It’s hard to believe it’s been thirty-five years since John Lennon was murdered. Here, edited slightly, is a piece I offered in this space in 2007.
It was a Monday, December 8, 1980, was. It was the second Monday of the month, which meant that I spent the bulk of the evening at Monticello City Hall, listening to the city council debate whatever issues were on its agenda. It sounds deadly dull, but I actually enjoyed covering city government; the ebb and flow of politics and policies over a nearly six-year period gave me insight as to how a city grows.
I don’t recall any of the topics on the agenda, but the meeting was over fairly early. I’d guess it was around 9:30 when the gavel fell and I walked out of the building into the chilly night, headed for my car and my home about two miles out of town. The Other Half was there, probably involved in some craft project, and there was a football game on television, Miami and New England.
And so I was seated in my easy chair, probably dipping into a bowl of popcorn, when Howard Cosell interrupted the game.
“This, we have to say it, is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses,” Cosell said. “An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City: John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous perhaps of all the Beatles, shot five times in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead … on … arrival.”
I stared at the screen, football forgotten. I recall trying to wrap my head around the weight Cosell’s words carried, not quite grasping it, the news too stunning and too fresh for comprehension or sorrow. Not long after the game ended, the result unnoticed, we retired for the night, and I lay there, still shocked. “Do you think it will be on Nightline?” she asked me.
“I can’t imagine they’d cover anything else.”
“Then go watch it. He was yours.”
I went to the living room. In a short marriage in which both of us so often got so many things so wrong about each other, that was one that she got right about me, and I am still grateful. I watched as Ted Koppel and his reporters and guests sorted through what was known and what was supposed. Then they began the first of thousands of assessments of what John Lennon and the Beatles had meant to us.
That’s a topic worthy of several volumes – what John Lennon and the Beatles had meant to us – and not all of the answers can be put into words. The next day was a busy one at work; Tuesday was the day we wrote the bulk of the copy for our newspaper’s weekly edition. But I managed to get home for thirty minutes for lunch. One of the Twin Cities classic rock stations, KQRS, was playing the Beatles’ catalog alphabetically, and as I ate my sandwich, I heard “In My Life.”
As I listened, I finally understood how those folks a few years older than I had felt during the summer of 1977 when they got the news that Elvis had died. Bent over my dining room table, I wept for John; for Yoko, Sean and Julian; for John’s three bandmates; and I wept for all of us who’d loved the man through his music.
In 1998, famed Beatles producer George Martin marked his retirement by producing In My Life, an album of favorite performers paired with his favorites Beatles tunes. For the title track, he selected one of the voices I consider among the greatest in the English-speaking world. Here’s Sean Connery and his recitation of “In My Life,” the song that finally touched what I felt about John Lennon that long-ago day.