It’s hard to believe that John Lennon was assassinated thirty years ago today.
I can remember the morning of December 9, 1980 clearly. I was in Mrs. Capani’s sixth grade class and really into the Beatles at the time. Lennon had just released Double Fantasy and I was hoping to get a cassette for Christmas. “(Just Like) Starting Over” was not getting much radio play, but I do remember hearing the song from time to time and really liking the guitar and Tony Levin’s bass lines.
If memory serves, the morning was really cold and clear. I was up early getting ready for school and my mother was in the kitchen making breakfast for my brother and me. Calvin Coolidge Elementary was only a few streets away, so we walked to school each morning. Once there, I remember going up the stairs to Mrs. Capani’s class and running into Colleen Hannon. It was Colleen who informed me that Lennon had been killed the night before. My parents must have known, especially since the announcement of Lennon’s death was first delivered by Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football. My father would almost certainly have been watching the game. Anyway, when I heard that Lennon was dead I remember sitting on the step in disbelief. I felt as if all the breath in my body evaporated. I was crushed. I wanted to cry but would not let myself in front of Colleen.
Lennon was not the first hero of mine to die; that would have been Elvis Presley and Yankee catcher Thurman Munson. Nevertheless, Lennon meant a great deal to this sixth grade boy. He was my favorite Beatle, and while he didn’t have the melodic talent that Paul McCartney had, his songs seemed to be the ones that made me think the most. I liked Lennon for his outspokenness, his wit and sarcasm, and especially his message of peace.
It’s tragically ironic that a man who spent his life writing and singing about peace should be gunned down in front of his own home by a seemingly insignificant insect. On the morning of December 8th, Lennon and Yoko Ono gave what was to be their last interview. During that interview Lennon was asked about the future. He said that he was looking forward to growing old with Yoko and that he hoped he would live for a very long time. Later that evening, he went to the Hit Factory to work on Ono’s “Walking on Thin Ice.” That night they recorded the song and Lennon told those there that because Ono was so far ahead of her time she would not be appreciated when the song was released. He was right of course. Now, Ono seems to be the darling of club music across the world. I think this anecdote speaks to Lennon’s love for Yoko and his absolute graciousness in his willingness to play backup for what is really a second-rate act like Yoko. It was on Lennon and Ono’s return from the Hit Factory that night that he was assassinated.
I did not have to wait until Christmas 1980 to get a copy of Double Fantasy. I remember getting that cassette and listening to it over and over—even the Yoko Ono songs. Suddenly “(Just Like) Starting Over” was in heavy rotation on the radio. Double Fantasy is an album that has traveled with me for thirty years. And now, as I write these words, I am listening to the newly released Double Fantasy: Stripped Down, a collection of songs from the Double Fantasy sessions that have been stripped of some of its glossier production work. The stripped down version is a magnificent testament to the genius that Lennon was. I purchased this on iTunes, and it seems that after thirty years, the music means as much to me as it did in 1980.
Several years after 1980 I was in New York for reasons I can’t remember. I was with either my brother Tony, or my best friend, Dave Sacco, maybe both. From a parking garage in midtown we made our way to the upper west side to see the Dakota, Lennon’s apartment building on Central Park West. We stopped to look at the spot where Lennon was gunned down. An eerie feeling takes hold of you as you stand staring at the entrance of the Dakota. I stood there for quite some time, unable to speak. For us it was a pilgrimage of sorts.
It’s an indisputable fact that Lennon’s music changed the world, and it certainly changed mine. His music provided and still provides much of the soundtrack that I carry around inside myself. When I found out on that cold December morning that he was killed my childhood ended. I was suddenly aware that evil existed in the world and that bad things happen without rhyme or reason. I am happy that Yoko continues to release Lennon’s music. I find myself listening to his music a lot more since I turned 40. Now that I’m 41 going on 42, I find it hard to believe that I have outlived him by nearly two years. Thinking about it, at only 40 he seemed so much older than I am now.
Lennon’s song “God” is one of his most powerful. It seems appropriate that I end this with some words of Lennon’s from that song:
“I don’t believe in Beatles, I just believe in me.”