John Lennon – October 9, 1940 – December 8, 1980

It was 30 years ago today…

Today has been a rough day for me, though hardly anyone my age feels the same.  On December 8, 1980, around 11:15 pm EST, we lost a musical icon and the finest Beatle of them all, John Lennon.  Just Google his name or search for him on Twitter and you will find a plethora of tributes, videos, eulogies, playlists, archived news articles, etc in honor of this sad anniversary. My favorites today are a few from Huffington Post, Death and Taxes, the Village Voice, and Yoko Ono herself, declaring John as the “Teamaker” on her blog this morning.  Although I have nothing incredible or revolutionary to add to the discourse, I would feel empty if I didn’t dedicate today’s Culture Greyhound post to the man and the impact he has had on my life.

The day he died, he and Yoko posed for a photo shoot; the photo below, now an iconic cover for Rolling Stone magazine, released a little over a month after his death, was taken thirty years ago today.

Eerily, this photo was also taken thirty years ago today; it is Lennon signing a copy of his latest album Double Fantasy for Mark David Chapman (right), who would kill John just a few hours later with a snubnosed .38 pistol outside the Dakota apartment building.

For the vast majority of Americans, the way they learned of John’s death that night was during a rather riveting Monday Night Football game; in the last seconds of regulation, Howard Cosell interrupted the game between the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins, which would go into overtime, to announce what the MNF crew had just learned in the booth.  After that, of course, the game didn’t matter that much anymore.

Initially, Paul McCartney was criticized for his reaction to John’s death, asking the reporter, “Drag, isn’t it?”  However, we can clearly see from his nervous gum-chewing and aversion of eye contact, Paul was visibly shaken by the news.  Indeed, the entire Western world was.

In December of 2008, I made the pilgrimage to West 72nd Street and Central Park West.  I stood at the gate where John was shot.  I then crossed the street to Strawberry Fields, where the Imagine memorial is located.  It was a cold, snowy day in Manhattan, and for me, a very melancholy and reflective moment.

This Friday, Rolling Stone will once again have Lennon on the cover of their magazine, this time with a previously-unpublished interview done just three days before his untimely death.  The death of the 60’s. The death of the Beatles.  John said the dream was over way back in ’71, but it really ended when he was senselessly killed.

The interview features a statement that will surely be added to the array of famous Lennon quotes: “These critics with the illusions they’ve created about artists — it’s like idol worship. They only like people when they’re on their way up…I cannot be on the way up again. What they want is dead heroes, like Sid Vicious and James Dean. I’m not interested in being a fucking dead hero.”  Today, tragically and ironically, John Lennon is probably the biggest dead hero of all time, as far as music is concerned.

Mark David Chapman was denied parole for the sixth straight time this year; obviously he will die in jail for killing John, but I don’t know why he would ever want out.  Even to this day, he’s safer in prison.  His life would be in grave danger no matter where he fled for what he did three decades ago.  The fact he’s made it this far astonishes me.

I was not alive for Beatlemania, the breakup, or the assassination of John, but I can still remember the moment when I asked my dad if all the Beatles were alive.  I was probably five or six years old when my dad told me one of them, John, was not.  That some crazy fan killed him “because of an autograph.”  Though my father didn’t have all of the facts right, I remember being devastated; why would someone kill a Beatle?  All they did was make wonderful music.

Tonight Brian Williams said something quite obvious, yet still profound – that no one 30 years old or younger, myself included, knows a world with a living, breathing John Lennon.  In the physical sense, he is correct, but John’s legacy is all around us, his music is ubiquitous, and the man’s influence is unyielding.  Many may not understand why I shed tears today for a man I never knew, who lived and died before I was even a thought.

Because he created songs and phrases and messages so profoundly simple and brilliant and relevant that today they seem hackneyed.  Because he changed my life the first time I heard him sing.  Because he still changes lives every day.  I can’t wait to show my own son or daughter the music of the Beatles, I can’t wait to see a passing of the torch happen right before my own eyes.  That’s how John is still alive today – to see a person’s eyes light up the first time they hear “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”  That illumination, if only lasting a second, is John.  His work.  His message.  His life.

So yes, today is important.  Today you should mourn.  If you see no reason to, you should go buy yourself an early Christmas present – I hear the Beatles are on iTunes now.  Educate yourself.  Because the death of John Lennon was a tragedy for a reason – it’s not cliche or mundane or irrelevant.  It’s universal. Like love.

And so I leave you with a small sampling of some of John’s finest, most reflective, most powerful songs.  Songs he is probably best remembered by, though not necessarily my favorites.  Today just isn’t the best day for “I Am the Walrus” or “She Said She Said” or “Help” or “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite.”  Today is different.  Today is morose.  Today is definitely a drag.

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