Today is one of those anniversary days of the death of a famous person who somehow binds all humanity, depending on one’s perspective.
All over the blogosphere and in every other conceivable news and social media, people haul out their “When John Lennon was killed, I was …”
It just so happens that I do remember where I was when Lennon’s murder was first reported. I’d just gone to bed and my father rapped on the door,
“Are you still awake?”
“Howard Cosell just announced that John Lennon was shot and killed in New York,” he said. “He’s that Beatle you like, right?”
It didn’t occur to me at the time to be touched by the fact that my father, a man who loathed popular music dating back as far as Elvis, had even been paying attention to my music likes and heroes.
“Yeah, thanks for telling me,” I replied.
“Are you going to be okay?” Another shocker that didn’t register at the time.
“Sure,” I said.
He closed the door and went back to the living room to finish watching Monday Night Football.
That was thirty years ago. I was just sixteen and days away from my birthday.
Dad’s died since then. I’ve grown up. Married. Twice. Had a child. Emigrated to another country. Changed careers. All fairly important mile markers and yet the tragic death of a pop star is still etched clearly enough in my memory to earn a pivotal moment position if only because it connects me to millions of people I will never know personally, but who share this memory with me in their own way.
It was not a personal tragedy. Only those closest to him can claim that and even so, I hesitate to call it a tragedy because I don’t know what doors or paths were opened to them by his ending. Endings are necessary after all for beginnings to have their day.
In retrospect, Lennon was past his creative prime in 1980. Double Fantasy was mediocre and certainly no less fluffy and inconsequential as the music he criticized his old partner, Paul McCartney, for producing. Old men lose their edge, I guess. Love and parenting do that to most people and they weren’t exceptional in that regard.
I suppose there is a larger point to taking stock of his death. It marks time and change. There is nothing wrong with noting where we were or the journey we’ve taken to where we are now.
As I was driving home from town this morning, the disc jockey reminisced about that evening long ago. His mother had knocked on his bedroom door to tell him the news too. He played a snippet of an interview Lennon gave shortly before his death where he admitted that he’d like to grow old with his wife, but that he wasn’t afraid of death. He felt it was nothing “like changing cars”. His life would go on in any event. A lovely sentiment that I don’t think too many share, which is sad.
If nothing else, this anniversary pulls people together to a common place for a moment before they diverge again and can see only their differences.
- Remembering the Night John Lennon Was Shot (cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com)
- The Fifth Down: Behind Cosell’s Announcement of Lennon’s Death (fifthdown.blogs.nytimes.com)
- John Lennon Death: 30th Anniversary, Strawberry Fields Vigil (nowpublic.com)
3 thoughts on “Remembering Where You Were When”
John & I both remember what we were doing. He was hanging a corkboard up in his room and I was doing my algebra homework, listening to the radio (do teenagers listen to the radio anymore?). I immediately thought of you and told my mom. My mom said not to call you because you might be too upset. The next day we didn’t have to wear our school uniforms because we had to unload the “band fruit”. I remember that you wore a black Beatles T-shirt. Too cool.
I did wear that shirt, didn’t I? I’d forgotten.
Band fruit. Oh my, there is a memory. I think I sold one box – to my Grandmother and Aunt. I loathed that door to door selling crap, but we couldn’t go on any trips if we didn’t sell at least a box.
Best thing about that day was showing the hall pass to teachers and skipping merrily down to the docks. Anything was more interesting than some of the classes I had. What was the name of the psychology teacher? He rolled his eyes with such force when I showed him my pass that I’m surprised he didn’t dislocate them. As if anyone needed to show up to pass that basket weaving course. His tests were straight from the book and he gave us verbatim study guides ahead of time to boot (shrewd move).
Thanks for commenting. My high school years are the most indistinct of all my memories. As Nora Ephron recently wrote “I remember nothing.”
I was in a lumber camp, doing the work of a lumberjack. But I was not wearing women’s clothing, nor was I hanging ’round in bars.