[EDITOR’S NOTE: John Lennon, 40, was an English musician who gained worldwide fame as one of the founder members of The Beatles, for his subsequent solo career, and for his political activism and pacifism. He was shot to death by Mark David Chapman at the entrance to the building where he lived, The Dakota, in New York City on Monday, Dec. 8, 1980. Lennon had just returned from Record Plant Studio with his wife, Yoko Ono.
Hen was pronounced dead on arrival at Roosevelt Hospital. At the hospital, it was stated that nobody could have lived for more than a few minutes after sustaining such injuries. Shortly after local news stations reported Lennon’s death, crowds gathered at Roosevelt Hospital and in front of the Dakota. Lennon was cremated on Dec. 10, 1980, at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York; the ashes were given to Ono who chose not to hold a funeral for him.
The first media report of Lennon’s death to a US national audience was announced by Howard Cosell on ABC’s Monday Night Football.]
Dion, singer, songwriter, guitarist, performing and recording artist with Dion & The Belmonts and as a solo performer.
Used with his permission from his 2011 autobiography DION: THE WANDERER TALKS TRUTH by Dion DiMucci with Mike Aquilina (Cincinnati, Ohio: Servant Books).
Excerpts from pp. 88-94:
“John Lennon’s upbringing made mine look like an episode of Ozzie and Harriet. Abandoned by his parents, he was raised by an aunt. With his mates in the Beatles, he achieved an early fame that was unprecedented and colossal—a fame made possible only by the electronic global village where we found ourselves in 1963. No amount of schooling or coaching could have prepared him for what came afterwards.
John was the most outspoken of the four. It’s a pity he was treated like an oracle when he’d hardly started shaving. He wanted good things—we all do—but he had no experience to speak of and little knowledge.
It didn’t matter. The reporters needed copy, and they had deadlines. So they set him up to say things like his observation that the Beatles were more popular in America than Jesus. John said it, and I’m sure he regretted saying it, but he was describing what he thought was a pathetic situation. All the nuance was lost, however, in the six-word headlines.
I didn’t care what he thought of war or the latest prime minister. I just loved his music.
So I have happy memories of him. I remember walking the streets of Manhattan with him and Ringo Starr, window shopping. We ducked into a store at Fifty-Seventh Street and Fifth Avenue, where we both gravitated to the same leather jacket. Luckily, there were two. We both wore it on album covers. You can see his on Rubber Soul.
John loved my single “Ruby Baby.” The Beatles used to cover it in when they played in Hamburg and Liverpool. When they put together their masterpiece album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, they worked up a collage of photographs and wax figures on the cover. They picked only two American musicians, Bob Dylan and yours truly. I’m guessing John picked mine, because it’s the image from the sleeve of “Ruby Baby,” simply cut and pasted. (88-89)
Those who get some leverage from their celebrity have John Lennon to thank. He was the first to stage publicity stunts for his causes, demonstrating that he had the media at his beck and call. Put a camera on him and he was going to talk about peace, not toothpaste.
I think his intentions were good, but he wasn’t the most informed participant on the scene, and the drugs got in the way of his clear thinking. Nowhere is the murk of his thought more evident than in the most popular song of his solo years, “Imagine.”(90-91)
John wanted good things. “All you need is love.” “Give peace a chance.” The problem is that these things slip away like eels unless you have a clear idea of what they are. How could John preach love to the world when he had a hard enough time loving the people closest to him? What right did he have to preach world peace when he couldn’t even get along with the Beatles? (93)
It’s good to want a revolution, and it’s good to give peace a chance, but the only true revolution that produces lasting peace is the one that Jesus started.
I miss John Lennon. I remember an interview that he did with the Canadian Broadcast Corporation in 1969, in which he said he was “one of Christ’s biggest fans.” I take that as grounds for hope, and I pray that, through Jesus’ abundant mercy, he rests in true peace and knows the love that’s “all you need.” (94)
Mike Foster, Metamora, Illinois:
“The night that John Lennon was murdered, Dec. 8, 1980, is one I remember all too well.
A Fine Kettle Of Fish’s 1980 incarnation had just played at a Christmas party for the Bradley University Newman Club.
Fr. Ted Wolgamot, a regular Saturday contributor to this blog with his “Reflections,” had passed the hat and we got like $4.43.
So he sweetened the cookie with a donation that improved on that more than tenfold.
Of course we had played “I Saw Her Standing There” and the Beatles’ versions of “Roll Over, Beethoven” and “Twist And Shout.”
And then Jo & I came home from Bradley and our then-bassist, Jeff Putnam, called me from Mike “Kingfish” Boyer’s home on Moss avenue and said, “Turn on ‘Monday Night Football.’ Howard Cosell just announced that John Lennon has been shot and killed.”
In 1964, I’d met my wife Jo in my freshman year first semester at Marquette University in Milwaukee. We were both in the Honors Program and we sat next to each other in Honors Political Science 110 by sheer coincidence or actual grace.
I was just 17, you know what I mean. At 18, she was a tad chunkier than she is now and her hair’d not yet turned prematurely blonde. With her short brownette bob, she looked a bit like Lennon. Like me, she loved The Beatles.
My parents in Peoria were sending me money for haircuts. But I’d decided I didn’t need haircuts so after missing three, I used the cash to buy my first guitar, a $20 pawnshop nylon-strung classical, and the SOMETHING NEW songbook of Beatles third US album released that summer.
“Things We Said Today” was my first tune. Lennon’s song “I’ll Cry Instead” was more difficult.
Today I sing, play rhythm guitar (a 1971 Rickenbacker 360-12 twelve-string guitar, a 1968 Fender Telecaster, and an acoustic Martin with a Fishman electric pickup), Lee Oskar and Hohner Blues Harp harmonicas, and percussion with A Fine Kettle Of Fish. We play every Thursday night.
Not one goes by without us playing a lot of Beatles songs.
As Dion sang in 1968 in another context, “Has anybody here seen my old friend John / can you tell me where he’s gone?”
John Lennon is not gone.
He lives on in our hearts, our souls, our memories, and his music.”
Dan Sutton, Peoria, Illinois:
“I play keyboards. I’ve played with Fuzzy Dice, Gulliver, Actual Proof, Mr. Heath, and the Big Oldies All Star Band.
My wife woke me up around midnight and told me that John Lennon was dead. We were expecting our first child that month. Nothing else could have occupied my heart, soul and mind in such a way to ease the pain of Lennon’s death. Like most of the earth’s population, I was a huge fan. Earlier that month, Playboy had published a lengthy interview with John and Yoko and John talked a little about specific Beatles’ songs, his memories of them, and who wrote what. It was fascinating.
I spent that weekend listening to all things Lennon. I especially remember listening to Beatles ‘65 and realizing John wrote and/or sang lead on most of the tracks. Most of us would be happy if we had written just one song as good as “I’ll Be Back”. It’s impossible to name favorites.
I don’t even think of John as being dead. I’ve never stopped listening to his music and never will.
He’s like family.”
Amy Amendt-Raduege, Bellingham, Washington, piano and choral (plus accompanying cello and violin):
“I think I saw it on the news after school.
I was obsessed with “Imagine” for a while as a teenager; today I like “”Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” and “Twist and Shout.”
I was only 11 when he died, so I didn’t ever form the bond with him that my parents’ generation did. I guess I think he was an innovative musician, idealist, and a bit of a hippie who married a woman who should never be allowed to sing in public.”
“I was across the river in Hackensack, New Jersey that night. I was a new employee at “then” Metpath Clinical Laboratory in Teterboro. New Jersey. A group of us from Chicago had been sent out East for two weeks of training.
My roommate and I were in our hotel room watching TV. As you know, the television news does not come on until 11 p.m. As I recall, the first thing we saw was the scene outside the Dakota, John Lennon’s apartment building. As I recall, the coverage never stopped.
It was so shocking and brought back so many memories of what we had already seen when we were younger.”
Katrelya Angus, Sierra Madre, California:
“It was my misfortune to have been brought up in a conservative home. My parents mellowed out as I grew up, but as a small child, I could listen to the Beatles only at friends’ houses. I remember some grown-ups from my family’s Evangelical church commanding two little boys at a church event to turn their Beatles “Gilligan” style hats inside out because the Beatles “led very rough lives.”
And yet I was blessed to have friends who loved the Beatles. I would go to friends’ houses where we would dance to our hearts’ content to Yellow Submarine and Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and “All You Need Is Love.”
I could not stay away from music, and by the time I was twelve, my parents decided to let me enjoy my music-feasts, with my own records, provided I used earphones. There was one exception to the earphone rule – our trips to Mammoth every summer. We were allowed to play our music on the car stereo, and my choice was always the Beatles. There was a warm friendly serenity in listening to “Michelle”, “Hey, Jude”, and “Strawberry Fields” and my rainy-day favorite “Yesterday” as the grownups drove us through the elven pine forests, past the silvery brooks just waiting to be played in, beneath the towering Sierra Nevadas. I always associate serenity with listening to the Beatles in Mammoth.
As I grew up, I would spend long hours listening to records at friends’ houses. Records were meant for sharing. I went to college and had a job that I loved: an English tutor. It was in the Tutoring Center where I loved to work where my dreams were shattered. On the television, which was seldom on, one busy December day with semester finals ahead, the shattering news was broken. John Lennon had been assassinated. While life and work went on, there was a solemn hush all over the center.
Adam Schwartz, Front Royal, VA; listener to music but not a practitioner:
“It was a lead story on the radio driving to school; my carpool mates had already heard.
My favorite is “Watching the Wheels Go ‘Round.”
In truth, I have always been more of a McCartney fan, but it would have been interesting to see if Lennon would have had staying power artistically had he lived longer. Wiser minds than I can speculate.”
Elsa Theile Fuchs, West Chicago, Illinois:
“I heard it in Chicago. Breaking news on TV
I do not retain specifics on who sang what. Beatles were the sound track of my early adulthood.
I don’t think the full range of his talents were ever known.”
Tom Burson, Rochester, Minnesota:
“My limited knowledge of John Lennon came from my brotherPaul Burson, Jim Croegaert, Bill Sutton, Mike Boyer and Mike Foster. Foster and Croegaert are the literary giants.
I am usually most interested in the musical content of songs. Lyrics were always secondary.
When I heard Richard Dreyfuss sing “Beautiful Boy” in “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” I became aware of Lennon’s impact on our culture, apart from the Beatles.
Before that I had mostly thought of the Beatles as a group. Not so much as individuals.
Like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Jim Croegaert and earlier Jerome Kern, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, John Lennon influenced the second half of the last century culture in many profound and wonderful ways.
I played piano with The Jades, The Spotlites, and The Armadas in Peoria and Trade Winde in Rochester. We did “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and ‘Michelle” and “Yesterday.” We wore Beatle wigs at Tuffy”s and Joe’s Bar in Canton. Illinois.”
Tony Glass, Washington, Illinois:
“I was just 17, a senior in high school. I actually didn’t hear about it until the following morning, but it was the first thing I heard. I think it was my mom who told me as I was dragging myself out of bed to get ready for school. The rest of the day was pretty well shot. There was nothing else to talk about at school.
1.) The screamers–
“Twist and Shout”
“Sweet Little Sixteen” (Star Club).
Any one of these would represent what I consider to be his most exciting vocals. At its most intense, he sounds like his vocal chords are about to disintegrate; yet, even when his voice is at the cracking stage, like in “Twist and Shout” (Please Please Me), he somehow manages to hold it together until the end. Of course, “Twist” is well known as his final go-for-broke all-or-nothing performance at the end of a long day of recording while fighting a bad cold. (” ‘Adda’/ girl before you go now…”) It’s a primal scream before they had a word for it. Unlike McCartney’s “Little Richard” voice, Lennon really had to strain to get the same effect and that’s what gives it its intensity.
Harry Nilsson should have known better than to engage John Lennon as a voice coach.
2.) Help.” The song itself was great, but it’s also one of his better performances at medium strength. I also remember it as the first song I ever memorized at age five or six or so.
3.) “Dear Prudence” needs no justification. It’s just plain cosmic. I suppose it’s a ballad, but even when he’s low key he sounds like he’s putting everything into it.
4.) “Number Nine Dream.” I can’t explain why this sticks in my head.
Lennon was the Beatle I identified with most at the age when such youthful identification was relevant. There’s a lot of debate over whether Lennon or McCartney was the more talented, but it’s really a moot comparison; each completed the other both as songwriters and as personalities. McCartney may have been the more refined musician, but everything Lennon did came straight from the gut.
Hard to say whether Double Fantasy represented what was capable producing in later years, but I prefer to think that he had a few more good albums left in him. This is no longer the age where rockers are past it at 40–nowadays it’s when some are just hitting their stride. Unless, of course, they burn themselves out or die trying. Of course, we’ll never know, will we?
Music: guitarist, currently playing with Peoria soul/jazz group SideTracked. An absentee member of the Fine Kettle of Fish, I have also played with Bob “Whale” Miller in Ready Steady Go and Whale and the Planktones in recent years. I am also currently studying piano as a part-time student at Eureka College, where I have been employed for the past 19 years as a librarian.”
Tom Connor, San Carlos, California:
“As for my musical life, I come from a musical family and also married into one. I own several Beatles vinyls that I have passed on to my son who is a professional musician and classical concert pianist.
The song “Imagine” will always take me back to the summer of 1972. I was deployed on a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier on Yankee Station on the Gulf of Tonkin, defending the Nation and the free world from the threat of Communist aggression. I was a Radarman; I was in charge of a surface watch section, about 10 young men ages 18 to 26 or so.
Officially, our Division’s motto was something like “Eternal Vigilance is the price of safety at sea”. Unofficially, our Division’s personal motto was, “If we don’t see it, fuck it.” I was nearing the end of my enlistment, as were a number of my mates. We were on the second 9-month deployment in 18 months. Not as bad as the military folks have it today, but we didn’t really feel that we were “in it to win it”. So morale wasn’t really great, but camaraderie got us through the boring 8-hour watches.
One of our duties was to maintain several status boards, large edge-lit plexiglass plates with information about surface contacts. One of us would be positioned behind the boards and using a grease pencil would inscribe information in reverse script so that it would be readable from the front. To pass the time, while remaining vigilant, of course, we would sometimes play Hangman or practice cartooning to keep our backwards writing skills up to date.
One night, during the mid-watch, the status board “operator” started writing out the words to “Imagine”. There ensued a lively discussion about the exact wording and sequence of phrases. Eventually we were satisfied that we had, collectively, gotten it transcribed accurately.
And then, one of the Division Chiefs came by. An old guy, about 40, with a bald pate and a slight pot belly. He had bought into a career that didn’t exactly encourage non-conformist thought, and by his position of authority coupled with his personality, he didn’t really have a warm fuzzy relationship with those of us under his supervision.
He positioned himself officiously in front of the status board and took in our handiwork. And then he glowered and growled, “Who wrote this Communist bullshit?” The question was probably stated in more salty language that this.
Someone spoke up, “Lennon, Chief.”
“Vladimir Lenin, that stinking Commie bastard?” asked the Chief.
“No Chief. John Lennon. You know, The Beatles.” And we smiled our secret collective smile.
“Well wipe that Communist bullshit off my status board,” he ordered.
Thank you, John Lennon, for a moment of lightheartedness in an otherwise dull, dreary evening in 1972.”
Steve Rager,Columbia, Missouri:
“I was fuzzy on some of the details, but I just found the piece I wrote for The Observer about this topic. I had listened to Double Fantasy and read the Playboy interview earlier that evening of Dec. 8, 1980. I had discussed both at length with Bob Gordon, also earlier that evening.
I was about to hit the hay that night around 10:30 when Gordon called back with the news that Lennon had been shot. At the time of this alarming phone call, Gordon informed me that Lennon was not yet dead, but he advised me to tune to the radio for updates.
I turned on WLS Chicago. At 10:35 they announced Lennon was making it at the moment. Five minutes later, 10:40 p.m., the station reported Lennon was in critical condition. At 10:45 p.m. WLS announced John Lennon was dead.
It didn’t fully sink in until the next morning, watching the news on Good Morning America, that my favorite Beatle, idol and hero since my teens and even earlier, had been murdered. I could barely function during classes at Bradley the next day. I was in a complete state of shock.”
I play Farfisa organ and guitar and sing with the internationally known retro surf band Untamed Youth. I own Guild and Epiphone acoustic, Gretsch, Silvertone, Strat, Telecaster electric guitars.”
Angie Van Landingham Wilson, Washington, Illinois:
“What I remember from that time was walking into the old [Illinois Central College student newspaper] Harbinger office and seeing the awfully sad face of [associate editor] Bob Gordon. You knew that someone who meant a great deal to him had died. He was in shock, as was everyone else.”
Patty Sieks Filzen, Mesa, Arizona:
“When I heard the news, my response was “Why?” I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to kill a beautiful part of music. I still say “Why?”
Diana Hovey, Morton, Illinois:
“The one thing that this murder of John Lennon brings out in my mind is the tragedy of losing the creative talent. John Denver, Whitney Houston, and Karen Carpenter are the other names that this loss of creative talent brings to mind in relationship to music. Lennon’s case was murder, and we are fairly certain that the others left this world for other tragic reasons. The harmony of the Beatles’ songs was so upbeat; loved that about the band. I realize that Lennon’s solo work was very popular but I only heard it occasionally. Lennon was talented but confused about reality on some levels. A life so filled with powerful creativity was given over to disillusionment about what works in living on a regular basis seemed to pervade his life. Yet he did not take his own life. It was dear that he wanted to take time off of work to be dedicated to raising his son and that he added his wife’s name to his Ono for Winston in his middle name.”
Jon Davis, Lusby, Maryland:
“It’s hard to reply about Lennon. I have no memory whatsoever of where I was or what I was doing when I heard about his death. I just have a (fake) flashbulb memory of a New York brownstone and thinking ‘What a waste’.”
Mimi Monas, Snohomish, Washington:
“When John Lennon died, I lived in the first house we ever owned in Brier, Washington. I was maybe 26 years old. Television was the news. We were in disbelief. I always loved “Beautiful Boy” for his son, and “Stepping Out.” Still wish he was here.”
“I am to music what Billy Pilgrim was to time – completely uncoordinated.”
I didn’t hear anything until the next day, probably when I woke up to NPR.
Favorites include“Give Peace a Chance,” “I Am the Walrus,” “Come Together.” But the song I associate most with John is “A Day In The Life.”
What do I think of him today? The same as I did at the time he died: I didn’t mind that the Beatles had broken up so much as the fact that there could be no more Lennon-McCartney songs.”