20 years ago today I was on the phone with my friend Dave Wright, talking about god knows what (probably our pirate radio aspirations), when he interrupted the conversation: “Oh my God, I juest heard John and Yoko got shot.” I ran in the other room and asked my parents if it were true. They hadn’t heard anything about it yet, but about 30 seconds later, the news flash came through. Dave had gotten a garbled version of it; John was shot. (John Lennon, for you youngsters.)
At first there was still some hope that he might live — all they had said was that he was shot, that’s all. But the news came along pretty quickly that he was dead. I went upstairs to my attic bedroom and flipped the radio dial. “Imagine” was everywhere. If it wasn’t “Imagine,” it was the new single that had just come out to mark John’s return to the pop world, “Starting Over.” And if it wasn’t that, it was the seasonally appropriate yet sadly incongruous”Happy Xmas (War Is Over).” Every station, up and down the dial. Stations that didn’t normally play pop or rock, stations that didn’t normally play music —
programming stopped to pay tribute.
The next day I wore my Beatlemania shirt to school, because it was black. Eric Oberg read the morning news on the school’s closed-circuit tv station, and he was crying. I think those of us in high school then were among the youngest people to really care about the Beatles that much. Remember that in 1980, the Beatles had only been broken up for 10 years — it’s been 10 years now since the Gulf War; does that really seem like a long time ago? In 1980, tenth-graders like me had heard the Beatles from birth, if not sooner. Now I have students who were born after John Lennon died, and the Beatles have been broken up twice as long as they were together.
To this day, “Happy Xmas” makes me cry.