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this day in history

22 years ago today, John Lennon was murdered.

I was never much of a Beatles fan, but that moment of Lennon's death stays with me for many reasons. Here is what I wrote last year, on the anniversary of his murder:

When an event happens that shapes your life, or plays a significant role in it, you tend to remember every little detail of the moment it happens. Twenty-one years ago last night. December 8, 1980. I was in my bedroom, lying on the bed with the headphones on, listening to WNEW. It was Jim Morrison's birthday, and the station was running a two hour special devoted to him. I was obsessed with Morrison at that time, and was taping the special I was listening. I know I was wearing an old Led Zeppelin t-shirt and sweat pants and I was writing a poem as I listened to the radio.

My room faced the front of the house, and the Christmas lights that hung from the roof glowed red and green and white over my bedroom window. There was a decoration hanging on the window; a big white star made out of plastic pieces melded together. The colors of the bulbs outside made the star look psychedlic. I had smoked enough pot that night to stare at the star for a length of time, imagining the colors blending into one another. My concentration would be broken every now and then by headlights beaming down the street, and I would run to the window and peer out. We were waiting for my cousin Michael, my favorite cousin, to arrive by car from Florida. I was anxious to see him and disappointed that each susbequent headlight did not belong to his car.

All the while, Jim Morrison's life story played out in the background, and I stopped looking down the street for my cousin at some point and started paying attention to the radio. I remember it was late, probably close to 11:00. I may have drifted off at some point and I was jolted fully awake by a shaky voice announcing that someone tentatively identified as John Lennon had been shot outside the Dakota apartment building in New York City. I waited, nearly numb, hoping for more news. Soon after, it was confirmed. I went inside to tell my parents, but they already knew. I think they announced it on Monday Night Football.

I was never much of a Beatles fan. But sometime in high school I went through a hippie phase and took a liking to John Lennon and his ideas. The fact that he spoke out for peace and died so violently was one of the first things that struck me when I heard the news.

The event didn't change my life the way it did the lives of Beatles fans. It didn't impact me in quite the same way as someone who was mourning Lennon the man, or the music he created. I mourned something else. I think up until that point, I still had a sense of innocence about me. I was still naive about the ways of the world. I was still all about peace and love and tranquility. I assumed the rest of the world was too. I thought we could all live in harmony and love one another and make the world a better place for future generations.

Something happened to me the night John Lennon died. I lost a lot of that idealism. I couldn't get past the fact that someone who was so fervent about living peacefully could have his life taken from him in such a way. I couldn't fathom that something like this could happen. How did we let our world get to this point, that people could just walk around murdering one another?

It was then, that very night, that my eyes opened to a new vision of the world. When Lennon died, whatever was left of the peace movement died, too. I dropped my peace sign mentality some time after that night. I gave up and gave in and became cynical like every grown-up I knew. It wasn't all because of Lennon; there were other things that lead up to it also. But the death of John Lennon - the murder of John Lennon sure as hell played a very significant role in shaping my psyche for the rest of my life.

That, more than anything, is why I remember every little detail of that night. Somehow I knew, I felt it in my gut the moment I heard the news. I knew that I would never be the same again. I ingrained that moment in my brain somewhere, marking it down as a "this day in history" of my meager little life.

21 years now that I'm a cranky bastard.

Make that 22.

Jack also has a post on this subject.


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» The day the music died from The People's Republic of Seabrook
Today in history: 1980- John Lennon murdered in New York Thanks to Michele Catalano for reminding me of the significance of today.... It was a cold December evening. I was sitting along in my dorm room at Macaleter College in St. Paul, MN. The lights w... [Read More]


I went through a phase where I idolized Lennon. As I've gotten older, I've lost that, and tend to be a bit irritated by people who treat him as a secular saint. When I read about his life and the way fans treated him, I realized he'd probably be as uncomfortable with the way some people mourn him now as he was with the way some people worshipped him then.

If you've ever read the Playboy Interviews with John Lennon & Yoko Ono, you get a better picture of who he was as a man than all that. I think it's still in print, in book form. It was quite impressive, since there were three full days worth of interviews, which were meant to be culled into one lengthy article. But since Lennon died virtually hours after that interview finally ended, they wound up publishing the whole thing in book form. Worth it.

My friend Carrie is a huge John fan. We are leaving for Strawberry Fields shortly; after going last year and having a great time just being there, singing the songs, with people of all ages and races.

I was not quite two when John was killed, so I guess I can't put my two cents in. I can't imagine what it was like to hear the news. When George passed last year, he was sick. John was gunned down. Two completely different instances.

Anyway, yeah. Here I go rambling again. If my site would ever go back up, I wouldn't have to use your comments.

I think most folks of our generation or older felt the same way, Michele. I, too, was listening to the radio that night, having just arrived home from an evening with friends. I was relaxing, listening to the Doors being played on WHCN in Hartford when the word came about what happened.

I still find it hard to believe at times that John was gunned down. I wasn't a huge Beatle fan by any stretch of the imagination (that came as I got older, believe it or not), but the impact John had on the peace movement, etc, was too great to dismiss.

Did you know that it was Strom Thurmond who tried to get Lennon booted out of the US for getting young people to register to vote? Just found that one out myself, this morning.

I think I mourned Lennon more for what he represented than his music. Like Scott, I didn't really become a Beatles fan until I got older. Still, on that night I knew that what had been broken could never again be made whole. That is what I remember being struck be initially.

I remember exactly where I was at the time. I was in a bar ordering a drink and the bartender told me. I was stunned.

I've always been a big Beatles fan. I never really liked any of Paul's songs. I think John and George wrote all of their best songs.

I never was a manic fan like some of these Elvis, John and Cobain fans, but being a musician, I always respected his awesome talent for songwriting and guitar playing.

I was born on John's birthday - October 9th.

I heard about it the morning after it happened.

I was shaving. I had tuned the radio to WJR. J.P. McCarthy was interviewing Dr. Emmanuel Tanay, a forensic psycologist, and a frequent guest.

I picked up the conversation in the middle.

McCarthy: "But why would he kill John?"

I froze. In that split second, I knew what had happened.

I dropped the razor in the sink and wiped my face. I went to the milk chute where the paperboy put the morning paper. I jerked open the door and pulled out my copy of the Detroit Free Press. I unfolded the paper. The headline said, simply:

"Ex-Beatle John Lennon Murdered."

Below the headline was a 5-year old picture of John on the day he received his immigration card, capping a years-long battle with the US government. He was skinny, wearing a suit and tie smiling proudly, holding up his treasured immigration papers.

He was dead.

I threw the paper on the kitchen table and sat down, stunned.

Later that morning at work, no one mentioned it. But I could see that it bothered not a few people greatly.

It reminded me of the morning Bobby Kennedy died. I was sitting on the city bus going to school. The entire bus was eerily subdued. Across the aisle from me sat a woman, head down. She was silently crying, the tears falling past the lenses of her sunglasses.

One wag took the cynical approach: "Hundreds if not thousands will die next year in Afghanistan and Poland. We're weeping over John Lennon? Please spare me."

He might have mentioned the Iran-Iraq war, too, for that matter. It was a weird time in history.

Oh, yeah, one other comment sticks in my mind from that day.

"John Lennon is dead and Ronald Reagan is President."

Sorry, but someone DID say it. President-elect Reagan, much to his credit, did have some kind words to say about John that day as did Jimmy Carter and just about every other world leader on the planet.

Did I say it was a weird time? Right.

What else do I remember? I remember thinking that if John Lennon were a fictional character in a movie or a novel, he would be considered too unreal to be believable. The manner of his birth, the arc of his life and the circumstances of his death were too fantasic for make-believe.

Looking back, it seems clear that few peronalities were simultaneously dominant in the realm of entertainment, news media and, improbably, politics. It is a more common phenomenon today, but John Lennon was one of the first.

You could say that Lennon was an avatar of the information age--an age when the lines between politics, media and entertainment have blurred to an exceptional degree.

I also remember thinking that life was cruel. Say what you want about John Lennon, but nothing he did in his life justified the manner of his death.

Perhaps fittingly, it was one of the biggest stories of that year (which included a Presidential election) or any other in recent memory. The media went...bonkers! for months.

The story finally faded when, a few months later, President Reagan was shot.

And then the Pope was shot a few months after THAT.

It was a weird time.

Did I say that already? Right.

My first thought at the time was, 'Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall'

God bless the Beatles but I was more of a Who kinda guy early on and pretty much a punk rocker when that worm shot Lennon.

This is some of what I wrote on 8 December 2000, the 20th anniversary of that dark day outside the Dakota:

"The three remaining rusty old men continue, mostly separately but sometimes in aggregate; somehow it's not the same without John. Never as strong a melodist as Paul, never as adept a guitarist as George, never as cheerful a bloke as Ringo, he was still John, wordsmith and cutup and searing social critic, the one Beatle you could always count on to be in somebody's face, the idealist in spite of himself, the definitive Sixties archetype. Even if you believe, as cultural historian David Frum argues, that the Seventies are far more relevant to our time than the Sixties, you're still going to have to find a place in your worldview for John Lennon; many of us who've learned that delicate balance between righteousness and cynicism learned it right off the grooves of Plastic Ono Band."

Two years later, George is gone too, and I have no idea how long I will last, but otherwise, nothing has changed. When I was younger, so much younger than today, I never realized how much these guys had worked their way into my head.

It was a horrible thing to have happened and a terrible loss to the music world as a whole. Nonetheless, some of his songs were nothing less than Communist propaganda.