(I tell some variation of this story on this day every year)
I was only 10 years old when I learned John Lennon was murdered. I was in the fifth grade, but had known the Beatles since I was in the 1st grade (the year my brother Shawn and I got our first record player for Christmas). Since we had no records of our own, we played all our parents’ old records. The Beatles were in heavy rotation. Magical Mystery Tour was always my favorite album; Fool On the Hill was my favorite song.
We learned of Lennon’s death the following morning, while sitting in our dad’s Cutlass Supreme as it warmed up before Dad drove us to school. It was my day to ride in the front seat. The news came on the radio that Lennon was shot the night before. Dad was outside, scraping the windows. When he got in the car, I told him what we just heard. He sort of grumbled, but didn’t say much. Dad wasn’t much of a morning person and was still half asleep, I think.
Later at school, I turned to a classmate in my fifth grade classroom—Greg LaMarr—and said, “did you hear John Lennon got killed last night?”
“Who’s John Lennon?” Greg replied. I guess I was a little bit ahead of the curve for a fifth grader when it came to music.
This part of the memory is slightly fuzzy, but I remember going to my grandparents’ house (on da Sout’ End) after school. Seems my parents had to take Shawn somewhere for something. Or, maybe not. Either way, he wasn’t at the house with me. I spent the time watching TV to see if there was any new news on the shooting. The most vivid recollection of the news that evening was when President-Elect Ronald Reagan was asked about Lennon’s death. He said it would go down as one of those “where were you when” moments, like JFK’s assassination. For whatever reason, that always stuck with me.
By the time I got home, all I wanted to do was listen to Beatles records. I went up to our room, played Sgt. Pepper’s while sitting on an old, yellow couch, and cried. Yes, I was that sad over John Lennon’s death.
That I recall, the song (Just Like) Starting Over was in fairly heavy radio rotation in late 1980. As much as I liked the song, I didn’t buy the 45 until after Lennon’s death. In my mind, I remember buying it at K-Mart in Hampton Square Mall and there were Christmas decorations throughout the store.
It’s been 35 years since Lennon’s death.
Over the years, we’ve learned more about him as a person outside the music and it’s not always pretty. Like most people, John Lennon was flawed. He sometimes treated women harshly and was a bastard to his oldest son, Julian. It doesn’t tarnish the legacy of his music. Not to me, at least. I suppose I’ve learned to compartmentalize certain things about people.
But that’s not what this is about.
Thirty-five years later, I wonder what else Lennon could’ve given us. Another great album? Another great song? Perhaps a Beatles reunion somewhere along the way? Who knows. Maybe all of it. Maybe none of it. Either way, it sure would’ve been nice to find out.
I guess all we have left to do is imagine.