San Diego fans remember Lennon’s death 25 years ago

The dream is over

When I received Lennon-style eyeglasses under the tree, I wore them with the faux army gear.
  • When I received Lennon-style eyeglasses under the tree, I wore them with the faux army gear.

Along with many vidiots my age, television was the teat that nurtured us all, and I was less weaned than most. I recall "discovering" the Beatles on a Smothers Brothers show from October 1968 (which I recently re-watched, spotting a then-unknown Steve Martin). I immediately bought any and every magazine that featured their likenesses -- no small stack of reading material -- and immersed myself for the first time in abject fandom (well, aside from my short-lived obsession with the Banana Splits).

At first, I was a Ringo fan -- I think I related to the fact that he'd been small and sickly as a child -- and for Christmas 1970 my folks got me a drum kit. Just a little three-piece with a saucer-sized cymbal, a foot-shaped drum pedal, and a photo of three very Brady kids fronting the bass drum. (Temporary madness on my parents' part.) There are photos of me "playing" these '70s skins that day, as well as pics of me dressed in an army suit with a net-covered combat helmet, destined to wind up on A Current Affair or Court TV after I become famous or notorious for Lord knows what.

By Christmas '71, I was into rock, and I was into the counterculture. I may not have actually smoked pot or had sex or flipped off a pig yet, but I'd been reading about all that stuff in subversive magazines like Mad, National Lampoon, Playboy, among others that probably shouldn't have been so easy for me to get my 11-year-old hands on. The Beatles provided the sound track to that Christmas, with my gifts comprising a collection of Fab Four albums and 45s I didn't already own. The band had split up, and that was all we talked about among my many Beatleholic friends (this was the first time my family had lived in one place long enough for me to accumulate something as exotic as friends!).

I remember tears in my eyes listening to "The End" on Abbey Road, knowing it was probably the last new Beatles song I'd ever hear. I felt swept up in emotions when I first heard John and Yoko sing "Merry Xmas, War Is Over (If You Want It)." The next holiday, when I received Lennon-style eyeglasses under the tree, I wore them with the faux army gear (snug, but still a fit), so I'd look just like John's character in How I Won the War (which I knew of but didn't see until the early-'80s advent of home video).

At 20, I was off on my own, 3000 miles away in San Diego, when the holidays rolled around. In early December 1980, I went to a showing of Fantasia, which I (an aspiring animator) had never seen. Sitting there in the big old Cinerama widescreen in Mission Valley, I was awed by the incredible achievement of the animators and blown away by the symphonic sound. It was as if I was seeing magic unfold right before my eyes, a handmade creation birthed in the minds of the artists, musicians, and magicians and brought directly to life through the animators' fingers and onto the movie screen. It almost seemed a Christmas miracle to my jaded sensibilities, to be so enthralled, to catch a passing wisp of magic. I wanted to go on holding it, if for just a short while. I sat through two showings.

After daylight broke over Bald Mountain, with my imagination still reeling and my mind fucked, I walked out of the theater, and the magic fell away.

Everyone in the parking lot had their radios turned up and were walking around as if dazed, talking and crying. The DJ was saying that John Lennon had been shot and killed. Nothing I found under the tree that Christmas could cheer me up.

Every year since, I dream of John Lennon on Christmas Eve. Sometimes we jam, once in a while he performs just for me or for a handful of people (a few times reunited with you know who). On occasion I interview him — Everything I Ever Wanted to Know About Lennon but He Was Too Dead to Ask — and once we hung out together at a Pink Floyd concert (John thought Dave Gilmour looked "like a fookin' well-fed wanker!").

No doubt, this Christmas Eve I'll dream about that most influential of dreamers again. Every time this happens, I find myself rediscovering the humanity, insight, and morality/mortality that he represents to me. Part of the reason I sleep late on Christmas morning is that I'm reluctant to say goodbye to him; I don't WANT the dream to be over, and I'm desperate to keep my hands wrapped around that wisp of magic, for — just — a — few — moments — longer.

— Jay Allen Sanford, cartoonist ("Overheard in San Diego," "Rock 'N' Roll Comics")

I remember my next-door neighbor Bernard crying one day. I kept asking him what was wrong, and he finally told me, through sobs, "Elvis died." His mom had a shrine to Elvis in her living room, and they took it hard.

When I was 11, John Lennon was shot. I thought of Bernard, whom I hadn't seen in years.

What I remember about that day is Howard Cosell, who at that time was just as famous in my eyes. I would hear people talk about the Beatles as "mop tops," but it was Cosell's toupee that my dad made fun of.

I remember Cosell, during that Monday Night Football game, saying something like, "This has just been handed to me..." You knew he wasn't going to tell you about the quarterback, it was his "this just in" newscaster voice.

My parents were shocked, and when you are a child, that is powerful. The next day at school, we were all talking about it on the playground. It was strange to discuss in class; the teacher didn't seem angry and wanted to talk about the shooting with us. I remember, in line at the cafeteria, the school bully came up to me and said, "Do you know what it will take to reunite the Beatles?" I shook my head and he said, "Three more bullets."

President Reagan was shot soon after. He lived, which made me question why that was news (a kid's logic is sometimes odd).

Five months after Lennon was shot, Pope John Paul II was shot in the arm and abdomen. I thought two things: when the newscaster said "Pope John Paul..." I thought it didn't sound complete without "George and Ringo" after it. I also wondered how often people got shot. My parents tried to calm me down, saying it didn't happen often. Then on October 6, my birthday in 1981, Anwar Sadat, the President of Egypt, was assassinated on live TV.

It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized how tragic Lennon's death was. The Beatles had become one of my favorite groups. I would read the lyrics and think about other musicians who died young. Usually it was from drug overdoses or a plane crash. They didn't get shot. And the ones who did, there were reasons behind it. Sam Cooke was in a hotel with a prostitute who tried to rip him off. Marvin Gaye was shot by his dad, angry about his son's drug addiction. And in the rap world, well, you get shot for wearing the wrong color or for being West Coast instead of East.

Lennon was shot by a guy who was insane. A guy who had him autograph a Double Fantasy album earlier that same day (it went on to sell for $500,000, touted as "one of the last autographs Lennon signed"). A guy who tried to kill himself in Hawaii but was saved by a man who now wishes he hadn't.

A story I once read about the history of Monday Night Football said that John Lennon and Ronald Reagan were once visiting the booth at the same time. Cosell turned around to see the Gipper explaining the game to Lennon. To think they would both be shot within 90 days of each other. And that most of the United States heard the news about Lennon during the football game...

It wasn't until about five years ago that football stopped causing me sad memories. Now it's about my fantasy football team, the Chargers continuing to frustrate me, and my hatred of the Raiders.

However, football is relegated to Sunday and Monday. Not a day goes by that I don't listen to some Beatles tunes.

— Josh Board, staff writer, professional party crasher

I can remember where I was that night. It was almost like the day I heard President Kennedy had been shot, although this memory is much more vivid. Kennedy happened when I was just 12. This was like hearing a family member had been killed. I had just gotten off the George Washington Bridge and was on the West Side Highway in NYC, heading downtown in my 1976 Triumph TR6 convertible when the radio DJ interrupted the music. "John Lennon has been shot," he said. I remember how the air smelled, the sounds of the city outside my car window, the feeling of lightheadedness as I tried to comprehend what I'd just heard. I was alone. I started to cry. I don't think I could have kept from crying even if there had been people in the car with me.

Like a film flashback, I was seeing memories of the Beatles and how they took me through my youth in a stream of consciousness that began when I was 12 or 13 years old. How I'd seen them on The Ed Sullivan Show, my sister screaming her head off while I was completely hypnotized by the whole spectacle. How they influenced me in the deepest manner possible, from my thinking to my love for music and the guitar.

As I approached my exit on the West Side Highway, more news came over the radio. "John Lennon is dead," the announcer said in a trembling voice. How could this all happen so quickly, and why? When the details started to become clear, I realized I was only a few blocks from the scene when it happened. The shooting occurred around 8 p.m. At that time I was on the West Side Highway, somewhere around 80th Street West. The Dakota is right there. In earlier times, I used to argue with my dad about how the Beatles were sure to change the world. On this dreadful night, it became painfully clear that the world would certainly never be the same again.

Everything had changed.


— Charlie Dominici, La Mesa entrepreneur, founding lead singer of Dream Theater

In December 1980, I had a job in a warehouse in National City, packing and shipping velvet paintings from Mexico. I had also begun earlier that year putting on punk rock shows at the Skeleton Club in downtown San Diego. Even though I was really getting into all the punk rock and new wave bands of the day -- bands such as Dead Kennedys, X, Gang of Four, etc. -- I had grown up listening to all the great rock bands and was still a big fan of the Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, Bowie, etc.

I remember being at work on Monday; it was a busy time of year, and I was working late as we were trying to get everything shipped out for the holidays. I was listening to KGB, which at the time used to play a great variety of music, everything from the Ramones and Sex Pistols to Rolling Stones and Beatles. The DJ broke from the music and announced that John Lennon had been shot and killed. I turned the radio up to hear what he was saying. I was unable to finish my work that night. I went and told the owners, a nice older couple from NYC, what had happened. One of them began to cry. We all sat there for a couple minutes, and then I said I had to go home.

— Tim Mays, longtime area concert promoter, owner of the Casbah

The day John Lennon died, my 9-year-old son A.J. and I were in New York City. We were in town dealing with the never-ending litigation related to my late husband, Jim Croce. Jim had died in a plane crash in 1973, but the litigation lived on. We had returned to our hotel after another long day of mean-spirited depositions. Our room overlooked Central Park, and A.J. was looking out the window when he noticed people acting strangely down below. From our window we could see people crying and embracing, while others had dropped to their knees weeping.

We thought that the President had been shot, and immediately I thought of John Kennedy. We turned on the TV and learned the terrible news. Both A.J. and I were fans of the Beatles, and I was fortunate to have met John Lennon in Los Angeles in the late '70s. It seemed like such a personal loss, and I was flooded with the memories of when Jim had died. We spent a very sad night watching the news and thought about going over to the Dakota, but it all seemed too overwhelming. Every December, I am reminded of that sad night and how much the world needs John Lennon today.

— Ingrid Croce, owner, Croce's Top Hat Bar & Grill

The loss of Lennon was one that had me caught between two eras. I was in fourth grade when he was shot, attending an inner-city school. If we had been told that Marvin Gaye had been shot (a news flash still a few years in the offing), I think we all would have been struck more dramatically. As it was, there was much more shrugging than wailing. At the same time, my parents were too old to have been Beatles fans, so I'm not sure the subject even came up at home. But one of my classmates was pretty worked up about it, and this got me interested.

I decided that it was some kind of double-digit-aged rite of passage, to be a Beatles fan, so I began getting books and magazines on the Beatles...without actually listening to any of the music. There were no Beatle records at my home, and while my uncle owned many, all he wanted to talk about was the Lovin' Spoonful. I knew snatches of songs, but that was it. Because I only had books and magazines to rely on, I ended up having less interest in the Beatles than in '60s marketing and media.

A year or so later (an eternity in kid-time), I ended up getting rewarded by my begrudging father with a copy of Rubber Soul, which interested me because of the cover. As much as I tried to like the Beatles, something about my genetic disposition made it a lost cause. My heart had been won by the Ink Spots; their records were in abundance in my mother's home. Luckily, she hung out with middle-aged lawyers, and while I continually found myself out of step on playgrounds and at dances, I held court at piano bars from age 11 onward.

But Ringo? Now, as a huge fan of Caveman, that loss would have shattered me.

— Patrick McCray, theater director, Objectivist author of Elvis Shrugged

"The dope-smoking commie fag is dead" was the secondhand newscast that announced Lennon's death to me. The words came from my stepfather when I asked why people were crying on the news.

I was 13 years old and knew of Lennon mostly as the Beatle who wasn't in Wings.

My stepfather's description was a treasure map to some undiscovered cool, as cool was defined as anything he hated.

He had analyzed my idols as "fags" (Kiss and Queen, one out of eight members), "Commies" (that included Richard Pryor and George C. Scott -- I guess he couldn't come up with a better category), and "dope smokers" (Cheech and Chong, in a rare moment of accuracy). To have someone be called all three was a hat trick I couldn't resist.

I never felt I missed out on anything by realizing his contributions so late. Paying closer attention to his Beatles material in contrast to Paul's made him my favorite Beatle after a few spins of Revolver.

There was a bounce in my step as I walked past my stepfather with Double Fantasy in plain view, daring him to say anything.

The lightness of youth was forever replaced with sadness at the unfairness of the universe when I listened to it. I realized in horror that, though Lennon had been silenced, Yoko's nails-on-chalkboard sonic blitzkrieg could go on forever.

— Spike Steffenhagen, Santee author, cocreator of Kiss's official bio KISStory

I was 15 years old the day Elvis Presley died. It was August 16, 1977. We were on summer vacation in Virginia Beach. Dad was driving, Mom rode shotgun, and I was in the back seat with my younger siblings. Somebody on the radio announced that Elvis had died, and my mother started crying. I remember thinking how weird that was. How strange that someone could actually mourn the death of a person they didn't even know. I kept asking her what the big deal was, and she kept waving me off from behind her tears. I figured it was probably some silly female thing.

At 15, one doesn't realize the degree to which the right music can affect a person. At 15, one cannot hear a song that brings him back to when he was 17. At 15, I was still listening to the Monkees and the Partridge Family and a good four or five months away from being turned on to the Beatles, my first true obsession.

It was probably "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" or "Please, Please Me" that got me started on the mop tops. Then I went and bought the red album, the blue album, every album I could get my hands on. For each birthday, I requested Beatles albums. Every Christmas I demanded, "More Beatles." After I exhausted the entire Beatles library, I dove into the solo stuff.

Paul and Ringo and George's music were fine, but Lennon was different. Lennon infected me. His lyrics, his composition, his delivery, his politics -- it all just made you feel like you knew him personally, that he was a great friend who was too busy saving the world to return your phone calls.

It was fitting that I learned about John Lennon's death the same way Mom heard about Elvis -- on the radio, in the car. I was riding shotgun with my metalhead friend Paul driving. Paul didn't give a flying V about John Lennon or the Beatles. He couldn't understand why I was getting all sloppy and moist about it. (It would be years before his metal heroes would start dying off.) I thought of my mother then, thought about what she was really crying over when Elvis died, thought about what a twerp I was to her, thought, "Man, 15-year-old sons can be such jackasses to their moms." I hope when she reads this she realizes how sorry I am for that.

Anyway, we held a wake in his honor that weekend. It was me and some friends drinking beer and smoking pot, listening to Lennon records and pointing out his brilliance, and I can honestly say it wasn't just an excuse to get drunk. We were eight or so friends commiserating over the loss of someone we never met but who we knew quite well. How peculiar. How awesome. How rock and roll.

— Edwin Decker, local newspaper columnist, bartender in heat

I was at Morin Heights, a recording studio an hour north of Montreal, working on the song "Witch Hunt" for the Moving Pictures album the night he was shot. It was a very heavy moment, I recall. I think we were all just stunned. I remember constantly going back and forth, from working to the TV, to try to get some news. If I remember the environment, looking around the room, my memory just shows me a lot of pale faces staring at the tube.

— Geddy Lee, Rush bassist and singer, on www.salon.com

I was 18, a few months out of high school. It's odd that this was before CDs, iPods, cell phones, commercial space travel, and $3 gallons of gas. Sometimes 18 still feels like just the other day.

Growing up, I was a music fan and, therefore, a Beatles fan. Paul was my fave, but John, George, and Ringo were right behind. A local TV showing of A Hard Day's Night I caught as a ten-year-old in 1972 (thanks, Bob Dale!) inspired me to form a band. How could anyone watch the closing segment and not want to be a musician?

The night Lennon was killed I was in the dining room at my parents' house when I overheard the news. For me, it's a moment frozen in time, as clearly recalled as this morning. I wasn't paying attention to the TV in the background, but I caught his name among the football hoopla. The report seemed surreal, impossible. The phone started ringing from friends wondering if I'd heard. I was such a big fan of Lennon's music that even friends' parents called.

That night, I just sort of lay in bed and thought about the murder and what a waste it was. Like everybody else, I listened to his songs. It was very depressing. I pulled out a guitar and absently played every half-remembered Lennon-related guitar lick I could recall. Every so often something happens when you think to yourself, "The world just changed."

I was working at the Licorice Pizza record store in Chula Vista, and it had been a big deal when John released Double Fantasy just a few weeks earlier. The Ono-less tracks, particularly "I'm Losing You," were getting a lot of in-store turntable play among the XTC and Wire platters. A label contact had let us know that a Lennon tour was being considered, so my friend Paul F. and I had engaged in an ongoing debate over how the tour might compare to the "Wings Over America" show a few years prior.

The next morning, I headed to work a bit early, just antsy to get out of the house. I was surprised to find a long line of people waiting at the door to buy anything with the voice, face, or guitar of John Lennon. People were in shock; a few were in tears. We opened up early and within the hour had sold every last Lennon-related item: albums, singles, tapes, buttons, posters, the works. This was back in the day when record stores were everywhere, and each store would stock two or more bins of Beatles LPs and an equal amount of their solo works. The chain sent a truck around to replenish all the stores, but we were sold out again instantly. Commerce in death, but people truly wanted it, even the horrible experimental stuff like Two Virgins. Somebody joked that this was probably its only chance to go gold.

As a teenager, this was the first time I'd dealt with mortality. Always iconic, Lennon seemed like one of the "forever people" (as comic book kingpin Jack Kirby might say) — always been around and always will be, part of the fabric of society. And if he can go, just like that, what does that mean for the rest of us?

— Bart Mendoza, guitarist/singer of the Shambles, San Diego Union-Tribune columnist

It was just like another normal December morning in Durham, northeast England, cloudy and a little cold. I heard my dad go off to work and before long would hear my mother shout up the stairs, "Are you getting up?" But today she didn't do that, today it was "John Lennon has been shot."

I can't believe it, this cannot be right, John is there on the bedroom wall, and he looks fine, no, she must be wrong. I went downstairs; my mother said all she knew was that he'd been shot, nothing else. I tuned the radio to the BBC News and heard the newsman report that John had been shot and had died at the hospital. Didn't hear what else they'd said.

A sick feeling consumed me. I didn't know how to handle this. Of course we'd had deaths in the family, but this was different, it felt as if my youth had been torn away. My hero was gone, a man whom I felt I had known personally since 1963, a man I admired, a man who together with his three mates inspired me, made me laugh out loud, made me pick up the guitar, a man murdered by a bastard with a gun.

I recall the BBC showed Help! that night. I didn't watch, didn't see any of the news reports, couldn't; I don't know now how I got through the days or nights. I tried to avoid friends, couldn't discuss it -- just felt raw. It was months before I could listen to John's voice without filling up and breaking down. John, who gave so much to the world, murdered for what?

Over the past few years, I've been able to visit the scene of his murder as well as Strawberry Fields in Central Park, New York. I still miss him, miss his humor, miss his music, miss what he might have to say about the world today — we can only imagine.

Lennon fans know that during his life, John had a thing about the number 9 ("One After 909," "Revolution 9," "#9 Dream," etc.). Though he died on December 8 in New York, keep in mind that because of the time difference, in England, where John Lennon was born, it was December 9.

— Dave Humphries, singer/songwriter, former Brit, current San Diegan

I was a freshman in high school, and I may have been in love with Laura or Carla or maybe it was Melissa; I couldn't keep track of my infatuations. I hadn't started growing my hair long, or playing guitar, or listening to Jimi Hendrix or Led Zeppelin, but I did like the Beatles, and I knew who John Lennon was.

It was bone-chilling cold at school, and the news about Lennon's murder spread as if it was JFK all over again — at least among my teachers, who all grew up on Beatles music as my parents had. "This is horrible," my math teacher, a guy with long hair in a ponytail, said. "This can't be possible." He asked for a moment of silence in the class.

We 14-year-old kids all looked at each other.

On TV, on the radio, all I heard was the song "Imagine." It became an anthem of the moment. Whenever I hear it today, I remember December 1980.

People still write about the man. In 2000, Robert Rosen published a book with Soft Skull Press called Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon. Rosen had acquired Lennon's handwritten journals from a disgruntled ex-employee of Yoko Ono's. Ono filed a lawsuit and got the journals back, threatening legal action if they were ever published. Undaunted, Rosen wrote Nowhere Man based on his memories of the journals, calling his book "both investigative journalism and imagination" -- fiction, immune from litigation. The publisher sold foreign rights that they didn't own. There was a lawsuit over royalties, and the book was pulled and then re-released by Last Gasp in 2002.

Even in death, Lennon causes controversy.

— Michael Hemmingson, theater director, writer

From the time I was five years old I was spinning Elvis 45s on my all-in-one phonograph. It was the '50s, and my parents encouraged me to listen to the rockabilly kid out of Memphis with the rebel attitude and the voice of a black man. I don't know if I agree with what John Lennon said -- "There was nothing before Elvis" -- but I do know there was something after him. When I saw three cool-looking, smiling, mop-headed guys slinging guitars and a fourth one bopping and banging on the drums, all playing and singing together, I was witnessing a whole new kind of camaraderie that my friends and I could emulate. Who cared if none of us had ever held a guitar or beat a drum in our lives? We could pretend and, in our minds, we were the Beatles. I thought, this is the kind of fun I want to be involved in forever, I never want it to stop. And that's exactly what happened.

In December 1980, I was in my first marriage, a young father of my first child. I was preparing bottles or changing a diaper as the news about Lennon came on the TV. I didn't know how to feel about it. I guess I was in shock, but I couldn't fix an emotion to the event. It made me feel bad that I didn't feel worse about it. Everyone was talking about how awful it was and how it was affecting their lives, but I had my own life and family to think about, and all was not well in my world. I was a struggling musician, with a wife and a baby who I was not emotionally or financially prepared to take care of.

Up until John Lennon's death, I'd held on to the hope of a Beatles reunion. They were a large part of my musical palette in terms of what I listened to and how I wrote songs. Outside of Imagine, Walls and Bridges, and Rock 'n' Roll, John's solo work with Yoko didn't excite me that much. It had been five years since his last release, and it wasn't as if I was anticipating the new Lennon album. Still, with Double Fantasy, I could understand where John was coming from, and I felt a connection to him that was more than musical. He was a family man making music, and those two things, in my mind, didn't easily go together. Yet, here he was doing it, and I drew strength and inspiration from it in my own situation.

"(Just Like) Starting Over" was a catchy pop song, kind of retro with the Elvis vocal echo and a percussive, pumping piano. But it was the hopeful sentiments of the lyrics that spoke to me. I'd been hearing the song on the radio, but I didn't have the album until Christmas when it came as a gift from my mom to my wife and me. She hoped it would provide some marital therapy (John and Yoko kissing on the front cover) for our disintegrating relationship.

That's when it hit me -- the combination of holiday stress, trying to hold my family together, and John's death were just too much. Here was one of my heroes, a Beatle, who had gone astray, conquered his demons, and come back to his family and his music, a true rock 'n' role model for rock 'n' family guys like me, needlessly torn from his own domestic bliss and from all of us. He had achieved an impossible dream, for too short a time. That dream was now just a memory.

-- Mark DeCerbo, singer/guitarist of Four Eyes

[I was] working in a club in Athens, Georgia. I was behind the counter and someone came in crying. He said, "John Lennon's just been assassinated." I went home. My next-door neighbor had cable TV, so we kept watching it, [waiting] for somebody to say, "This didn't really happen. He's not dead." I have relatives who died who didn't mean as much to me as [Lennon] did. It was...jolting. You wanted Lennon to hang around, to see what he was going to do ten years down the line. For me it was one of those things where it was, like, "Well, I'm not a kid anymore." That was the first big death that really hit me.

— Peter Buck, REM guitarist, on www.murmers.com

Because of my age I was a backwards Beatles fan, discovering them via John's solo career. My first album was 1974's Walls and Bridges. I would listen to that album over and over. From there I picked up more of John's work and then discovered the Beatles, while everyone else my age was listening to Cheap Trick and ABBA.

I was at home the night it happened. A friend called me. "Steve, did you see the news? John Lennon was shot!" At first I thought he was joking, and I told him it wasn't funny. Soon, I realized the awful truth.

That week I shut down. Didn't go to work; didn't talk to anyone. I sat at home with the curtains drawn, listening to his albums and checking the news. I cried in the dark and screamed at Mark David Chapman. At 17, this was the first time I had ever faced the death of someone I cared about. It felt like I knew John, through his music. More than any other rocker before or since, John poured his deepest fears and pains into his work, and I think that's one of the main reasons that his death touched so many of us. We all felt as if we knew John Lennon.

— SS Crompton, comic book artist/publisher, creator of Demi the Demoness

I was born an insomniac. Tests later revealed that when I did fall asleep, I would descend into the deepest sleep there is, one that takes normal folks three to six hours to reach — the filet mignon of bedtime. I sleep two to four hours each evening.

On the evening of December 8, I was living in London, and I had just returned from George Harrison's home where I was helping him record Somewhere in England. I had a nap on the two-hour drive home in fellow musician Ray Cooper's Rolls-Royce, so I was up for the night. The TV went blank at midnight, and I would switch the radio on so I had company in the wee hours.

The news came to London about 2:30 a.m. — John Lennon had been shot.

I was aghast. News followed that he was dead. Stunned, I thought about calling George, as I'm sure I was one of a handful of Brits who had this info. I couldn't be the one to tell him, I reasoned, and he's going to need that sleep he's getting now, knowing the British media.

At 9 a.m., I called Ray Cooper, who was co-producer of George's album, and after a lengthy chat we decided to go ahead with the session...it might keep George from dwelling in sadness. Armed with a few bottles of wine, we arrived at George's about noon. Reporters greeted us at the main gate, standing in the rain. We sidestepped their inquiries, locked the gate, and drove up to the house.

George was white. He hugged us both and we began the day's work. We stopped three times during the next ten hours -- phone calls from Ringo, Paul, and Yoko. He began rewriting lyrics to a track we had just cut the day before. In ensuing days, Paul McCartney put backing vocals on, joining George and Ringo on that track, as well as myself, the insomniac Wurlitzer pianist from New York who was one of the first to purchase "She Loves You" 16 years before.

That track -- "All Those Years Ago" -- soon evolved into a musical tribute to John and became a #1 single in the U.S. some months later. By 10 p.m., George was exhausted and a bit inebriated. He thanked us for coming and headed for the arms of Morpheus. Ray and I headed back to London, glad we had done what we could for George that day.

I shall never forget that 24 hours as long as I live.

— Al Kooper, keyboardist on Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone," the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want," etc.

I had been living in America for four weeks. At 18, I flew to San Diego from England with a suitcase, a bass guitar, and about $250 to join the Crawdaddys, a retro '60s band. We lived and breathed 1964-'65 vintage clothes, vintage guitars, vintage amps, vintage songs. Musically, we were more fixated on the Stones and Them, but the early Beatles were a big part of the daily soundtrack of our lives. John Lennon in A Hard Day's Night was the epitome of cool to us: his quick wit, that hard-faced sarcasm in the face of authority.

At the time I was living with Ron Silva, the Crawdaddys' leader, and his girlfriend Mindy in a small apartment on Fifth Avenue, close to downtown. Ron and I arrived home early that evening after another day of walking around the city. We'd walked as far as 30th and Meade, where Ron had dropped a jacket off at a tailor he used there. Later, we figured out that's where we must have been when Lennon had been shot. I can't drive by that block now without thinking of Lennon. When we got home, Mindy blurted out between sobs that John Lennon had been shot. We were stunned, speechless. She and Ron disappeared into the bedroom and I was left alone, reeling in disbelief. It wasn't until a few minutes later when Ron reemerged that I learned that Lennon had not only been shot, he was dead. Mindy was inconsolable, fixated on a line Lennon sung years before: "The way things are going, they're gonna crucify me."

Later that night and over the next few days, we, like the rest of the world, watched as the story unfurled on television. None of it made sense: the killer, the motive, the media canonization. I was gutted but felt completely detached from the public displays of grief, the constant soundtrack of "Imagine" on every TV set or radio. These people seemed to be mourning a different John Lennon than we were. Did they even know him? I remember one grieving "fan" on TV sobbing to a reporter that she loved John so much because he'd written two of her favorite songs, "Yesterday" and "Hey Jude" [both by McCartney]. You had to laugh to keep from puking.

A few months later, Reagan was shot, not by a political revolutionary but by another delusional loner with an unhealthy celebrity fixation.

So this was America, I thought, a land where any disaffected loser can grab a weapon, select his target, and blast himself a small perch in history. I seemed to have arrived in a very strange place, a long way from home. Maybe John had a similar revelation as he lay dying on the cold pavement in front of the Dakota. Maybe we all did.

— Mike Stax, cofounder the Tell-Tale Hearts and the Loons, publisher of Ugly Things magazine

John Lennon's death annoyed me. Well, not the murder of his person; anyone's death is sad and I'm against murder, by the state or by a crazed fan. And I wasn't bothered by the death of Lennon's celebrity -- that, as Yoko and her accountants know, is immortal. Lennon is proof of that old saw: "Death is a great career move."

What annoyed me was the response to his death. The radio and TV kept playing one of his songs, reducing his varied musical expressions into just one nonrepresentative piece.

Far more aggravating was the way that song, "Imagine," was used by hordes of mourners. They absorbed its music and ignored the lyrics. The atheistic ("no heaven," etc.) and communistic ("no possessions") words were utilized in religious rituals -- the swaying circles, the lit candles, the sacred spot ("Strawberry Fields") near his home in the Dakota -- a monument to materialism in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods on earth. They weren't the only ones to disregard the lyrics -- the song was sung by the Conservative Party in London in 1987 as a greeting to arch-capitalist Margaret Thatcher.

— Deena Weinstein, author of Heavy Metal: A Cultural Sociology, professor at DePaul University

I was driving my husband to work so I could have the car for the day. I planned to pick up a friend who was flying in from New York City. We were three blocks from the intersection of Hawthorne Boulevard and 190th in Torrance when I turned on the radio and heard, "John Lennon has been assassinated." My first thought: of course he was. First Kennedy, then Malcolm X, then Martin Luther King Jr., then another Kennedy, Medgar Evers...the list goes on.

I spent the day listening to the radio, which kept playing the single "Starting Over" from Lennon's new album. To this day I cannot stand hearing that song. Fortunately, my New York friend, Harvey Goldberg, got a taxi from the L.A. airport to Hollywood, so after I picked up my husband Paul, we went up to the city to have dinner with him. Harvey is a well-known recording engineer and was in L.A. on business. He had always wanted to go to the Whiskey, so after we ate at Old World, we walked down to the club for beers. They were playing Beatles songs, and everyone was depressed. Some smartass decided it would be clever to play "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," and Harvey went ballistic, yelling, "Take it off, you ASSHOLE!" We started yelling too, and then all the other patrons started yelling. Harvey said, "Screw this place. Let's get out of here." Not that I boycotted the joint, but that was the last time I was at the Whiskey.

Days later, KROC and several other stations announced that at 11 a.m. they would play no music and observe one minute of silence to honor Lennon. I drove down to the beach and parked and waited for the DJ to start the memorial. There were many cars, apparently there for the same reason I was, as everyone was crying. It was such a beautiful day -- the ocean was aglitter, and I felt I was in a silent world of empathy. It was a powerful moment.

On the way home, it seemed as if no one else knew about the moment of silence or cared. To me, too many people were laughing or staring at my red eyes and the look on my face. Then I saw some guy throw a beer bottle out of his car, and it smashed against a tree. It was a rotten day.

— Mary Fleener, cartoonist and musician (with Cindy Lee Berryhill, etc.)

I don't remember what I was doing, but I was not one of those informed of Lennon's death by Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football. I was playing college at Eastern Washington State that winter and thought, "Piss, no more Beatles songs or reunions." I didn't especially care that Lennon was dead; there were lots of smarter, more experienced people than him whom I could learn from (though he never really bragged he was smarter than anyone). I liked many of his songs, and they evoked good feelings in me, but what mattered most to me was how the value of his records and paraphernalia would rise in price.

During that week and for about a month after, I would be able to trade Beatles and Lennon stuff for other types of records and music items I wanted. Then, after the prices went down, I could get most of the Lennon stuff back at cheaper prices. I watched what had happened to Elvis memorabilia after his death three years earlier. That's what happened again, though I didn't make a killing. I later got back all the Lennon stuff I traded away. It amused me, the reactions of people to someone's death. There's always enough of an artist's items out there, but for some reason, people don't want them until after the person dies.

— Duane Dimock, Clairemont-based eBay entrepreneur

I was getting ready for work with the civil service when my wife called to say, "Pete, you'd better come and listen to this." It was about 6 a.m., and I was getting ready for work at the job centre at the time. Kathy had been listening to the news and shouted upstairs that John had been murdered. It didn't enter my head it was John Lennon, and I asked, "John who?" Did she mean John, the neighbor, or someone I worked with? I initially thought it was a sick joke, but as the news flashed on and on, I realized it was true. John, who I had played with and been friends with for three years, was dead. My first thoughts were, "Why? What had this guy done to anyone?"

— Pete Best, to the Liverpool Echo, December 2000

I had not seen John for years, but when he died, it was like having an arm cut off. I can't explain my feelings, even to myself. During the following week, I avoided the radio and television, although I could manage newspapers. They weren't as emotionally demanding as a voice or picture going over John's life or, even worse, a rerun of an interview with John looking out from the television as if he was really still there. As for listening to any of his records, the very thought made me wince with pain.

— Julia Baird, John's half-sister, from the book John Lennon, My Brother

He was dangerous to the government. If he had said, "Bomb the White House tomorrow," there would have been 10,000 people who would have done it. These pacifist revolutionaries are historically killed by the government...anybody who thinks that Mark David Chapman was just some crazy guy who killed my dad for his personal interests is insane. Or very naïve. Or hasn't thought about it clearly. It was in the best interests of the United States to have my dad killed. Definitely. And, you know, that worked against them, because once he died, his powers grew...they didn't get what they wanted.

— Sean Ono Lennon, to the New Yorker magazine in early 1998

Spring passes and one remembers one's innocence. Summer passes and one remembers one's exuberance. Autumn passes and one remembers one's reverence. Winter passes and one remembers one's perseverance.

— Yoko Ono, from "Season of Glass"

After all we went through together, I had and still have great love and respect for him. I am shocked and stunned. To rob life is ultimate robbery. This perpetual encroachment on other people's space is taken to the limit with the use of a gun. It is an outrage that people can take other people's lives when they obviously haven't got their own lives in order.

—George Harrison, December 1980 press statement

I feel shattered, angry, and very sad. It's just ridiculous. He was pretty rude about me sometimes, but I secretly admired him for it, and I always managed to stay in touch with him. There was no question that we weren't friends, I really loved the guy. I think that what has happened will in years to come make people realize that John was an international statesman. He often looked a loony to many people. He made enemies, but he was fantastic. He was a warm man who cared a lot and with the record "Give Peace a Chance" helped stop the Vietnam War. He made a lot of sense.

— Paul McCartney, December 1980 press statement

I would like to say how terribly upset we are at the sudden death of John Lennon. I have always had the deepest affection for John since the divorce and have always encouraged his relationship with Julian, which I thought was best. It came so suddenly. Julian remained very close to his father in recent years and is hoping to follow a career in music. He was looking to his father for guidance. Julian was hoping to see his father shortly.

— Cynthia Lennon, Lennon's ex-wife, December 1980 press statement

John Lennon was brought to the emergency room of the St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital this evening, shortly before 11 p.m. He was dead on arrival. Extensive resuscitative efforts were made but, in spite of transfusions and many procedures, he could not be resuscitated. He had multiple gunshot wounds in his chest, in his left arm, and in his back. There were seven wounds in his body. I don't know exactly how many bullets there were. There was a significant injury of the major vessels inside the chest, which caused a massive amount of blood loss, which probably resulted in his death. I'm certain that he was dead at the moment that the first shots hit his body.

— Dr. Stephan Lynn, to reporters outside Roosevelt Hospital, December 8, 1980

Probably, I thought, he wouldn't be an attainable type of thing, and I did think of harming some people...I took it upon myself to judge him falsely for being something other than, you know, in a lotus position with a flower, and I got angry in my stupidity...I grabbed the album I had leaning against the rail and I said, "John, would you sign my album?" He said, "Sure," and wrote his name and he handed it back to me. He looked at me and nodded his head down and said, "Is that all you want?" It was a ruse. I really didn't want his signature; I wanted his life. And I ended up taking both...I believe once you take a person's life, there's no way you can make up for that. Period.

— Mark David Chapman, murderer, speaking at October 2000 parole hearing

What worries me is that one day a loony will come up and God knows what will happen then...you never know in America. They're always running around with guns like a lot of cowboys. They think guns are extensions of their arms.

— John Lennon, 1965 Daily Mirror interview

All illustrations by Jay Allen Sanford.

Share / Tools

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • AddThis
  • Email

More from SDReader


Log in to comment

Skip Ad