Just a few quick thoughts, memories really, on the 25th anniversary of John Lennon’s assassination. There are plenty of thoughtful retrospectives out there and I’m not going to try topping them. This is more personal.
First, I was only a mediocre Beatles fan and only mildly interested in John Lennon’s solo work before his death. However, some of my earliest memories of pop music involved the Beatles (I was born in 1960) and, in fact, the first LP record I ever bought was the Beatles Help album when I was 14 (45 rpm singles were more popular and affordable to younger kids back then). So while I wasn’t the biggest fan, the Beatles certainly had an impact. Their influence was simply unavoidable.
I remember Lennon best from the early 70s when he was a voice for peace. He seemed to me at the time to be part prophet and part musician. He had an almost spiritual aura about him. Songs like Imagine and Mind Games appealed to some other level of consciousness in me. And while I appreciated that, I can’t say I was a huge fan. John was good, I knew it and I took him and his work for granted.
Then came December 8, 1980. I was shocked not just by the news but by my reaction to it.
We often hear about tragedy in odd ways. I heard the horrible news that night from Howard Cosell of all people. That evening I was bored, flipping TV channels when I came across Monday Night Football with Cosell saying something about John Lennon. That seemed odd, I thought, so I stopped on that channel to see what Lennon had done that could possibly be of any interest to Cosell and MNF viewers. That’s when Cosell broke the news to me. It was like an electric shock, jolting me to me feet.
I was living in Carbondale at the time, a student at Southern Illinois University. My roommate at the time, SG, was a huge fan and it really sucked telling him when he got home that night (he was a better student than me and actually spent time in the library at night while I took care of the TV channel flipping duties). I told him as soon as he walked through the door and that same shock jolted him practically out of his shoes.
The next day on campus there was a very noticeable silence. Walking between buildings that day, no one was talking. You could feel a heaviness in the air. There were occasional sad glances from strangers. I ran into another buddy, normally a verbose wild man, and all I got was a silent shaking of the head, as if in disbelief, as we passed each other. I had never experienced anything like that day.
The night of the killing and for many days after, radio stations played at lot Lennon tunes. Some of the DJs early on that night were barely able to keep it together on the air. The songs sounded different now; more important, the messages more vital. I suddenly realized how much I had taken his work for granted. And as is often the case with death, you don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone.
Hard to believe it’s been 25 years. Although I and those around me were still quite young, a piece of that youth died that day.