John Lennon Remembered
The dream is over, what can I say?
The dream is over, yesterday.
I was the dream weaver, but now I’m reborn.
I was the walrus, but now I’m John.
And so dear friends, you’ll just have to carry on.
The dream is over.
God – John Lennon, released December 11, 1970 almost ten years to the day before his death.
Tuesday December 9, 1980 started like any typical school day for me. I was a freshman in high school and I crawled out of bed reluctantly around 7AM so that I could be at school by 8AM. On this morning, as I plodded to the breakfast table, I got the shock of my young life when my father announced, even prior to his usual good morning greeting, that John Lennon had been murdered. He had found out the previous evening when the news was reported by Howard Cosell during ABC’s Monday Night Football. I was already asleep when he heard so the tragic revelation had to wait for me until the following morning.
I had discovered the music of The Beatles only a few years prior to this but had instantly become a fan. A decade after their official break up in 1970, most people who had lived through Beatlemania considered the group yesterday’s news but I was hearing them for the first time. It was not unusual for me to be seen in those days haunting book and record stores in search of Beatles’ merchandise or wearing my favorite Beatles’ T-shirt (you could still get them at specialty shops) to school. It may not have been the “in” thing to do but it was my thing to do.
The previous evening of December 8, John Lennon was returning home from the recording studio where he and his wife, Yoko Ono, were working on the follow up to their recently released Double Fantasy album. Shortly before 11PM, as the couple exited their limousine and walked up the steps of their New York apartment building, The Dakota, a man stepped from the shadows at the side of the building and fired five shots at Lennon at point-blank range. One of the bullets went high and struck the building but the other four found their intended target. Lennon managed to stagger into the lobby of the hotel and spoke his final words, “I’m Shot”. The dream was over.
The man who had murdered the former Beatle was a twenty-five year old security guard from Hawaii named Mark David Chapman. The two had met briefly on the street earlier in the day when Lennon had autographed Chapman’s copy of the Double Fantasy album. Chapman was a disturbed individual suffering from a variety of personal problems and psychological issues. While only tenaciously stable for the majority of his adult life, he had began a downward spiral in the past year that saw him becoming increasingly more delusional and eventually lead him to John Lennon in New York. He had become infatuated with the musician and, by some accounts, actually believed that he was John Lennon. Chapman even claimed to have come to the Big Apple two months prior to kill Lennon but changed his mind and returned home to Hawaii instead.
Police arrived on the scene only a few moments later and one unit transported Lennon to the hospital while a second arrested Chapman, who was sitting calmly on the ground after being disarmed by the hotel doorman. In spite of the extensive trauma he had suffered, ER doctors at Roosevelt Hospital worked furiously to revive Lennon but he was finally pronounced dead approximately twenty minutes after his arrival. Producer David Geffen arrived at the hospital with Yoko Ono in time to receive the news from the doctors and the famous photo him leading Lennon’s distraught widow from the scene made the front page of newspapers across the country the next morning.
The world mourned the loss of a Beatle and a little piece of its collective innocence that died that day. John Lennon’s body was cremated and his ashes were scattered but Ono opted against any type of a memorial service. This did not stop fans everywhere from holding candlelight vigils all over the globe in the days that followed. The man who had only asked that we give peace a chance was dead due to a senseless act of violence. The irony is still staggering.
After an extensive series of psychiatric evaluations courtesy of the state of New York, Mark David Chapman was found competent to stand trial. Against his lawyer’s wishes that he plead not guilty by reason of insanity, Chapman insisted on entering a plea of guilty. He would later claim that God had told him to do so and had also instructed him not to appeal. The judge in the case sided with God and Chapman was sentenced to life in prison. He has been eligible but denied parole since 2000.
Once the initial shock settled in on me, my next reaction to the news of John Lennon’s death was one of selfishness. Having arrived in Beatles fandom several years after the group broke up, the closest thing I had to any type of new excitement was when Capitol Records released another compilation album of their music, as they seemed to love to do throughout the 70’s, but these were still just rehashes of tracks I had already heard. I realized that morning there was now no way The Beatles could reunite even if they wanted to, their would be no new music from them, and I would never get to see this group that I admired so much perform live. In a sense, my dream was over too.
To a kid, school seems to recognize few tragedies no matter how personally devastating and I was back to my routine less than an hour later. Most of my friends and classmates were understanding and I discovered a few that day that were bigger Beatles fans than I had previously realized. I did catch the occasional barb or supposed witty comment from a few callous individuals but the general reaction ranged between reverence and sympathy. Even a few of my teachers expressed their condolences and shared Beatle related memories with me from their younger days. As Beatles music filled radio stations of all formats and file footage flickered almost constantly across the television screens, I came to the realization that, for the first time in my life, I was one small part of a much larger global event.
The weeks following John Lennon’s death seemed almost surreal to me. Where I had spent the past few years scavenging for information on the Beatles, now almost every store had Beatles and memorial magazines on the shelves. Many of these were reprintings of titles that were, in some cases, over a decade old with a few pages of new material hastily inserted to make them relevant but it was all new to me. John Lennon made the cover of almost every major news magazine and new Beatles products seem to pop up everywhere. What had started as a tremendous loss seemed to me to be giving way to a second wave of Beatlemania. My allowance got stretched very thin for a while but fortunately I had generous friends and relatives and Christmas was right around the corner.
Companies marketing new Beatles products weren’t the only ones hoping to make a good profit off a bad experience. Immediately following the announcement of Lennon’s demise, copies of the Double Fantasy album flew off the record store shelves faster than batteries during a hurricane! Newspapers were interviewing brilliant individuals who were hording multiple sealed copies of this album in the expectation of it increasing exponentially in value. Even as a naïve fourteen year-old, I had enough sense to realize the record company would just keep pressing more copies of the album as long as people kept snatching them up and these days this is one of the least expensive Lennon solo albums to acquire.
For reasons equally beyond my comprehension, other pious profiteers seemed to think that original Beatles albums and memorabilia had suddenly turned to gold. There was no convincing them that there was still just as much product in the world the day after John Lennon died as there had been the day before but they were certain their fortunes had been made. While I am sure a few poorly thought out transactions probably took place in those days, the cold water of reality eventually splashed on these opportunists and seemed to set things back in order a few short weeks later.
It’s hard to believe that all of the above happened thirty years ago this week. Reviewing the facts of the case, it seems no less of a brutal and senseless act now as it did then. Lennon had been the victim of his own generosity towards his fans and in the years to come, celebrity stalking would be treated much more seriously. Thankfully, the three remaining Beatles were able to put their creative differences aside and work together on the Anthology project some fifteen years later in 1995. This gave fans a small glimmer of what might have been if John Lennon had lived and preceded George Harrison’s untimely passing a few years later in 2001. I never stopped being a Beatles fan and it was through the appreciation for their music that I discovered many other groups and performers I probably would not have otherwise. I never realized my youthful dream of seeing The Beatles reunite and perform live but I have been fortunate enough to see both Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr in concert multiple times and I can always – Imagine!