This Saturday, December 8th, is the 32nd anniversary of the day John Winston Lennon was shot to death outside the Dakota building in Manhattan. I remember the day it happened or, more correctly, the morning after; living in England, we were five hours ahead, so were in bed while the events of that New York night unfolded. The radio morning news was ranting in between Beatles and Lennon songs, and my mother shouted to me as I came downstairs, "John Lennon's been shot!" I was 15 years old at the time, two or three years before I'd properly appreciate what John Lennon represented.
Lennon was born into perfect artistic circumstances, assuming loneliness and pain are worth the creative fruits they yield. Lennon's father was a merchant seaman who disappeared for six months before reappearing and trying to take him to New Zealand with him in what literally became an emotional tug o' war between the parents of the bewildered five-year old Lennon: His parents actually told him to make a choice: Mum or Dad. Lennon wanted to go with his father but chose his mother instead, possibly fearing his lovely dad would leave him again. One of Lennon's most telling quotes goes, "As a child I lived a life of uninterrupted calm. I don't recall feeling desperately sad or unusually happy. Unfortunately that calm was suddenly shattered when my mother died before my fourteenth birthday". He cites this event as the reason he moved in with his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George, but other accounts say this happened before his mother died. "Uninterrupted calm" was a phrase Lennon used in 1963, before hallucinogens and primal therapy unlocked the demons. Either way, Lennon spent his childhood at the mercy of an emotional roto-tiller that was to continue swirling kaleidoscopically for the rest of his short(ish) life.
Music writer Stuart Maconie once wrote, "The Beatles changed the world as casually as a normal man changes his socks". They stood for everything that was ahead of its time. If there was a new musical style or instrument, a trendy type of jacket, photographic effect or even an album cover font, the Fab Four used it first, and everyone else followed. Lennon and McCartney even penned one of the Rolling Stones first singles. The rip-roaring choon, called "I Wanna Be Your Man", sounded more like black American rock 'n' roll than Merseybeat, as this was indeed the Beatles true influence. As word of their prowess spread, Lennon still managed to distract the world from the supernatural gleam in which the band lived. His remark in the March 4, 1966 London Evening Standard that they were "more popular than Jesus" was received as a joke in the UK, but it struck a lethal chord in the US Bible Belt. Beatles records were "eternally banned" from some stations and drop-off points established for the burning of Beatles paraphernalia. The innocence of Beatlemania was over and the world's youth found themselves on the brink of something weird. 1966 was pivotal to what came after and it rejected what had come before. Lennon led the charge over the hill into full-blown psychedelia, unleashing anthems like "Across the Universe", "Tomorrow Never Knows", "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "I Am the Walrus". Through all these years, the fact he'd been married to wife Cynthia and fathered son Julian in 1963 had been suppressed by the Beatles management for commercial reasons. Lennon's secret marriage dissolved in 1968 when he fell for avant-garde artist Yoko Ono and entered the peace campaign period of his life. Lennon and Ono were almost one entity, spewing lyrics like "Everybody's talkin' about Bagism, Shagism, dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism, This-ism, That-ism, ism, ism, ism...", once more hogging the media limelight.
The United States government wasn't very welcoming to the ex-Beatle. Several attempts were made to deport him on the strength of a 1968 cannabis conviction in London, but the threat he posed was more about growing political awareness than drugs (though the two were closely related). The Nixon Administration weren't amused by their hairy guest, who by now had moved to New York and released the epic "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" with the Plastic Ono Band. Unfortunately for Nixon, he was engulfed by far bigger fish and his successor, Gerald Ford, overturned the deportation order. The times they were-a-changin'; in 1977 John and Yoko even attended Jimmy Carter's Inaugural Ball.
The Dakota building was already a veritable hive of celebrity when the Ono-Lennons moved in, with their son Sean. There are accounts of the family bringing sushi to a 1975 potluck supper, and of Lennon's protectiveness towards son Sean. Lennon said often that he loved New York because people left him alone. Around 10:50 pm on the evening of December 8th, 1980, he was shot at five times by his murderer. Four of the shots hit him. The hollow-point bullets struck him on the left side of his shoulder and back, destroying his internal organs and opening up several torrents of blood. Rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, gurgling incoherently on the back seat of a police car, the most controversial Beatle lost over 80% of total blood volume. By some interesting coincidence, the Beatles' "All My Loving" began on the hospital's sound system as John Lennon was pronounced dead on arrival by Dr. Stephan Lynn.
Whether or not you've ever "tranced out into alpha", to use a Lennonism, taken LSD, met the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, was hip in kindergarten, or a rebel who returned a medal to the Queen, doesn't matter. Whether or not you're angry that surgeons opened Lennon's chest and massaged his heart for 20 minutes after he arrived dead at the emergency room, because they'd never do that for some kid from Harlem, doesn't matter either. What matters is love and peace, man.