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John Lennon (1940-1980)

Like millions of Americans, I was watching Monday Night Football thirty years ago today, when I heard the news. If you’re of a certain age, click here to relive it. And if you’re too young to remember, I’ve got one word for you: Imagine.

ESPN has an interesting look back at the event, with off-camera commentary by announcers Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford, as they weighed the merit of reporting the shocking news during a prime-time football game. It was a big decision in a pre-Web, pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter world. The crowd at the stadium, and the players on the field didn’t know what had occurred until the game was over. Click here to listen.

It was such a different time, then. But somehow it still feels like yesterday. Below, watch Lennon and Cosell on a happier Monday night…


  • Nothing to do to save his life. Call his wife in….

    The passage of thirty years does little to alleviate the sense of shock and horror that we felt on that awful night, Monday, December 8, 1980. It was unseasonably warm, that much I distinctly remember. It had been a pleasant day right up to the moment the news came over the television. In the early afternoon I saw on HBO, the Peter Frampton/Bee Gees debacle, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – one of the worst movie musicals ever made. Late in the afternoon and early evening, I saw for the very first time, the Marx Brothers’ 1932 classic, Duck Soup – a masterpiece. I remember wondering to myself whether or not John Lennon had ever seen this film. It’s comic lunacy combined with an anti war theme would appeal to him, I thought.

    Irony of ironies: I had quit my job as a radio DJ earlier in the week. The man who owned the station, a legendary New York Disc Jockey who shall remain nameless (sorry, cousins) had turned out to be a real impudent son-of-a-bitch to work for. The very last thing I did before I walked out of the place forever was play the new John Lennon single, (Just Like) Starting Over.

    At exactly eleven thirty, after having watched a rerun of M*A*S*H (an episode from the early years when that series was still watchable) I went back to the book I was reading, John Toland’s massive biography of Adolf Hitler. Deep in concentration, I was barely aware of the news bulletin that was being relayed on W-NEW channel Five. All of the sudden, my subconscious was jarred by what I thought were the words, “John Lennon”. I quickly looked up at the TV to hear the announcer say:

    “….is in critical condition at Roosevelt Hospital with multiple bullet wounds.”

    “Did I just hear that?” I said to myself, probably out loud, “Nah! Who the hell in their right mind would shoot John Lennon?”

    I went back to the book. Hardly twenty seconds had elapsed when the telephone rang. It was my brother, Pete. I could tell by the first syllable out of his mouth that I had indeed heard what I thought I had only imagined….
    Imagine….

    “TOM….”
    “Oh, my God! What happened??”
    “Lennon’s been shot.”

    I went back to the television and turned the channel to the American Broadcasting Company. I knew that the Monday night football game was still in progress and they had not yet broadcast their late evening news. Within a few short minutes the game was interrupted with a “Special Bulletin”. The person who made the announcement was a woman named Roseanne Scamardella:

    “FORMER BEATLE JOHN LENNON IS DEAD. HE WAS SHOT A SHORT TIME AGO. POLICE HAVE A SUSPECT IN CUSTODY.”

    Back and forth I paced the apartment – shell shocked, in a blind grief-stricken rage and in utter disbelief. By chance, my eyes happened to wonder toward the stereo system on the bookshelf. The record resting on the turntable was called, The Beatles First, a collection of their earliest recordings, made in Hamburg, Germany in the summer of 1961 which I had been listening to earlier in the evening.

    Then came the dreadful, televised image that brought the reality of what was happening crashing down with a vengeance too horrible to even contemplate: the image of John Lennon’s lifeless corpse, wrapped in a body bag, strapped to a stretcher, being loaded like so much cargo into a hearse bound for the coroner’s office. For the first and last time in my life, I drank a bottle of scotch, a drink I usually can barely stomach. It was the only alcohol available that evening. I would never have been able to sleep otherwise.

    The next day’s headlines only confirmed what many of us, upon awakening from our troubled slumber, had hoped had merely been a terrible dream:

    JOHN LENNON SHOT DEAD

    The final act of insanity in this insane nightmare would be committed by Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post. Three days after the murder, they sneaked a photographer into the New York City morgue. The next day’s front page showed a close up of John’s dead face; discolored and bloated by three days of rigor mortis.

    I read the news today, oh boy….

    In the intervening years I have tried to concentrate on the life he lived, not the hideous manner in which he died. But on this anniversary it’s difficult if not impossible not to focus on the events on that awful night. Just yesterday someone asked me how long it took me to get over his death. “I never got over it” was my answer.

    Thankfully we can still hear that beautiful, otherworldly voice, forever young, eternally irreverent. John Lennon left an indelible impression on our culture that cannot be denied. He is still a very real part of our lives, almost as much as as he was all those years ago when he walked among us. Thanks to the miracle of recorded sound, The voice of John Lennon is still very audible, a lingering ghost from our distant past that stubbornly refuses to fade into the void. At least we have that to be grateful for. Dr. Winston O’Boogie won’t be going away any time soon.

    Anyone who was living in Goshen, NY in December 1980 will remember this:

    Five days after he died, on Saturday the thirteenth, a worldwide vigil in John’s memory was held at 2 PM EST. For ten minutes there was silence – peace – all across the planet earth. I had a couple friends over to observe the event on television. In the village of Goshen, although it had been a clear and sunny day, the moment the vigil began at two o’clock, it began to snow – and not just flurries – for ten solid minutes there was a blinding blizzard. At exactly 2:10, the moment the vigil ended, the snow stopped and the sun came out. His child-like, 1971 anthem, Imagine, drifted through the ether:

    Imagine no possessions
    I wonder if you can
    No need for greed or hunger
    A brotherhood of man
    Imagine all the people
    Sharing all the world

    It was only at that moment that I felt happy for John Lennon.

    Tom Degan
    tomdegan@frontiernet.net

    SUGGESTED VIEWING:

    Imagine: The Movie

    SUGGESTED READING:

    John Lennon: A Life

    by Phillip Norman

  • Rachel Z

    I was just about a month shy of turning six years old when John Lennon was murdered, and yet I knew exactly who he was. Even at my tender age, I could sing along to songs like Imagine and Revolution. I remember being profoundly sad and afraid when he was killed. I remember being in my parents’ bedroom hearing the song “Woman” and crying because I knew he was dead.

    He was only alive during a small part of my life, and yet I continue to be affected by his music, his life, his death. Eleven years ago, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had an exhibit by Yoko Ono of his personal affects. There were two items I will never forget – one being his broken, bloodied eyeglasses from the day he was shot, the other being the plain brown bag filled with the clothes he’d been wearing the same night. She had never opened it. Her comment underneath was something about how tragic and ironic that this was all that was left of him.

    I cannot put my finger on why John Lennon is so profound to me and to so many others – but especially those of us who did not come of age during his time. Is it the myth and legend of the man he was, or is it truly about the man he was? All I know is that the feeling of loss grows deeper and deeper as I grow older. I wonder why that is?

  • I was only 8 years old when Lennon passed, but I knew who The Beatles were and who he was, and I remember being confused as to why someone would be shot. Then when I was a young teen, and I received my first cassette player walkman for my birthday, my first cassette tape was of The Beatles Greatest Hits- I already knew all of the songs, and my love for the band was solidified. I watched the piece on ESPN, and I found myself emotional and crying towards the end- I thought they did a good job, and it made me sad all over again for a time that was more innocent, then made less due to this awful crime. Our world definitely changed with that tragic event, no question about it.