Ken Krimstein -- our literary review editor -- suggested we post our remembrances of the day John Lennon was murdered and what it meant to you. It occurred to me that for the Baby Boomers and 'Tweener generation it was truly "the day the music died," the day our innocence was shattered and the new reality showed us that the 60's Utopian ideology would never, ever deliver.
Twenty-five years ago, I was watching Monday Night Football with my father in Akron, OH when Howard Cosell broke the story. I was shattered. My dad looked at me and couldn't understand why I was so upset. He muttered something about it was probably retribution for saying The Beatles were "bigger than Jesus" back in the '60s. He completely missed the irony of John back then and missed the importance of his stature to idealists at that specific moment. It was a division of age and attitude that I would never be able to bridge.
I welcome you to post your comments as well. Below are some additional thoughts from some of our editors and writers.
It was 1980, and I was about thirteen years old and in eighth grade at St.David's School on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. If I recall correctly, it was a Tuesday morning, and I remember hearing the television on just as I'd woken up for school. My mother was in the living room tuned to NBC Channel 4, who were reporting something, and the image in the story box (to the left of the anchorman's head on the screen) was a somewhat poorly rendered picture of John Lennon with mirrored sunglasses on. I remember not quite understanding why anyone would shoot John Lennon and being completely incredulous about it (despite having largely abandoned my parents' Beatles records for records by Kiss and Devo). When I got to school, class came to a standstill as everyone -- teachers included -- gathered 'round a radio to listen to news reports. The rest of the day was largely spent discussing the event. This same sort've scenario would play out again in the ensuing months when President Reagan and the Pope also got fired upon.
I grew up with the sound of John Lennon's voice, but for a long time it didn't occur to me to ask how this person had lived or died. When I was about six or seven, my father told me that he had been murdered. When I asked him who did it, and why, Dad said that he could never say the name. "He wanted to be remembered for it," Dad said, "and so no-one who really loves the music can let his name survive." That made a huge impression on me - the idea that someone could be ritually blotted out because their crime had been just that terrible. I got the idea that Lennon was kind of a saint. Later, when I was in college, I found his solo stuff -- "Mother," and "God," and "Working Class Hero" -- and those songs, which were so naked and honest, which sounded like the work of a real person and not a saint, became huge in my own life. It was only after I got to know those songs that I really started to understand what had been lost.
In 1980, I was in college at Columbia in New York City, so this was local news. Like a lot of guys, I was watching Monday Night Football and heard about it from Howard Cosell. I immediately went back to my dorm room and started calling people I knew; theyâ€™d all heard too. I spent a good portion of the night listening to Vin Scelsa DJ on WNEW-FM. He spun appropriate music, not all Beatles/Lennon; the Byrds' "He Was a Friend of Mine," about the JFK assassination, was played, and Vin made a comparison between the cultural impact of the two shootings. Vin also talked to listeners and ruminated on the situation in his intimate, articulate way; it was like therapy for his listeners and perhaps himself. The following day I wore all black and went to a piano practice room and played "Imagine" over and over before going to my music theory final exam. Also, I went out and bought the papers; the New York Post, in its usual tastelessness, had as its front page a picture of Lennon in the morgue. I bought three or four copies and sent some to friends in other cities; somewhere I still have one.
A decade later, guitarist Gary Lucas told me that when Lennon was shot, Gary was with Captain Beefheart (whose band he was in, and whose business he helped organize) at an interview and all of a sudden, Beefheart stopped and said, "Did you hear that?" Nobody knew what he was talking about. Beefheart said, "I don't know what it is, but something heavy just went down." Then afterwards when they were going to dinner, they heard the news, and the time Lennon was shot matched the time Beefheart had made his observation. Mythmaking, or a man profoundly in touch with the universe?
It was 25 years ago today . . .
I was in New York City, where I lived then as now. In fact, on the Upper West Side, John's turf. I passed the Dakota often with my pals. We kept an eye out for him. When I heard the news (on the radio?), I went blank. Someone shot John Lennon? Why would they do that? That it was a fan and he was carrying The Catcher in the Rye seemed crazy. Now I'm of the school that anyone over the age of 22 who carries Catcher with him (think John Hinkley) is someone to be wary of, someone who might shoot you to gain the love of Jodie Foster or to express some kind of confused longing to be you. My friends and I spoke on the phone, stunned. We went to Central Park. We gathered with candles. We knew it was the end of something important. And still the gun culture goes on. This is life in America.
I was in Mobile, Alabama sitting in a friend's dorm room watching Monday Night Football but listening to music. We we're having a small party. The program was interrupted. John Johnson of ABC local news comes up standing outside the Dakota apartment building in New York. Growing up in the New York City area, I was the only one in the room who recognized John Johnson. I knew that something was wrong. I lowered the volume of the stereo to hear Mr. Johnson's report about John being killed outside his apartment. The party was over. The five of us went down the hall to visit "chief". He was an old Jesuit who lived on our floor. Within fifteen minutes his small dorm room was filled with 30 students. I don't remember what we talked about, but it was comforting to have a priest in on the conversation. The next day, many students wore black armbands. Today, my wife and I sing Beatles songs in the car when we're traveling. Many of the same songs I use to sing to when I was there age. His music still lives on, which is very cool.
Henry Cabot Beck:
I admit my reaction was probably textbook in most ways -- I was in my apartment on 3rd Street, my friend Joel called and told me the news, as it was happening (Joel and I shared Elvis' death as well), and once I checked my immediate disbelief, I was hit by a wave of anger and sadness that was physical in its force. That he was murdered by a moron whose named is forever linked is an unjust irony. Some cultures retire the names of the dead, but to my mind, Lennon's assassin should be wiped from history and all databases.
As a child of the era, the Beatles were the most important icons of my adolescence and early teens, and Lennon was the one to whom I most closely felt a kinship -- his wit, anger, creativity and pain were grafted to my own, and alliances of that sort, that form at that age, are forever.
I was studying for an exam in my apartment in Evanston, Illinois -- and watching Monday night football at the same time. It gives you an idea what kind of student I was. Anyhow, Howard Cosell interrupted the broadcast to announce that Lennon had been shot. I felt like a cinder block brick from my bookcase had dropped on me. The next day, at the exam, all I could talk about was Lennon. Everyone else had been studying and just took the test. I couldn't believe it.
I had a digital clock-radio that was tuned to WNEW-FM at all times. I would set the timer and fall asleep to Alison Steele and wake up to Dave Herman. I remember being half-asleep and thinking I was dreaming when I heard the news of John Lennon's death. Then, my mother confirmed it. It was the most devastating news I had heard in my lifetime. I was 17 and The Beatles were my life.
I remember dragging my ass to high school in Sheepshead Bay Brooklyn, knowing full well that none of my bonehead friends would understand my grief. These were guys who spent most of their free time swooning over Neal Peart and watching "Grease" over and over. My two closest friends, both named Sal, (we were "The Sals" -- whatever) saw me and put their arms around me. That shocked me more than the news about Lennon.
I spent what felt like an eternity, listening to "Woman" and "Beautiful Boy." Crying, of course.
I was living in Manhattan. My actress girlfriend and I had just broken up the week before and I felt pretty good about it. Then the news came on the TV and I was in a state of shock. I was keenly aware almost immediately that this was the first case ever of an American artist being assassinated. Suddenly, the world seemed a vile and creepy place. It didn't help that it was cold and dark out and that the murder had taken place just a mile away. The next thing I knew, I was calling my ex-girlfriend to talk about it. Long story short, we spent the night together, were married within the year, and she left me after her very first professional acting job, when she fell in love with her leading man. All Mark David Chapman's fault. Sick bastard.
I was twelve at that time. I was at my grandma's apartment in Sicily. I heard the news on TV. A couple of weeks earlier I received from my parents Revolver, my first Beatles album. (I got the two Red and Blue collections on cassette tapes). I was shocked, you know, one of my new heroes was shot dead with a revolver. Even though at that time my favorite Beatles were Paul and George (the latter because of Revolver), I became an instant fan of Lennon. Especially when a couple of months later I met a fifteen-year old girl in Plymouth, Great Britain at a party and I kissed her when a song called "Imagine" started playing.
"Imagine all the people, living life in peace..."
Mr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 3 solo CDs and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was an agent at the William Morris Agency!