The Day that John Lennon Died
Ok, before I start, I need to pre-exonerate myself by stating that this is probably one of the most embarrassing posts that I will submit (if not the most embarrassing).
Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I'll begin:
On December 8, 1980, John Lennon was shot and killed by Mark David Chapman, a sometime "fan" who was later given 20 years to life for his crime. On that day, I remember seeing images on the family room television - though to this day I honestly couldn't tell you whether those images were created by what my eyes saw on the screen, or by what my mind created from subsequent verbal accounts. The newscasters gave voice to the scenes, stating mournfully that John Lennon had been assassinated.
And my response was: "John Lennon? Who's he?" Yeah. So now you understand why I began by saying that this would be an embarrassing post. I honestly did not know who John Lennon was. I'd never heard his name. I'd never seen his face. I was completely ignorant. And my age at the time was no excuse: Although I hadn't yet been born when the Beatles first came to America, in ensuing years I was old enough to know who they were, and to have known and enjoyed some of their songs. Indeed, if someone had said that Paul McCartney had been shot, I would have been affected with the same sense of shock as everyone else in the world. But John Lennon? Ringo Starr? George Harrison? I knew who none of them were. To me, at the time, the Beatles consisted of Paul and some other band members - and I honestly cannot say why. Needless to say, when I found out who John Lennon was, I did experience shock and sadness: partially at the fact that a member of the Beatles had died, and just as partially at the fact that I had not known who he was.
On that day and for a long time afterward, I did not experience an overwhelming desire to research the band that I obviously knew so little about (I didn't even know how many band members there were). Although I had heard their music from childhood, my exposure to it was not "in the home". Sometimes I heard it in school, sometimes I heard it in Muzak mall speakers blaring overhead, but it was not the kind of music that I or my brother listened to as kids, and my parents had no real affinity for it, either. And so, as is always the case in this life, you only know what you know. Fortunately, however, I am happy to say that years later, I populated my dearth of Beatles knowledge. In 1995, ABC aired a mini-series documentary called "The Beatles Anthology", and I surprised myself by watching quite avidly. In those three nights, I absorbed Beatles A-Z - learning about how the band was founded, who it consisted of (finally!), and - most importantly - what they sang. The latter was an eye-opener to me, because it shattered many of the myths that had built up in my mind over a lifetime of hearing Beatles music and never knowing that they were the voices behind the songs (example: contrary to my initial belief, the version of "Twist and Shout" heard during the parade scene in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" was not sung by Matthew Broderick). After watching the Anthology, I even went through something of a Beatles phase - happening to catch "Hard Day's Night" on PBS and afterward developing a little bit of a crush on Ringo Starr. So, it may have taken me awhile, but the import of John Lennon's death finally hit home for me some 15 years after it happened. The senselessness of it, the tragedy of a life cut so short, the realization of the sheer magnitude of music that he had produced - I finally understood now why so many fans had poured out their grief at the site of John Lennon's death so many years before. But in a way I must say that I felt cheated. My ignorance in 1980 prevented me from fully understanding what had happened when it happened, and perhaps in some small way that knowledge is what fuels my now avid consumption of all things news and current events. Perhaps I never again want to find myself the only person who looks around - dazed - asking "what happened?"
So help me out, here. My bet is that if you were at least a teenager in 1980, you remember the day that John Lennon died: where you were, what you were doing, how you felt. Send us your story. We'll keep you posted.