25 years ago today


(This is a repost of the entry I posted here on 8 December 2005, slightly updated. I can’t really think of anything to add to this.)

25 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 just 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 11 years now Kurt Cobain died; does that really seem like a long time ago? In 1980, tenth-graders like me had heard the Beatles from birth, if not earlier. Now I have students who were born well after John Lennon died, and the Beatles have been broken up more than twice as long as they were together.

To this day, “Happy Xmas” makes me cry.

One thought on “25 years ago today

  1. On December 8th, 1980, I was a layout artist for the Columbia Daily Tribune in Columbia, MO. We were putting her ‘to bed’ as it were, when one of the teletype editors rushed in. We all misheard him, “My God! John Lennon’s shot and killed someone!” Despite having a deadline for final cuts, the entire composing room staff rushed over to the teletype, where as a group, we watched the unbelievable come across the wires.

    Standing at the massive windows Pressroom windows two hours later, machines swung into motion, cycling round and round on carbon steel plates – John Lennon’s image in negative, words in reverse righting themselves as the newsprint spun forward, eastward, grief in motion, implacably outbound.

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