For some of us, the day John Lennon was shot and killed is as important as the day John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy were assassinated; it never gets easier to have to use that word.
When I was about 4 years old, I was home sick watching Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd when my cartoon-palooza was interrupted with news of JFK’s fatal trip to Dallas. Interrupting cartoons was a big deal for those still attached to sippy cups and, although I was unsure of its significance, I knew something horrible had occurred. I called for my mom, and her reaction told me everything. She sat with me on the bed and cried as Walter Cronkite reported the horrific news.
On Dec. 8, 1980, I was standing outside on a commuter train platform on my way to a job in downtown Chicago, thinking about my grandma’s birthday when I heard the news that John Lennon had been shot. Of course I was shocked, but it was the magnitude of grief I hadn’t expected.
In that moment, it was as if some part of me recognized the significance of the loss of John Lennon before another part of me had realized just how much he had meant to me, (and the world for that matter), but I think that is what death gives to the living, the full realization of the significance the departed had on our lives.
I missed the ’60s and had only caught a whiff of its spirit as a preteen in the ’70s. Still, the Beatles and John Lennon were inescapable. To be clear, I wasn’t a typical fan. Yes, I loved their music, loved being part of their tribe of soft-core counter-culture fans, debating which mop-top was my fave, but it was Lennon himself that made the indelible impression.
I loved John Lennon not just because he was, in the lexicon of the day, “foxy,” but also because he was a smart-ass, because he was smart, because Lennon bull’s-eyed the playful, blue-collar, spiritual zeitgeist of the times.
At a Royal Command Variety Performance in England, November 1963, the Beatles were playing to an auditorium filled with ordinary folk as well as royalty. The Beatles were about to unleash Twist and Shout, and were unsure about how to encourage the mixed audience to feel free to bust a move. In what is now among Lennon’s most famous quotes, (and my personal fave), Lennon told the audience of kings, queens, princes and paupers, “Would the people in the cheaper seats please clap their hands. The rest of you can rattle your jewelry.” In 1964. Before the notion of questioning authority was more than just a notion.
Lennon also wasn’t afraid to show his feminine side. Indeed, he celebrated it in songs such as, Beautiful Boy, Didn’t Mean to Hurt You, Imagine, and his opus magus, Give Peace a Chance.
Lennon himself would tell you he was just an ordinary bloke in extraordinary times, and that may well be true. However, like the Dali Lama is more than just a simple monk, Lennon was much more than a rock star.
Lennon’s lyrics and music elbowed their East End selves through the immobile sentiment of Victorian values, and cracked open a door through which the world had yet to venture. He brought free-thinking to the world stage. He was the last of the troubadours. He is still missed, but will never be forgotten.