capitol Records selling Beatles records, and then promoting them to the very radio stations I grew up listening to.”
I remember waking up at 5 o’clock, turning on Radio 2, and hearing the news. All that day, the radio played Beatles and John songs, TV schedules were altered, and when I went to bed that night, I went to sleep hoping the day had been a dream, that when I woke the next day John would still be with us.
In the midst of it all, I remember that there was a sense how important the number nine had been in John’s life. Although he been gunned down on December 8th in New York City, in Liverpool, his birthplace, it was the early hours of the December 9th, 1980.
I was sitting in the living room of our rented house right off the Landing Lane Bridge in Somerset, NJ. I was a 3rd year medical student, my fellow med student housemates were just sitting watching Monday Night Football and chatting. I was not really paying attention to the game. Howard Cosell broke the terrible news to the audience, but I did not actually hear what he said. In retrospect, I do recall catching Cosell saying at the very end, in his nasal but dramatic way, “shot dead, outside his apartment.” As I did not hear the beginning, it barely registered at that moment.
The next instant, the local ABC affiliate news team broke into the broadcast. The camera showed the newscaster with a picture of John over his right shoulder. Now, John had been in the news of late for “Double Fantasy,” but mostly for the last five years we had not heard much of or from him. Before that, of course, if you had followed John’s career, it had been one crazy incident after another in the news during his “lost weekend” away from Yoko. With that in mind, I half smiled, opened my mouth and was about to say, “What did he do now?”
Before I could say anything, the announcer broke the story. I froze, mouth open, wordless. I was unable to breathe. I couldn’t speak, I just sat there, dumbfounded with my mouth wide open. My housemates, knowing what a Beatles fan I was even then, said something like “Chuck, try not to get too upset.” I stared at them for a moment, closed my mouth, finally took a breath, and wordlessly retired to my room. Of course, I slept fitfully, thinking of John all night.
The next day was a blur. I was doing a surgery rotation and observed some operation. The surgeon was a pompous ass that none of the student docs could stand, and as he worked he kept making asinine jokes about John’s death. I was tempted to tell him what an idiot he was, but luckily I kept my big mouth shut as no doubt that would not have gone over too well for me, the lowly med student speaking to the big attending doc, who was wrist deep in a person’s body at that moment. I did learn from his negative example–I teach residents now and try hard to be supportive of their emotional development as doctors as well as the medical stuff–as opposed to how that guy acted way back then.
Later that day I found a “free phone” in the student lounge (of course, there were no cell phones back then) and I was able to reach my older sister, who was as big a fan as me(I became a fan because of her) and then my fiancee (now my wife of 39 years) at her office in Manhattan and pored out my grief to them. That helped, I guess.
Even today, I think of John every day–of his brilliant art, of what a great influence he has been on my life. I have never completely gotten over it and I am sure I never will. I have often said–what that murderous idiot (I NEVER utter his name, will not give him the satisfaction) took away from all music fans then and born since is simply incalculable. And at the same time, if you add up all that he took from all of us, it would fill a thimble in comparison to what he took away from John’s wife, sons, family and friends. The senselessness of the act is almost overwhelming
Bless John Lennon’s memory now and always. Thanks, Dr. Womack, for providing this forum for us to share these memories; its very cathartic to connect with people who have similar feelings about John’s life, his social conscience, and his music.
Like many, I first heard about the death of John Lennon while watching Monday Night Football. At the time, I was only nine years old, but for some reason, I was allowed to stay up late that fateful night to watch the game with my father. I was just starting to get into the Beatles music, starting with the Red and Blue albums, and I remember enjoying Paul McCartney’s “Coming Up,” which owned the radio airwaves the previous summer. “(Just Like) Starting Over” was also high on the charts and I remember buying the Double Fantasy album with some allowance money. Anyway, I do not recall saying anything profound when I heard the news on MNF, but I do recall a distinct feeling of sadness in the coming days, especially that weekend when Yoko held the ten minute vigil for John on Sunday, December 14th.
I immediately became obsessed with John Lennon’s life and work, buying records and every tribute magazine that I could find. John’s message of peace and love, and also of questioning authority, had such an influence on my intellectual development and political ideology. I often think of how different the world might have been had John Lennon lived, especially during these divisive times. He had such a way of cutting through the BS, in his words and music. At the same time, he was an optimist and hoped for a better day. Not a day goes by that I do not think about John Lennon and miss him terribly.
I have so many memories. I remember that I was getting ready for my freshmen year in college when John and Yoko went into the studio to record Double Fantasy. I was at the Eckerd’s Drug Store and saw a photo of them going into the Hit Factory. I yelled out to the whole store, “John is back in the studio.” I was so excited.
My friends in college and I had exchanged Christmas gifts on December 8. Exams were to begin later that week and we needed as much time as we could to study.
About two hours later, a friend came to my dorm room and asked me if John Lennon was one of the Beatles. I said yes, he lives in New York. She told me that John had been shot by a fan outside the Dakota. I turned on the radio and heard the news. I ran to talk to friends in another part of my dorm.
To this day, I cannot wear the perfume that I was wearing that night. I was heartbroken.
I was at my best friend’s house; they were undertaking a big garden clean up and I was helping. It was a glorious day and my mother’s car suddenly appeared in the garden. She had heard the terrible news on the radio, and came round to tell and support me as she knew I would be so upset. And of course I was devastated. Such a waste.
Of course my first memory is seeing John on the Ed Sullivan Show; but my most important memory is that John Lennon’s music literally saved my life in 1975.
I was married to a Vietnam Vet at the time, one whom the war caught up with, and he had a breakdown, changing him into a domestically violent husband. On a whim, he would beat me until his rage was expended…and I would run, crawl, creep to my turntable in the living room, grab a Beatle album, let the needle drop on whatever song it choose, and my sanity was saved one more time.
This went on for at least a year or more. I wrote my first book about this relationship…but I’m not trying to promote my book…it just tells more of how, if it hadn’t been for my Beatle albums; I wouldn’t be alive today…and it was usually a “John” song that the needle fell on. I will forever be grateful to John….forever grateful.
Some of my first musical memories are of John Lennon hits when I was six and seven, such as “#9 Dream,” “Mind Games,” and “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night.” I also remember Elton John’s cover of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” then. My brothers tried to explain it to me that the song was a hit before, which made no sense to me.
I became a Beatle Freak when I was eight in 1975, listening to Magical Mystery Tour and 1966-1970.
When I was ten in 1977, I got a mix tape Sergeant Pepper on one side and Abbey Road on the other. When Abbey Road finished I cried because the Beatles had broken up and the music was so beautiful. At that point, John had taken a break from making music. Three years is a long time when you are going from ten to thirteen, while the rest of the Beatles were staying active.
I liked “Starting Over” and the other Double Fantasy hits, but I did not go to the record store to buy it, just WNEW and WLIR to listen for free.
I am sure my parents knew that John Lennon was shot late on December 8th. They didn’t tell me. My Dad hated the Beatles, especially John Lennon, and if they told me about John’s violent death, they’d just have to deal with me staying up late and being emotional about something none of us could change.
I heard it on the news the next morning before school. I was shocked that someone who sang about peace and love got shot and died violently. It was so sudden, and so soon after a comeback.
I trudged to school. very solemn, because I knew that the Beatles were never going to reunite. No more music. No hope for a concert.
That was my dream for the 1980s. The 1970s were such a let down without the Beatles, the Doors, or Jimi Hendrix. They were always so next level, so beautiful, so visionary: leaders. The whole greater than the sum of their parts, and also the Beatles were about positive messages.
In first period Math class, my dear friend, Aimee, was crying.
I was 17 and a senior in High School in suburban Chicago. Homework finished, I was watching Monday Night Football in my parent’s room. As soon as I heard Howard Cosell call out his name, I sat up stunned and knew that the news was horrible. The grief was enormous and I couldn’t sleep the entire night, listening to the radio and sobbing. The next morning, my Mom let me stay home from school, just for the morning, as she never before let me cut school. She also drove me to Woodfield Mall at its opening so I could get the new Double Fantasy album, since it was going to be a Christmas gift anyway. She also purchased a few of the 45s of “(Just Like) Starting Over,” complete with picture sleeve.
A few years ago, Jack Douglas was coming to Chicago for the Fest for Beatles Fans. I thought I would bring one of those picture sleeves and 45s that my Mom gave me on December 9 for him to sign. When I gave him the 45 in its sleeve and told him of my story, he looked at the single carefully and then seemingly in disbelief. I asked if there was a problem and he said, “of course not,” that I had a “first pressing” of the 45 and on the band of the acetate, closest to the label, John Lennon signed in his own hand, writing “One World, One People.” Jack explained that only the first pressing of the 45 contained the writing imprinted and here, in front of him, was one of those singles. He happily signed the sleeve for me.
I heard the news on the radio as I was getting ready for bed. Horrified, I dropped to my knees and said a prayer for John–the only thing I could think of to do in that dreadful moment.
Grim headlines in the newspaper the next morning amplified my grief. I reported to my job in a daze, not able to comprehend how everyone else at the large office building where I worked was going about business as usual. In the hallway I met up with Ernie, a free-spirited guy who worked in the mailroom. “I feel so sad,” he said and shared with me his love for John. My floodgates opened and I poured my feelings out to him. To this day, I’m grateful to Ernie for giving me that release.
That evening, I called my sister in Canada. We had grown up loving the Beatles together and had seen them in concert in 1966. John was always her favorite. It was a difficult conversation, choked with our emotions.
Over the next few weeks, I bought every newspaper and magazine I could find that covered the tragic story. They are stored today in one of the cartons filled with my Beatles collection. In the forty years that have passed, I’ve never been able to look at them again.
Watching Monday Night Football. Time was frozen. Made no sense. Difficult to fall asleep. Hoped it was a dream. The dream was over. Life was never the same. Glad that I saw the Beatles in 66 at four concerts.
I heard the news late at night on Toronto radio station 104.5 CHUM-FM. Host Larry Wilson delivered a bulletin with words I will never forget: “Some goof with a gun has shot John Lennon.”
Two nights later, I stood in the cold at Toronto city hall with thousands of others, heartbroken and singing the songs of John Lennon and the Beatles.
My family briefly got to know John Lennon 16 years earlier. I was working late that night and for some reason friends called me from all over the country to tell me as if I still knew him. I only met the man once, but my friends wanted to commiserate with me. That made it worse for me.
Since I was only eight years old when John Lennon died, I remember little about the actual day. Only five years later, I transformed into a full-fledged Beatles fan, and thus better appreciated the loss. As I continued learning about the Beatles’ music and delved into Lennon’s solo albums, I couldn’t believe that this remarkable musician, singer, and activist for peace had been so violently taken from us.
Today, one can only imagine what Lennon would think of our world. However, his brutally honest lyrics translate to 2020, and his music will continue to live on for generations to come.
In the late fall of 1980, I was working for a British book publisher that had recently established editorial offices in Manhattan. When my youthful avidity upset their comfortably underwhelming publication schedule by getting national press attention paid to several arts/music/pop culture titles from their academic list (all hail Greil Marcus, RS, Trouser Press, et al), I was promptly transferred to cause such trouble in the new trade division instead. First assignment, two Beatles books whose pub dates were coming right up. I had misbehaved myself into heaven.
You see, ever since February 9, 1964, the only way I knew to keep track of my own life events was by what the Fabs, and later, John in particular, were up to concurrently. (What we now know to call C-PTSD can so disrupt the recall and identity formation of children raised in an atmosphere of perpetual fear and violence, external helps – like the joy and transcendence of that music, those minds and wit – can become reliable proxies for one’s own missing frames of self-reference, bonding, and memory function.) In short, the Beatles, and later John, Paul, George, and Ringo discretely, provided the sense of affirmation, inspiration, and belonging in the world my family could not. In shorter still, they meant, they were, the world to me.
The evening of December 4, 1980, I left the company holiday party early to meet my favorite WNEW-FM disc jockey at the station while he finished his shift. Then we went out to dinner to discuss promotional ideas for “The Beatles A-Z,” due out the next week, and to revel in John’s happy reemergence via the just-released “Double Fantasy.” This was gonna be fun, and it was looking as if we’d get some cooperation from the starting-over man himself.
A few nights later, I was puttering around my apartment with the TV on. WNBC’s Sue Simmons broke through regular programming to announce that John had been shot. (As I took in the words, I thought I perceived a slight smirk on her face, which, of course, was not, actually; still, I felt an irrational, reflexive hatred toward her for decades because of it. Sorry, Sue, I now know you’re the coolest.)
Next report, he was dead. This could not, could not be true. Yet it must be. The dissonance between the sound of those words and reception of their meaning blew out my mental motherboard. To this day it doesn’t quite square up. I remember a searing pain in my heart and soul sharper than any before or since. I wailed, I cried myself dry. Then I went numb. I turned on the radio hoping to hear it had not really happened; instead listening to my friend and others struggling to process the inconceivable horror, struggling to breathe and to speak. I called or was called by a few friends and colleagues who had likewise just lost all semblance of equilibrium. Then I zombied my way into Midtown. I did not want to go near the Dakota; that would make it real.
I walked the streets all through the night. I rode the subway in a daze, the nightmarish headline on repeat in every lap the whole length of the train car. I’m pretty sure I yelled at some straphanger for laughing, for smiling. How dare they?
It occurs to me only now why the whole office turned its attention to me as I wandered into work the first morning of that endless night. (I would not sleep a wink for several more days to come.) Normally dressed the part of the chic whippersnapper, I was a mess: torn, paint-dappled jeans, pajama top, salt stains striping my cheeks from behind Ray Charles dark glasses, probably stinking to high heaven. And I was mute. The publisher himself took me into his corner office for a reassuring chat.
“Now, Lindy,” he said in the avuncular Viennese accent that had coaxed some of the 20th century’s most infamous literary works out of censorship and into the light, “Can you really imagine John Lennon playing rock and roll when he’s 60?”
Well. You can imagine my answer. I wouldn’t be surprised to find it’s still echoing off the East River and well into outer space.
December 8, 1980 remains the worst night of an especially, ludicrously difficult life. Because with John’s murder, all of us died a little and lost so much that can never be reclaimed.
I was 32 at the time, sitting in my kitchen while the New York 11 PM news played in the background. As I heard Chuck Scarborough on NBC give a report of John Lennon being shot, I ran into the living room. I called the first friend I knew who would want to know. As we were on the phone, the update came on that John Lennon had died.
That began the darkest days of my life. I had met John and Yoko for the first time on August 30, 1980, outside the Hit Factory in New York. For some unfathomable reason at the time, I told my friends, “I don’t think I will ever see John Lennon again.” Oh how I wish those words never came true..
The days following John’s murder were a grieving process not unlike how I felt when I lost my parents. John had been a part of my life since 1964; he was all about peace and love. How could this be? If anything good could come out of this horror it was that for a short time people came together. I know of family members reconnecting with their loved ones or long lost friends making that call to see how their friend was doing, because they loved the Beatles.
It took a long while before I could go back to listening to the music I loved so much without being reduced to tears. But the music finally brought comfort, and I believe that John’s message of peace is an anthem that is still much needed today.
I was almost 14–just four days away, in fact. It was the 9th in the U.K. That morning started like any other, getting ready for school. I was just coming downstairs and the phone rang, very unusual for that time of morning. My Mum answered and I heard her say, “oh my God, that’s terrible.” She put the phone down, came out of the kitchen, and told me the news.
I don’t remember the day at school, except a girl in class made a stupid joke about what happened. That evening the news was full of John, the BBC showed Help! as a tribute among other hastily put together tribute shows. The following day when I got home, Double Fantasy was waiting for me, a birthday present a couple of days early. As I put it on the turntable and the wishing bell turned into John’s voice, “Our life together…” I cried.
I never had a problem listening to John’s songs in the days and months after. It was like a comfort to me, I was pleased he sounded so happy in those final few months. I remember buying the albums one by one, getting them in whatever order the local record shop had them in. Imagine was one of the first, Plastic Ono Band pretty late on…..
I was a fan before he passed, from about 1978 when the Beatle cartoons were shown during the long summer holidays from school. I’m pleased to have had the excitement of hearing “Starting Over” when it first came out, and looking forward to the album then whatever may have followed…
John Lennon changed my life. His music, his words. Each new Lennon experience I had dragged me further and further into the Beatles’ story and the lives of those four wonders from Liverpool.
John had become my favourite while he was still alive. Obviously, he still is. Everyone needs a hero in their life. John is mine. I think I made a pretty decent choice.
Shine On John!
I was listening to the radio late that night when the DJ came on and said that John had been shot, but he had no more information. I went down and turned on the TV and switched around the channels – no news – until Howard Cosell interrupted his broadcast of the football game to announce that John had been shot, taken to the hospital, dead on arrival. I heard him say it, but the words “dead on arrival” made no sense to me in any kind of way. It was an awful night.
I was just 20 years old. A student, living in my first apartment, on my own. My apartment was plastered with Beatles posters and memorabilia. I had been a fan since I was 7 or 8. The Beatles and their music were my guideposts in so many ways throughout my life. I lived and breathed their messages.
On that terrible night, I was sitting with my boyfriend watching football. Cosell made the announcement and I immediately choked up, my heart compressed, my whole body went numb. I kept thinking, no no no, it can’t be true. WHO, WHO in the world would want to harm John?
I wanted to run and get in my car and drive to New York City; I wanted to be close to him, to send my positive energy to him. I was a poor college student; I just couldn’t do it. I stayed plastered to the TV, hoping and praying he would survive. I couldn’t imagine the pain Yoko was feeling, I thought about how she would tell Sean, how Julian would find out. I thought of Paul and George and Ringo. I thought about the world, and what it would be like for us to lose the voice of our generation.
I cried and cried for days. I still cry. I know I didn’t know him, and he didn’t know me, but I felt like I lost a part of my soul that day. My walls are still plastered with Beatles memorabilia and I still listen to the Beatles and all the solo music everyday. It still bolsters me when I’m low, energizes me when I’m happy, comforts me when I’m sad. It’s the music of my life, and John Lennon was a huge part of that. I will always hold him in my heart. He is not a legend; he is THE LEGEND.
I was 15 and had grown up listening to the Beatles. My mother said she played the records to me while she was pregnant with me. I was a teenager and exploring many different music genres at the time, but was very excited about Double Fantasy and totally enthralled! I was already thinking about the day when I could go to New York City and dreamed of meeting John in Central Park.
I was determined that he would be the first Beatle I would see in concert. It was a Monday night and I was finishing homework and had been listening to “Drive My Car.” My mother walked into my bedroom sobbing and told me she had just heard on Monday Night Football from Howard Cosell that John had been murdered. I don’t remember anything else but sobbing that night and then wishing I could be part of the vigil at the Dakota. To this day, John is my musical hero. ❤️
Like so many people were doing, I was watching Monday Night football and I heard Howard Cosell say that Lennon had been shot. Shortly after learning that John had died, I went to bed and turned on my radio to WABC out of New York City. I listened to them play Lennon and Beatles music all night and into the next morning
I was in the 8th grade in my bedroom in Kingwood, Texas. I had a rough day at school. I was on my period with horrible cramps and completely miserable. I came home from school and immediately put on my pajamas and went to bed with Tylenol and a heating pad. Four hours later, my mom came into my room and woke me up. “Someone just murdered John Lennon!” I was a huge fan. I burst into tears!!! It was a horrible day! I think about it every year.
Dad woke me up with the news, I played ‘Double Fantasy’ again with coffee, I’d bought it on release day, so it was familiar to me. One of my mates came round to the house, we both cried a bit. John Lennon had been my hero through lots of things, including the bullying, from me being 9 years old, when I discovered his music, ‘Sgt. Pepper’ was my go-to album, because he sang ‘Blackburn, Lancashire’ and that’s where I’m from.
I was now 15 and he was gone. A crazed fan, the radio said, but how could this guy be a fan? “Someone, the devil’s best friend, someone who offended all.” With those lyrics, George nailed it–for all of us. Me and my mate went to Liverpool, our first ever trip, over the next few years it became our second home! People cried, there were flowers, we went to Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields. The next day I bought all the morning papers, everything felt odd. What do you do? I ordered ‘Double Fantasy’ on Japanese import.
I miss you John Lennon, I wish I could have said thanks.
It was the first time I saw my Dad cry. He cried that whole week. I was born in 1976, and though I was too young to understand or even really know who John Lennon was, I understood that something sad had happened on that day in 1980.
As I got older, I searched for music that represented MY youth. Punk rock was something that spoke to me. Bands like the Pixies and Nirvana were raw and abrasive and full of rage and hope. I also got into classic punk bands through an older neighborhood kid who had a switchblade and a pet snake. He played a record by the L.A. band the Germs and told me about Darby Crash, the singer who died the day before John Lennon. When he mentioned that fact, a flood of memories came back and I remembered how sad my Dad had been.
When I got home I played one of my Dad’s old 45 rpm records that I had inherited when he switched to CD’s. It was “Instant Karma” and the label said PLAY LOUD. I did, and “Holy S#%*! The energy! The excitement in the grooves jumped out of the stereo! This wasn’t “Yesterday” or “The Long and Winding Road.” This was punk! The Plastic Ono Band was as raw and honest as the Stooges or the Ramones, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono were the real thing. GIMME SOME TRUTH.
I had worked that morning as a country music deejay on WAFL-FM in Milford, Delaware. My wife and I went to bed early that night (I had to get up at 5 AM to get to the station and be on the air at 6). Suddenly, the phone rang; it was my friend Rob, telling me that Lennon had been shot. I was still half asleep, but I woke up quickly. Stunningly quick.
I stayed up all night, listening to one of the Philadelphia FM stations, which naturally devoted all of their overnight programming to Lennon. I went into my station on time and really tired.
Since our format was country, our music/program director was against airing an Associated Press radio special about Lennon that was hosted by Meredith Viera (in her pre-television days). I had to really convince him that this was a cultural event, and our listeners likely liked the Beatles and Lennon (at least a little). I won the argument and aired the special.
The rest of my on-air shift that day flew by; I was so tired and upset. I went home and listened to Beatles music the rest of the night. What else could I do?
I was 13 yrs old, living in Mississauga, just three miles from where John & Yoko had stayed when visiting Ronnie Hawkins years previously. I was the youngest of six, and the Beatles were a constant soundtrack in our family home. I had recently taken up playing guitar. John was my favorite Beatle. Literally it seems there is a “John” for every season of my life. Then on the cusp of my teen years, it was the John seen in old concert films – cool, witty, and a bit rebellious.
On December 8th, I listened to his Rock and Roll album on headphones before being called off to bed – “You Can’t Catch Me” floored me (still does). I woke up at the typical time by radio alarm at 7:10 AM, but on the morning of December 9th it was different: Midway through the verses of “God” (John’s seminal statement from Plastic Ono Band), my radio alarm sounded tuned to Q107, Toronto. On the song’s final refrain, the usually madcap morning man Scruff Connors broke down on the air – the mic on – then realizing it apologizing and said, “I don’t want to be the one to tell anyone who hasn’t heard this yet, when the news broke last night.” His voice revealed the news before he even said it – I knew. Scruff Connors then said “John’s gone.” Not his last name, just “John.”
I cried so hard it hurt.
Too often when I hear the song, “God,” I thing of that moment–like a punch in the gut. At the age of thirteen, that was the moment I realized how cruel the world could be.
I will always remember it because it was the day before my birthday. I was a student at the time at Lancaster University. Because of the time difference in the UK, I woke up in the morning to the news of John’s death, and like everyone else couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was a shock for me personally and a shock to the world. It felt like the entire globe was in mourning–such was the universal presence of John Lennon.
I was 16 years old. I’d just gotten the nerve to walk into a 7-11 and ask the worker behind the counter to sell me the new copy of Playboy magazine with John’s interview (and Barbara Bach’s pictorial). I’d brought the magazine into my room and was sitting on the floor going through the interview (after looking over Barbara Bach) with Monday Night Football playing along on my old little 12” B&W television. You can probably imagine what happened next. I heard Howard Cosell make the statement about John being shot. I immediately got up and flipped the channel to the local CBS affiliate where I saw the Breaking News screen and heard that he was dead.
I spent the night listening to radio tributes and getting as much other information as I could find. I was tuning in stations at the hour on an AM radio to hear the latest updates, hoping that the news might change. I had school in the morning, so I tore up the elastic arm on a white t-shirt and painted it black and wore it to school the next day. I saw only one other black armband on a teacher’s arm. His looked a lot better than my monstrosity, but I wore it proudly. John’s death pretty much summed up the rest of that month for me–sadness about the tragedy, as well as realizing what we all had lost.
I was 15 years old, and wouldn’t turn 16 until March. I was a sophomore at Salesian High School in New Rochelle, New York, and, at that time, my parents were volunteers at my school’s weekly Monday bingo night. December 8 was a Monday night, so they were at my high school calling numbers and collecting cash, and I was home alone in our three room Bronx apartment. For some reason, I remember it was a mild and damp early December night. December 8 is Jim Morrison’s birthday and I was a huge Doors fan at that time. For what would have been Jim’s 37th birthday, a local AOR rock radio station in NYC – I believe it was WPLJ, although it could have been WNEW-FM – was counting down the ten most requested/most popular Doors songs, according to listener’s votes. I had voted earlier in the day for “The End”. The countdown began at 10 PM and was to last an hour.
I was listening to the broadcast on my portable boom box in the living room while passively watching the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots on Monday Night Football with the sound down. I wasn’t terribly interested in the game because I hate both of those teams. New York Jets fan here. Anyway, the Doors countdown ended and I was happy the song I voted for, “The End,” finished at number one. At 11 PM, I switched to the local news, I believe it was channel 4, WNBC, and I started to get ready for bed. While in the bathroom brushing my teeth, I heard the words, “John. Lennon. Shot.” I seem to remember it being news anchor, Chuck Scarborough, uttering those words. My first reaction was that John had shot someone. (Hey, I was 15.)
I ran into the living room to hear that it was John who was shot, but there was no indication how severe the situation was. I remember not being terribly worried because the concept of John Lennon dying just didn’t compute. My parents came home by 11:30, and I told my mother the news. Then, it was off to bed. In the morning, I recall waking up and after a few seconds, I remembered the news from the night before. I jumped out of bed, grabbed my boom box, sat in the kitchen and as I poured a bowl of cereal, I turned on WINS 1010AM, one of the all-news radio stations in NYC. With the volume low to not wake up my mother (I think my father was already at work), I heard the commentator come out of a commercial saying something to the effect of, “Coming up, more on the death, or murder, or assassination of John Lennon.” I went cold and don’t remember much after that. I went to school that morning, which was not a good idea.
As soon as I walked into my homeroom, one of my scumbag classmates yelled out to me, “Hey DeVivo! Why can’t the Beatles go to the bathroom? There’s no john!” That set off my homeroom teacher, Mister Ed O’Connell, who was a Beatles fan. He ripped into the class and went on to talk a bit about John. After school, I went to my grandparents’ apartment for dinner since my parents were going Christmas shopping… for me I spent the late afternoon and evening, and late night when back home, crying on and off, while watching the coverage on television. That Friday, I asked my parents if they could take me into Manhattan to the Dakota to drop off flowers for Yoko. I had seen the pictures in the news of the gates of the Dakota covered in flowers, so I wanted to add some from me.
My dad drove me, and my mother, into the city and we arrived as it was getting dark that late afternoon. I was surprised to find the flowers had been removed and the gates were bare. A small group of mourners were still gathered outside on the sidewalk. I handed my flowers to the guard as he stood outside of the security booth. That was it. For some reason, I remember a guy sitting by himself on the sidewalk, leaning against the small wall that encircled the Dakota. He had his boom box blasting the “Walls And Bridges” album. That Sunday was the vigil called for by Yoko, including the ten minutes of silence at 2 PM (I think). The masses were gathered in Central Park. I was home, with a candle or two lit, and the few Lennon records I owned at the time “on display.” Keyboardist David Sancious played a mournful, ten minute improvisation of “Across The Universe” live from an empty Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey, that was broadcast on WNEW-FM during the ten minutes of silence.
I was 8 years old when John was killed. I was young but I remember watching the news and seeing people hugging and crying while his song “Imagine” played over and over. Shortly afterwards, I picked up a copy of Rubber Soul and found out why people were so sad. I started crying, too.
Vividly. That’s how I recall the next morning, December 9. I was a 16-year-old sophomore in high school, living in the Boston, Massachusetts, area. My ordinary schedule for school preparation: watching the ABC affiliate morning newscast. I read the news anchor’s face – Bob Clinkscale – as serious. Then he said those dreaded words and it was like I was living in another world. I was stunned. And then, I rushed to the bathroom and began crying. Loud. So loud I woke my parents up. My father came in and tried to get out of me what had happened. I recall I was choking on the tears so hard I could barely tell him. My state of being had crumbled for the first time in my young life.
I had made a special request back in November to a neighbor that worked at the local record store: please, please call me when John’s album comes in. I have to be there when it arrives. Devouring cover to cover the veritable Strawberry Fields Forever fanzine with images of John and Yoko by David Spindel – that was what I was waiting for. And now it was all gone. My father was very sympathetic in those minutes afterward. He knew I would miss the bus and offered to drive me to school. When I got there, everyone – everyone – knew how I was devoted to the Beatles. I could barely speak that day. Yet so many friends came up to me to convey sympathy. That’s how deep the river ran. And that’s how his legacy touched me on that December day 40 years ago.
I was in high school at the time, so that night I watched the first half of Monday Night Football in my bedroom, then went to sleep around 10:30 since I had school the next day. My dad watched the whole game and heard the bad news on TV, but didn’t want to wake me up because he knew I wouldn’t have been able to sleep if I knew what happened. When I woke up on Tuesday morning, I finally heard the news and was in total shock, but I got my tape recorder and recorded various news reports from the New York TV channels and radio stations (which I still have) before going to school, in an attempt to find out why this happened. All I remember from that day (December 9, 1980) is walking the hallways at school in a shocked daze and barely being able to say a few words to my classmates who I knew were Beatles fans, as we tried to console each other and deal with the emotional pain we were all experiencing.
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.