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.

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