30 years ago, at 11:07 PM Eastern time, John Winston Ono Lennon was pronounced dead at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. He was 40 years old.
“It was thirty years ago today…”
I remember that night quite vividly. Even though I was only 7, the news hit me via my parents’ reaction. Both parents, especially my mom, were fans of The Beatles, and as such saw “the dream” end with Lennon’s murder at the hands of a sick man. I remember this Nightline broadcast that night (it was on slightly past my bedtime, but I could hear the audio coming from my parents’ room):
Anybody who knows me is well aware that the only artists who eclipse Simon & Garfunkel in terms of fandom are The Beatles. I’ve written about Lennon before: on this date in 2009, 2006 and 2005, as well as other remembrances for his 70th birthday and in honor of his magnificent Christmas song, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).”
Lennon was a flawed genius, for sure. As with most prolific songwriters, he had his fair share of duds and misfires. In fact, a lot of his solo output was fairly forgettable (the same could be said of his former writing partner, Paul McCartney), but it stuck to a common formula: a wink and a nod to the rock & roll John heard as a teenager and played in his early-20s. He wrote what he was feeling from 1965 on, getting increasingly raw as the years went by. Some songs worked brilliantly; others failed miserably. Eventually, John took a break to raise his son, Sean, which had the upside of giving him a much-needed break from the music industry and the pressure to produce new songs every year. The post-break results were some of his best songwriting since The Beatles.
But now I’m repeating myself – read my 2005 remembrance, as it still reflects my opinion on Lennon and his legacy.
Paul McCartney’s initial reaction to John’s murder seemed fairly flip at the time (“It’s a drag.”), but how can you compose yourself when a loved one is suddenly removed from your life? Lennon and McCartney had made amends over the years since The Beatles’ breakup, reuniting first in 1974, and again in 1976 – the latter time exchanging bread baking techniques. He was aware of John’s plans to get back out on the road, touring behind Double Fantasy and rediscovering the rock & roll that both of them loved to the core.
Lennon’s murder affected McCartney quite a bit. The shock resonated with Paul, and the once tour-happy McCartney withdrew from his public performance schedule after John’s untimely death. He would perform one-offs (e.g. Live Aid), but it took until 1988 before he decided to take on touring again, burying himself in myriad projects, from albums to a movie to collaborations with other musicians. However, I think that McCartney saved his best reaction for a song, “Here Today,” which is one of many standout tracks on his 1982 Tug Of War album. And it took another decade before he started to perform “Here Today” in his shows. The song still moves Paul, even with repeated performances, as can be seen in this amateur video capture from a show at Amoeba Records in Los Angeles:
George Harrison was also affected by Lennon’s murder. He and Lennon drifted apart after the initial post-breakup years, and George’s Somewhere In England album received a somewhat cold reception from Warner Brothers after they heard Lennon’s Double Fantasy, a move that annoyed the usually “quiet” Beatle. But Lennon’s murder brought forth a slew of feelings and memories, and George rewrote the lyrics of a song for his now-delayed album, invited the McCartneys and Ringo to the recording session, and produced “All Those Years Ago”:
On December 8, 2000, I was in New York City doing some website work for Paul Simon. As such, I attended two of Simon’s shows at the Beacon Theatre, the second one on the twentieth anniversary of Lennon’s murder. The Beacon is only a few blocks from the Dakota, so there was a palpable sense of the gravity of the date and location.
Simon was a friend of Lennon, and was affected by the murder like many other artists whose careers bloomed in the 1960s. In commemoration of Lennon’s murder, he penned a song, “The Late, Great Johnny Ace.” The song connected three landmark deaths during Simon’s lifetime: Johnny Ace (and early rock & roll artist), John Kennedy and John Lennon.
And on December 8, 2000, Simon performed the song during the second of two encores. He rarely plays this song live, for reasons largely unknown as it is a beautiful song with poignant lyrics. Perhaps this on-stage incident at the public unveiling of the song (at Simon & Garfunkel’s Central Park concert in 1981) is a contributing factor:
Simon’s performance ten years ago brought the audience to tears, followed by a standing ovation that seemed to last for hours. To those of us who knew when John died, we realized that Simon performed the song ten years to the minute since John was pronounced dead.
Now to the not-so-random
ten twenty, pulled from Lennon’s long catalog with The Beatles and as a solo artist:
- “A Day In The Life” – The Beatles (from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band)
- “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” – The Beatles (from Rubber Soul)
- “If I Fell” – The Beatles (from A Hard Day’s Night)
- “How?” – John Lennon (from Imagine)
- “(Just Like) Starting Over” – John Lennon (from Double Fantasy)
- “Instant Karma” – John Lennon (from Lennon Legend)
- “Yer Blues” – Plastic Ono Band (from Live Peace in Toronto 1969)
- “Mother” – John Lennon (from John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band)
- “I’m So Tired” – The Beatles (from The Beatles [White Album])
- “Watching The Wheels” – John Lennon (from Double Fantasy)
- “Tomorrow Never Knows” – The Beatles (from Revolver)
- “Across The Universe” – The Beatles (from Anthology 2)
- “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” – John Lennon (from Double Fantasy)
- “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” – John Lennon & Elton John (from Walls & Bridges)
- “Twist And Shout” – The Beatles (from Please Please Me)
- “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” – The Beatles (from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band)
- “Jealous Guy” – John Lennon (from Imagine)
- “God” – John Lennon (from John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band)
- “Imagine” – John Lennon (from Imagine)
- “In My Life” – The Beatles (from Rubber Soul)
A few Lennon quotes to round things out:
“The thing the sixties did was to show us the possibilities and the responsibility that we all had. It wasn’t the answer. It just gave us a glimpse of the possibility.” (8 December 1980)
“I go to restaurants and the groups always play ‘Yesterday.’ I even signed a guy’s violin in Spain after he played us ‘Yesterday.’ He couldn’t understand that I didn’t write the song. But I guess he couldn’t have gone from table to table playing ‘I Am The Walrus.’” (Playboy, September 1980)
“It was just a gradual development over the years. Last year was ‘All You Need Is Love.’ This year it’s ‘Give Peace a Chance.’ Remember love. The only hope for any of us is peace. Violence begets violence. If you want to get peace, you can get it as soon as you like if we all pull together. You’re all geniuses and you’re all beautiful. You don’t need anybody to tell you who you are or what you are. You are what you are. Get out there and get peace. Think peace, live peace, and breathe peace and you’ll get it as soon as you like. Okay?” (July 1969)
And one last quote, said today by Sean Ono Lennon:
“Thank you for all the kind words. Let’s all just pray for peace on earth. That’s what he cared about most. Love, S.”