John Lennon

Twenty-five years ago this morning, my dad came into our bedroom as we were getting ready for school and asked if I’d heard the news that John Lennon had been shot. For some reason I remember Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” playing on WPLJ, although it seems strange that they would not have been playing Lennon’s music.

That spring, I’d cut out a squib in the Daily News that said Lennon was working on his first new album in five years. When the single came out I was thrilled; that was the year I was getting into Bob Dylan and David Bowie but The Beatles were and still are my first love, and Lennon — the smart sarcastic punster — was the one I admired best.

Yesterday morning (yesterday was the actual anniversary of Lennon’s death, but it happened late at night and I didn’t hear the news until the next day), NPR had an interview with the emergency room doctor who tried (hopelessly) to save Lennon’s life when he was brought in, with no vital signs, no pulse, and no blood pressure, with “every blood vessel leading to the heart damaged irreprably.” He tried to hand-pump Lennon’s heart, but there was no hope, and when he gave Yoko the news, she at first couldn’t accept it, and then pleaded with him not to announce the news until she could get home and ensure that their five-year-old son Sean was not sitting in front of the television.

That image alone should cause any so-called Lennon fan who’s dissed her over the years to just shut up. I’ve written about this elsewhere but we should all be as lucky as they were in finding each other. It choked me up. Lennon’s death was my generation’s equivalent of the Kennedy assassination, I suppose, one of the events that you remember just where you were. It was certainly more than a celebrity death; Lennon was not an ordinary celebrity, and the way he turned his back on fan expectations and the industry to raise his child and spend time with the woman he loved genuinely touched a lot of people. It’s still hard to listen to a song like “Watching the Wheels” without wishing he’d had more time to enjoy what probably would have been the better half of his life. He was just a few months younger than I am now when he was killed, in fact, 40 and change.

The surgeon’s interview is not available on NPR’s web site, and NPR is as usual not responding to customer questions (part of the overall attitude problem at that place which is diverting more and more of my radio money to WBAI and WBGO and WFUV and WKCR), but they do have a clip from a Dick Cavett interview in 1971 in which he talks about his hopes for his old age. And he jokes about not wanting to be “dragged onstage playing “She Loves You” … when we’re 50.” In a scratchy old-man voice, he mocks the idea. “Here they are again,” he cackles, and then starts singing, “Yesterday…” and the studio audience breaks up laughing. If he were alive today, I’m sure he would not be headlining nostalgia-fests at Madison Square Garden. The loss of the things he would have done, and would still be doing, is just incalculable.

This entry was posted in Music, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to John Lennon

  1. It’s true, I do remember hearing about it. My father told me, just like your father told you. My friend Evelyn loved the Beatles in general and John in particular since she was 4 years old. I mean, she even had the Plastic Ono Band albums. I think my friend Elisa says she remembers her in the schoolyard crying, but I just remember her saying of Chapman “I’m gonna kill him!” and looking like she could. Hey, we were 11. It is disturbing to think he was younger than my husband is now. And I do think he was onto the better half of his life.

  2. I had a thought. Ravi Shankar. Here’s someone who was respected by one of the Beatles, became a big influence on him around the time the Beatles were breaking up, right? Did he “break up the Beatles”? And his music is certainly unlike most Beatles music, isn’t it? But it seems Beatles fans don’t complain about it as much as they could; it’s all droning, whining, repetitive noise isn’t it? Yet they seem to accept that it is simply a different KIND of music and don’t seek to denigrate it, like they do the music of some people, people who broke up the Beatles.

    • ken says:

      If John or Paul (or more likely, George) had quit the band, resulting in its breakup, and started a new band with Ravi Shankar, playing only traditional Indian music, I think Shankar would have come in for a fair amount of abuse. The abuse of Yoko is not just misogynist, it was also racist. Plus, John and Yoko were making music that was completely incomprehensible/unlistenable to most Beatles fans; unlike Steve Reich or Laurie Anderson or Lamont Young, their audience was not a small group of experimental music fans, but mainstream rock fans. Those folks probably wouldn’t have been much more welcoming of traditional Indian music.

      Compare that to other scenarios people thought likely at the time: McCartney quitting the band and being replaced with Billy Preston and Klaus Voorman. Or Lennon quitting the band and forming a new one, consisting of himself, Voorman, Eric Clapton and Jim Keltner (the band that you hear on side one of Live Peace In Toronto. I don’t think Clapton/Voorman/etc would have come in for anywhere near as much abuse; mostly white men, playing understandable rock music, and more clearly in a subsidiary position to Lennon.

  3. ilivetodye says:

    memoirs of an aged person

    I loved John Lennon starting when I was 9 years old. Most of my peers were in love with Paul McCartney. A few weirdos loved Ringo. I was 20-something when he died. I learned of his death from a psych patient. I was the charge nurse. This psych patient was a manipulative SOB, so the whole scene was very very disturbing to me. I couldn’t believe him at first.
    I also remember the day Kennedy died. I was in 4th grade, and we lined up at the door to go home. The kid behind me in line was David Johnson, and we were kidding him about being related to the new president.

    • ken says:

      Re: memoirs of an aged person

      I was a John fan as well, although I am a bit younger than you, so that my peers didn’t have opinions on which Beatle was the best, but instead thought the Beatles were completely ridiculous and made fun of me for not having an opinion about which Kiss member was the best (or, in fact, even being able to tell them apart). To paraphrase Joan Baez, 30 years ago, I was right. 🙂

Leave a Reply