In just nine days, we will mark the thirty-fifth anniversary of the murder of John Lennon.
I’m too young to remember the day Lennon was slain; I was only three years old the night Howard Cosell notified the world that a gunman had stolen the iconic Beatle’s life in New York City. Strangely enough, one of my earliest memories is from a few years later: being six years old and seeing a CBS Evening News report in my family’s living room about the murder of Marvin Gaye.
I didn’t learn until years later about John Lennon’s genius, his personal relationships, his fight with the United States government. When I learned about how great this man was, how real this man was, the breadth and depth of his wisdom and talent, I remember getting upset that I was born so late, that I did not have a chance to hear his music as it graced the world for the first time, that I did not have a chance to see him live.
The person who took John Lennon’s life assaulted all of us, robbed us of a man who had so many more songs to sing, so many more ideas to share with the world. The bullets that went through Lennon’s body hit all of us and pierced our unprotected souls.
In 1984, the same year Marvin Gaye died, the posthumous Lennon album Milk and Honey was released. The album contained the single “Nobody Told Me,” which is the first Lennon song I ever heard. Whenever I think of Lennon, I think back to when I heard that song, and the pure joy I felt in the words and music. I think about what Lennon would say today, how he would have reacted to the reactionary nature of today’s politics, what he would have thought of today’s music and today’s artists. I think about the moment when I walked past the Dakota building during the September 2014 People’s Climate March in New York and being overwhelmed by the reality that this was where a legend lived and died.
There’s nothing as painful as the death of a musician; it always signifies the death of a generation’s spirit. I still remember hearing about Kurt Cobain’s death, and the profound impact it had on my friends. I remember how the world mourned when Jerry Garcia passed away. Then George Harrison (who left us fourteen years ago today). Then Michael Jackson. Then Whitney Houston.
I don’t know how you’ll remember John Lennon on December 8. I know I’ll be listening to the single greatest tribute to this singularly great man: Elton John’s “Empty Garden,” a memorial that evokes intense joy and sorrow in a way perhaps no song not written or performed by Lennon himself ever has. I’ll think about the grace and beauty of this man’s all-too-short life. I’ll ask why this gallant man was taken from us…and I will try to do my best to honor the ideals he represented.
UPDATE: From 2005, Keith Olbermann on the 25th anniversary of Lennon’s death.
SECOND UPDATE: ABC’s December 8, 1980 coverage of John Lennon’s death. Plus, NBC’s December 9, 1980 coverage and CBS’s December 9, 1980 coverage (Part 1 and Part 2).