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)