12.08.2013 09:48 AM

33 years ago tonight



Thirty-three 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 more than 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. Arthur 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.

Anyway. Here’s Jimmy Breslin’s unforgettable piece on that unforgettable day, 33 years ago, which you must read.


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    Swervin' Merv says:

    That dalliance would be with Arthur Janov, not Walter. (FYI or, in this case, should we say “for the record.”)

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    Robin says:

    Thank you for this. I remember exactly where I was when I first heard the news on the radio. I was driving with a friend on a very cold, dark, snowy night and John Lennon’s music was being played on the radio. My friend noted this and said: “I wonder why they are only playing John Lennon’s music?” Shortly after, the announcer shared the shocking news. My friend said: “He was the Beatles.” We drove the rest of the way silently listening to his music on the radio.

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    mrburnsns says:

    Even better than Breslin’s column was legendary ABC-Detroit anchor Bill Bonds story and commentary from the next day:


    “And at 40 when a man or a woman’s life really starts to come together, he is gone forever. Murdered by an insignificant nobody with insanity and a pistol for his companions. It is not fair and it is certainly not right.” He goes on to make an impassioned argument for gun control that I’m not sure has been equaled in 33 years.

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    david ray says:

    they say a song can’t change the world
    you are bound to fail
    but the best ones slowly do
    they’re feathers on the scale
    and one by one they light the dark
    and slowly tear the veil
    that one day will send the worst of us
    from court and straight to jail.

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    steve says:

    He should have stayed in Canada, IMAGINE

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    Elisabeth Lindsay says:

    Thanks for this, Warren. Makes me wonder why so many of the good ones are taken in December.

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    harvey bushell says:

    I clearly remember watching ABC’s monday night football and Howard Cosell interrupting the play by play to announce Lennon’s assassination. I don’t remember anything else about that game, that night or, really, even much about that year without giving it a lot of thought and looking up my old calendar or diaries or using google.

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    outsider says:

    I was watching Monday Night Football – which, somewhat incongruously, Lennon had visited before – when Howard Cosell dismissed an in-booth debate over a questionable on-field call to tell us (I can still hear it): “But, it is only a game. I have just been given the shocking news that ….. ”
    I still have my copies of Rolling Stone, Time, Newsweek and Macleans, with Lennon on the cover of each. The best of the many, many letters published in those issues: “I read the news today, oh no …. “

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    Darren says:

    I was in a taxi cab heading to my apartment in downtown Toronto after working late. The radio had all Lennon songs, and I asked the driver what was going on. He told me Lennon had been killed.

    It was the first time a person that I followed, as a big Beatles fan – Warren got me started when I bought Magical Mystery Tour with him at Kelly’s Music on Princess Street in Kingston – died.

    I called all my friends, we talked into the night, and I was at Nathan Phillips Square the next night covering the memorial for Rogers Cable 10.

    Imagine still brings tears to my eyes.

    Good sad memories.

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