One unimaginable night
25 years ago, a gunman killed John Lennon, turning Dec. 8 into a black day in music history
Local musicians remember where they were when they heard John Lennon had been killed
Pop-rocker and well-known Beatles fan Darin Murphy recently understudied in the New York musical “Lennon”.
I remember every second of where I was, what I was doing and what I did after I heard. That was a bad time. My family and I had lived in Amarillo just over a month. We had come from South Carolina and were staying in this little apartment across the street from my high school. I was playing solitaire in front of the TV. “Monday Night Football” was on and Howard Cosell was the first guy to announce it. I heard “shot” and “tragedy” and “John Lennon.” For a second a thought there was a glimmer of hope he’d be OK, but then Cosell said he had died. I sprang up immediately went into the bedroom where my mother was reading. All the radio stations immediately switched their formats to 24 hours Beatles. It really did feel like a different world than it has been five minutes before. It wasn’t a big deal at the time at my school. In this little sleepy community of Amarillo I felt kind of isolated; I seemed to be the only one who felt so affected by it. See, my father and Lennon were the same age, first-generation rock ‘n’ roll fans, so we kids we grew up with the same music that the Beatles grew up with, as well as Beatles music.
King Coffey drums for the Butthole Surfers, Rubble and Air Traffic Controllers.
I was 16, listening to ‘album rock’ radio getting ready to go to bed, as it was a school night. The DJ came on, announced the news and then launched into the canon of Lennon/Beatles songs, which lasted for the next week. I think I was more upset about the death of Bob Marley the next year, since it got very little press and I thought his music and legacy would become unknown in the U.S. Thankfully I was wrong on that count.
Former Skunk and True Believer Jon Dee Graham’s latest album, “The Great Battle,” was released in 2004. A tribute to his music, “Big Sweet Life: The Songs of Jon Dee Graham,” was released this year.
Well… I was never a Beatles fan particularly (I came down on the Stones side in that turf-war), but I remember being horrified that he was killed by a fan, and I remember thinking that it signaled a sea change for pop-culture; how could anything be the same? And I remember calling (Skunks bassist) Jesse Sublett and saying “Well, I guess THIS rules out a reunion.”
Jody Denberg is the music director for KGSR.
I was 21 when he died. I saw John Lennon’s last concert in 1974 with Elton John, and was really a Lennon fanatic growing up in New York. But that day, I just had finished working at the Daily Texan and went home. Someone called me from the Texan with the news, which we had gotten over the wire. I figured he’d gotten mugged or something and, no lie, I had “Double Fantasy” on the turntable and the line coming out of the speaker was “stop the bleeding now.” My roommates were watching the football game and Howard Cosell confirmed it. I was 5 years old when I got “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and I’m a Beatles fanatic to this day.
Bobby Earle Smith’s new album “Turn Row Blues” is out now:
Joe Gracey was with me that night. We were backstage at the Armadillo World Headquarters when someone walked in and said, “John Lennon got shot.” I think Charlie Daniels was playing at the Armadillo. When we got word we sat in the office backstage in stunned silence. That’s what I recall ? how quiet it got. It doesn’t make any more sense now than it did then. There was a candlelight memorial at dusk in Zilker Park a day or two later. We sang “Imagine.”
Former Glass Eye co-singer/songwriter Kathy McCarty’s second solo album, “Another Day in the Sun,” was released this year.
I was in Emeryville, Calif., which was an extremely frightening slum then and desirable real estate now. I was 19. (Fellow Glass Eye member) Brian Bettie, Tom Flynn, who started Boner Records, and I were all together in a two-bedroom garage apartment, trying to be rock stars after dropping out of college. We were living on things from the dented can resale store ? it was a rather depressing period.
I remember staring at this very small black-and-white TV watching the news. We were shocked and horrified and saddened. It just seemed extremely unreal.
I was 2 years old when Kennedy was shot, and Lennon’s death was like that for us. I never expected it to reverberate in my life, but it has ? I’ve never forgotten it or what my life was like. It’s haunted me.
For me, listening to the Beatles wasn’t historical, it was Top 40 when I was a kid. As far as I was concerned, the Beatles invented rock ‘n’ roll, the version that I was familiar with; they were the ones who invented the art form.
Casey Monahan is the director of the Texas Music Office.
I had just moved to Austin. Some friends and I went immediately to Zilker Park to mourn his loss and celebrate his life and music. All murders are senseless, whether you’re talking about Lennon, or Selena, or Darrell Abbott, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke or the latest victim behind a headline in the City/State section. Lennon’s seemed particularly brutal, though, as he’d emerged so strong after a five-year parental hibernation.
–Compiled by Joe Gross
By David Bauder
Friday, December 02, 2005
NEW YORK ? The song was only 6 years old but might just as well have been 60.
Walking out of a college dormitory after visiting a friend one December night 25 years ago, I heard John Lennon’s sweet song of longing, “#9 Dream,” wafting out from an open door. It sounded wonderful. It sounded odd.
Why would a radio station or stereo be playing that? So much had happened since. Disco. Punk rock. Lennon had reconciled with Yoko Ono after a separation and was only then beginning to publicly emerge from a period where he concentrated on home life more than music. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard the song.
I walked home. Then, when I saw a cluster of friends quietly gathered around a television, the reason became sickeningly apparent.
It was Dec. 8, 1980. A mentally disturbed fan who had collected Lennon’s autograph earlier in the day waited outside the Manhattan apartment building called the Dakota for the singer to return from a recording session. Mark David Chapman opened fire. Lennon didn’t survive the trip to the hospital.
The musical hero of a generation was dead, and all those who ever sang along to “I Want to Hold Your Hand” or chanted “give peace a chance” remember where they were when they heard the news.
In his typically blunt manner, Lennon had told Beatles fans a decade earlier that “the dream is over.”
Now it really was.
Twenty-five years later, the day stands as a cultural black hole. Lennon became an instant legend, but it was hardly worth the price. Millions of people who never met him felt they knew him, felt they knew all the Beatles. His music often felt like personal letters; on “Watching the Wheels,” he explained why he needed to step off the merry-go-round of stardom. A friend was gone.
“I still miss him massively,” former songwriting partner Paul McCartney told The Associated Press. “It was a horrific day for all of us.”
That night, an ambitious young woman who had just moved to New York to make it as a singer or dancer was out walking a few blocks from Lennon’s home on the Upper West Side. She heard the sirens, saw a crowd beginning to gather. A curious Madonna joined them outside the Dakota.
“I remember walking up and going ‘What’s going on? What’s going on?’ ” she recalled. “And they said John Lennon was shot. It was so weird.”
Madonna was a toddler during Beatlemania. But she later recorded Lennon’s utopian vision of a peaceful world, “Imagine,” which has matured into an anthem and, 25 years from now, will likely be Lennon’s best-remembered song.
Another version of “Imagine,” by country singer Dolly Parton, is in music stores now. In her own tribute, Parton shot part of a video for the song in Strawberry Fields, the Central Park memorial to Lennon. Sharp-eyed viewers will spot the Dakota in the background.
Parton had been on a plane from Nashville to Los Angeles the night Lennon was shot. She was supposed to go out with friends, but instead they all went to her house to watch the news and talk about it. “Everyone was so heartbroken,” she said.
“Like all young teenage girls back then, I fell in love with the Beatles,” she said. “Back there in the Smoky Mountains, it was like something had been dropped from outer space.”
Also in California, rock singer John Fogerty felt the loss of a kindred spirit. In 1969, Fogerty’s band Creedence Clearwater Revival had sold more records than the Beatles, then an astonishing accomplishment. But both men spent the latter half of the 1970s publicly silent, Fogerty because of a business dispute, Lennon because he was “watching the wheels.”
“I thought about him every day because he was that important to me,” he said. “I was still a recluse, but I was working on music in some fashion every day, and I would say to myself, ‘I wonder what John Lennon is doing?’ For several years we didn’t hear from him, and I would always think about that fact.”
Singer Neil Diamond had been in New York that December night for the premiere of his movie “The Jazz Singer.”
Diamond had been a struggling songwriter when the Beatles hit. No one was interested in hearing him sing. No one was particularly interested in his creativity, either: They just wanted him to churn out songs that sounded like current hits. The Beatles made it standard for musicians to interpret their own songs, and to experiment.
“Aside from being broken-hearted about the loss of this man, I felt I owed him something,” he said. “My life would not have been the same without the Beatles.”
Lennon’s music has even touched artists who weren’t alive when he was, like 21-year-old singer Patrick Stump of the hit pop-punk band Fall Out Boy.
“It is like the Bible,” he said. “You can’t cite it without sounding cliched, but here’s the thing: There’s a reason why it’s so citable like that. His body of work was so interesting and had so many valid points.”
What has the world missed in 25 years without John Lennon?
Yoko Ono has grown old without a husband; she still lives in the Dakota and is the caretaker of the work he left behind. Sean Lennon grew up without a dad. He’s tried music, too.
John’s legacy remains frozen in time and, like James Dean’s or Kurt Cobain’s, burnished by sudden death far too young. Lennon didn’t grow old in the spotlight, didn’t have to contend with tired “steel wheelchairs” jokes like his peers in the Rolling Stones. He didn’t have to watch his talent fade or his instincts betray him; he didn’t have to hear the whispers that he’d lost it. McCartney could tell him a few things about that.
It’s impossible to predict from his catalog where his muse would have taken him.
Truth be told, his track record as a solo artist was wildly uneven in style and quality. The brutal confessional of “The Plastic Ono Band” was followed by the perfectly polished “Imagine.” There’s the leftist screed in “Some Time in New York City,” the tired wistfulness on “Walls and Bridges” and the domesticated work he made at the end.
Even during the Beatles’ intense creative period, author Bob Spitz in this fall’s new “The Beatles: The Biography” portrays Lennon as tormented by personal demons and drug abuse. Would it have crippled him as he got older?
“The level of engagement wouldn’t have gone away,” said music journalist Alan Light. “If he was going to be an activist, he would have been all the way an activist. If he was going to be a father, he would have been all the way a father.”
Lennon clearly had courage as an artist. He wasn’t afraid to mess up, or to speak up. Lennon mocked Bob Dylan with a song, “Serve Yourself,” when he didn’t like “Gotta Serve Somebody.” It’s not too hard to envision him making his own cracks about the Stones during their dreary years. Few others today have the stature or nature to speak up with a contrarian word and know they’ll be listened to.
By moving to New York and walking the streets, Lennon always seemed more accessible, more human than his peers, Light said. No one had more reason to fear the warped effect of fandom than the four men who lived through the hysteria of Beatlemania. Living outside of a bubble made Lennon a target.
Chapman remains in New York’s Attica state prison, where his third request for parole was denied in October. Ono wrote to the parole board urging he not be released. Chapman won’t be eligible for parole again for two years.
A legacy of Lennon’s death is a lingering uncertainty among musicians about being in public. Tom Araya, lead singer of Slayer, admitted that he’s “a little more cautious, conscious of his surroundings” than he might have been otherwise.
AP music writer Nekesa Mumbi Moody contributed to this report.