12.08.2010 02:06 AM

Thirty years ago tonight

Thirty years ago tonight, I was a student at Carleton, and Lee G. Hill and I were sharing a room at Russell House in the university’s residence complex.  The phone rang.  It was my girlfriend, Paula.

“Turn on the radio,” she said, breathless.  “I think someone has shot John Lennon.”

I don’t remember much else, to tell you the truth, but I recall getting calls from friends and family back home, long into that awful night.  I was a punk, but – like many punks – I admired John Lennon.  He believed music could be a force for political change, like we did; he was unafraid to challenge the establishment (however much he was part of it), like we wanted to; he wrote about reality, and he was fiercely honest.  That was pretty punk, too.

In my circle, it was known that I was the guy with the biggest Lennon fixation: I not only had all of his albums, I had all of Yoko’s albums, too.  In the Nasties, I convinced the rest of the guys to play Gimme Some Truth – but I didn’t have to try hard.  I had his books, I collected clippings about him.  I knew a lot about him. As I got deeper into the punk scene, I listened to his records less, but I never let go of him.

He’d be seventy years old, now, but I still listen to his Plastic Ono Band, which is one of the two greatest rock’n’roll albums ever committed to vinyl.  (Ramones by the Ramones is the other.)

His assassination, on December 8, 1980, was a terrible tragedy – and so, in a small way, was the fact that his last album (before the inevitable avalanche of ham-fisted compilations and retrospectives) was a piece of unremarkable, glossy pop like Double Fantasy. Generally, he always needed Paul as an editor, and vice-versa. But Plastic Ono Band was the exception: it was stark, and raw, and different, and deeply, deeply personal. Some say the LP was the product of John’s dalliance with Dr. Walter Janov’s primal scream therapy, or his response to the (necessary, and overdue) collapse of the Beatles. To me, it was instead an actual piece of art and great rock’n’roll, improbably found under the same piece of shrink wrap. It was like listening to someone’s soul, without having received an invite to do so.

Thirty years later, I still listen to that record, and most of his other records, too.  The rest of us have grown older, but John Lennon remains forever frozen in time, hovering over that final autograph.  I miss him.


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    Paul R Martin says:

    Being older (65 this month) than you, my musical experiences are going to be different. I first saw the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show. There was a large crowd of students in a York common room who were gathered to watch this new act from Britain. We were hooked. I always preferred Lennon to that lightweight McCartney. I bought all their albums until they broke up. During the 70’s my musical tasted had moved on to Jazz and I never bought any of the albums by the former Beatles. I do prefer the post Beatles music by Lennon and Harrison to McCartney and Star.

    Lennon’s death was a shock. It brought back some of the ugly (Kennedy, King and Kennedy) memories of the 60’s. The anniversary of his death brings back a lot of positive and negative memories.

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    Cat says:

    I can’t believe it’s been that long Warren. The real day the music died for me. I have a Beatles story to share. I was given tickets for my birthday to see the Beatles when they came to Maple Leaf Gardens. My parents called up my godmother, who gave me the tickets and said that I could have them because apparently the caution of the day by the child “experts” was still that “their” kind of music would rot young minds and turn me to drugs and alcohol. Long story short….parents returned the tickets with my godmother’s permission and I got something else for my birthday instead of a memory in music history. I’ll never forget that.

    Oh, and the drugs, alcohol and rot your brain stuff? That came in high school and university that my parents happily sent me to.

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    James Curran says:

    8 years ago I reactivated my political involvement in the Liberal Party. We were looking for some inspiration. I booked a weekend in the Lennon Suite at La Reine Elizabeth in Montreal. It’s hard to explain to others that don’t get Lennon the profound effect he had on the lives of those who do. That weekend coincidentally was Super Bowl Weekend but I couldn’t care less (which is unusual for a fanatic like myself). In that room, I became focused – for the first time in many years – on making a difference.

    Maybe it’s time for me to take a return trip to that room.

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    Marc-Andre Chiasson says:

    As an old boomer (turned 65 on December 6th) who was in a small local band in Bathurst, New Brunswick in the ’60s and who played mostly Beatles (and some Elvis) songs, I hear you loud and clear Warren. To this day, John Lennon is still my foremost musical hero (beside you of course). Thanks for doing this tribute. R.I.P. John.

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    Dave says:

    I suspect Johnny Rhythm would not want us to get all maudlin about his passing. Go and grab a guitar, bang out some songs, clap yer feet and stamp yer hands as he used to say on stage, and have some fun.

    Well Johnny, the people in the cheaper seats ARE clapping their hands. The rest can go rattle their f**king jewelry.

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    Dr. Strangelove says:

    “Generally, he always needed Paul as an editor, and vice-versa.”

    I’m not sure about “always” but I understand where you’re coming from. I’m of the opinion (and it’s just an opinion) that of all the terrific song-writers in rock and roll, the top two were in the same band – a remarkable occurance.

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    Ted H. says:

    I remember the night Lennon was shot very well. After absorbing the tragedy of the situation my next thought was that now there will never be a Beatles reunion, which up to that point, was still a possibility, if not a probability.

    In light of the comments made here a few days ago regarding the anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique massacre, let’s not forget that Lennon’s murder was the consequence of a culture where guns are seen as solutions to problems, even problems that exist only in the minds of unbalanced people, and those unbalanced people are able to obtain guns without difficulty.

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    Patchouli says:

    Thanks for posting the video; I’ve always loved the dreamlike quality of the two of them walking together toward the home, and the imagery of Yoko opening the windows and letting in the light — showing us John. I haven’t listened to the song since it was played, at her request, at my friend’s funeral a few years ago.

    I often think of what the world missed out on when Lennon’s flame was snuffed out so early — that a man who wrote Imagine before he was under 40 would have given us amazing truth through music had he lived into his fifties and beyond.

    When my son, who’s now 25, was little, he had a friend over and they were playing a tape of John Lennon and I heard the two little boys, age 6, telling each other the story of John Lennon, as told to them by their parents, each filling in different details. That was when I knew he would live on forever, through his music, his philosophy, and of course, his children and those of his admirers.

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    Namesake says:

    The new PBS doc “Lennon NYC” described below* that first aired a few weeks ago is quite good:

    lots of newly released footage; not too maudlin _or_ hagiographic; focusses just on the adult, post-Beatle, struggling w. various grown-up & mid-life issues; and, interesting esp. to this site’s twin audiences, it highlights not only his most active political years & spotlights how a major pop/rock star can be a political game-changer (which explains why he was on Nixon’s most wanted list), but also how the aging rocker came to terms with the changing trends in the industry & was reinventing himself by going back to his roots. (So, watch for it in the ensuing years’ ‘pledge drive’ weeks).

    * http://www.ottawacitizen.com/entertainment/John+Lennon+documentary+reveals+footage+Beatle/3848750/story.html

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    Kevin says:

    Good article, and thanks for the video Warren. A few years ago I was in Liverpool visiting relatives, and we went through the Beatles museum in the new development at the port. That white room is recreated in the museum, and is the last exhibit before you exit. They play “Imagine” on a loop – it’s quite moving.

    At the risk of offending the purists, I’ve heard a lot of covers of “Imagine” over the years. To me, the artist who got the best results was, of all people, Patti Labelle at Live Aid 1985. She brought the song firmly into her genre, and did an amazing job with it. It’s on Youtube, for anyone who is interested.

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      Namesake says:

      Voulez-vous imaginez avec moi, ce soi?!

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    Darren K says:

    I was taking a taxi home from work on that night, and all the music was Lennon’s. I said to the cab driver, what’s up. He told me that John Lennon was dead.

    I couldn’t believe it. Later that week, I covered the memorial for him at Nathan Phillips Square with – I swear half the city. All crying, all teary and all singing “Give Peace A Chance”

    I still get goose bumps to this very day.

    A good, Sad memory


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    James Curran says:

    As an aside, I’d like to commend Q107 on their “24 Hours of John Lennon” gig they’re in the middle of. It’s amazing to me that there are still things to learn about John Lennon 30 years later.

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    Steve Gallagher says:

    A couple of friends of mine pretended to be with the Sir George Williams University newspaper
    back when Yoko and John were doing their bed-in at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel.

    They actually got into the room and sang along on ‘Give Peace A Chance’. One of these guys is now the principal of an Elementary School here in Vancouver. The other guy has moved on.

    I just remember how moved these guys were by the experience. I was already into my Frank Zappa phase and too cynical for my own good.

    I still listen to Zappa more than I do Lennon but I miss the pair of them.

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