I hesitate to write anything about John Lennon tonight, 25 years to the minute from when he was killed, but I can’t help it, I’ve felt a pall over the day because of that sad anniversary. I remember exactly where I was when I heard that Lennon had been murdered. I was alone in my family’s kitchen, talking to my friend Helena on the phone. The small Sony TV set that permanently sat on our kitchen table (good idea, huh?) was on and “The Tonight Show” had just begun. I was half-listening to Johnny Carson’s monologue in which he was joking about people who go to the funerals of people they don’t know when the NBC news announcer broke in with a Special Bulletin that John Lennon had been shot and killed in front of his home at the Dakota in New York. My very first thought, I’m ashamed to say, was “Oh my God, there will never be a Beatles reunion!” There had been rumors floating for the past few years that despite any bad blood from their break-up 10 years earlier plans were afoot for a reunion concert and I was convinced it would happen. In an ongoing bit on “Saturday Night Live,” Lorne Michaels had been publicly offering the princely sum of $1200 to the Beatles if they would reunite on the show and apparently Lennon, who never thought their break would be permanent, actually talked to Paul and the others about just showing up at the studio one night during the taping to collect the check. The only thing that stopped him was that he thought it would be unfair to the band that was already scheduled to perform on the show.
My next thought was of Yoko Ono and what it must have been like to witness Mark David Chapman’s insane act of violence. I had seen a couple of interviews with the couple earlier that week. They were on a press junket for “Double Fantasy,” the first record Lennon had made following his self-imposed exile to raise his son. Sean Ono Lennon had been born on John Lennon’s 35th birthday five years earlier and now the news cameras kept showing the windows of the darkened apartment in the Dakota where Sean slept, blissfully unaware that his father would never be coming home. John had just been pronounced dead at the hospital a few minutes earlier and Yoko was now on her way home to tell her son the horrible news. I always felt that Yoko Ono had been unfairly maligned as the woman who broke up the Beatles. I think the real reason she was hated was because John Lennon loved her so much, because she was foreign, she didn’t look like a pretty rock star wife, she was older than her husband, she played strange music, and always spoke her mind. John Lennon was one of the most famous people on the planet and represented so many things to millions of people. How amazing that he was living this relatively normal life as “househusband” caring for his young son and that until that awful moment they were able to wander all over New York without being bothered. People later talked about how in Sean’s first five years the family was constantly seen in restaurants, in Central Park, and enjoying other New York sights, but that after the murder Yoko and Sean were rarely seen in public.
On the afternoon of December 8, 1980, John Lennon said in a radio interview:
“My life revolves around Sean. Now I have more reason to stay healthy and bright…And I want to be with my best friend. My best friend is [my] wife. If I couldn't have worked with her, I wouldn't have bothered…I consider that my work won't be finished until I'm dead and buried, and I hope that's a long, long time.”
As he spoke those words, Mark David Chapman was already waiting for him in the street.
Amazing that John Lennon was only 40 when he died. Of course he would have accomplished so much more in his life and I’m sure he’d still be going strong today at age 65. I can imagine him speaking out against the war and other misguided policies. He probably would have written many songs that would have become anthems for our time, as so many of his famous songs still resonate today.
Imagine there’s no countries,
It isn’t hard to do,
Nothing to kill or die for,
No religion too,
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...
You may say I’m a dreamer,
But I’m not the only one,
I hope some day you'll join us,
And the world will live as one.
And, more importantly, he would have been able to see his son grow up. Sean Lennon is now 30 and it looks like Yoko did a great job of raising him. It’s astonishing how much he resembles his dad even though he also looks very Japanese. As I said, I feel funny writing about this tonight since we all tend to get a little obsessed on these anniversaries as if we knew the people who have died personally and yet there’s obviously no way we can begin to understand the pain that the family members and friends of these people must feel. Still, there’s no denying that John Lennon had an impact on all of us and that his death evoked a sense of loss in our lives. I was surprised to see that Yoko Ono made an appearance tonight at Strawberry Fields, the small area in Central Park across from the Dakota dedicated to the memory of her husband. She said recently, “If John were still alive we would have retired to Cornwall. He always said we’d be sitting in rocking chairs together, waiting for a postcard to come from Sean.”
While I’m not qualified to write about John Lennon’s amazing contributions to music, Leah and I talked about him tonight and I was especially conscious of spending close, quality time with her this evening before she went to bed—the kind of time that Lennon was denied with his own son and which I’m sure he would say was his biggest loss of all.