, 12.08.2023 01:32 AM

December 8, 1980

My girlfriend Paula Christison had been over, and we’d been studying, then watching something on the little black and white TV we had. My Carleton roommate, Lee G. Hill, was there too. Lee and I had been great friends in Calgary. In junior high, we’d started a couple fanzines with Beatles-centric themes. In our shared room on Second Russell, we had a couple John Lennon posters up amongst the punk rock stuff.

Paula left for her place downtown, so Lee and I were studying when the phone rang. It was Paula. “John Lennon’s been shot, babe,” she said. “It’s on the radio.”

His assassination, on December 8, 1980, was of course a terrible tragedy – and so, to me, was the fact that his last album (before the inevitable avalanche of ham-fisted compilations and retrospectives) was a piece of self-indulgent, saccharine shite like Double Fantasy.

Generally, he always needed Paul as an editor, and vice-versa. But his best album – and one of the best albums of all time, in my view – was Plastic Ono Band. It was like him: it was stark, and raw, and different, and deeply, deeply personal. Some say the LP was the product of his dalliance with 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. Like listening to someone’s soul, without having received an invite to do so.  You should listen to it today.

The next morning, exams weren’t cancelled, though it felt to me like they should have been. When I walked into Carleton’s gym, there was a guy sitting there, already wearing a John Lennon T-shirt. I wanted to punch him. Instead, I just took my seat and wrote the stupid exam.

So long ago. I can’t believe he’s been gone that long; I can’t believe I’m way older than he ever got a chance to be. It sucks.

Here’s my favourite picture of him, the one I used to use on posters I’d make up for Hot Nasties shows.  I liked it because he looked like a punk. That’s Stu in the background, I think.  Also long gone.

We miss you, John.  Hardly knew you.



  1. harvey bushell says:

    I was watching Monday night football when Howard Cosell abruptly stopped his game commentary and gravely announced John’s assassination. I was shocked and that moment is still indelibly etched in my mind as a seminal moment in my life. I don’t remember the game itself at all but thinking of that moment still gives me a lump in my throat.


  2. The Doctor says:

    By the way, re: the photo (with Stu Sutcliffe in the background), two very good, underrated films that cover that time in John Lennon’s life are Backbeat and Nowhere Boy.

  3. He would be kicking Donald Trump’s ass if he were alive today. He’d be all over that.

  4. Kevin says:

    Had a chance to go to Liverpool a few years ago, so we walked through the Beatles museum down on the docks. The last thing you see, after walking past all the kitschy displays, is a white room, requisite white Steinway, and Imagine playing softly in the background. It stops you in your tracks and you can’t help standing there looking and listening and thinking.

  5. John W says:

    For some reason I haven’t been around this site for a while. I had forgotten how well you did these touching pieces on our past. Thanks.
    As I get older I realize how events, in my case the assassination of Bobby K, knock the wind out of you and change your attitudes forever.

    • Kevin says:

      Interesting article. I was taken by how the author uses negative and agressive language to characterize those she wants us to feel negatively towards, and gentler, more positive language for those she doesn’t, in similar situations. So on the one hand Lennon “impregnated” Cynthia, which casts him as an agressor and her as a victim. On the other hand, Ono “reveals” her pregnancy – obviously she was a willing conspirator confessing to something they had hidden. Or while Lennon’s father owning up to his faults evokes sympathy, Lennon is a villain because supposedly he would never forgive his father. But Lennon himself, in spite of having owned up to his brutality, had a “God complex” and showed “general self-satisfied douchiness”.

      Made me feel like I was reading a Sham-Wow script – “Our brand good” (loud and proud), versus (sotto voce) “The other brand evil and nasty”!

      • Eric Weiss says:

        It’s not the best article, but the subject matter is well documented. Lennon was a prick to a lot of people. Brilliant musician, but Spacey is a great actor, Cosby made a lot of people laugh, and Franken was a fantastic Senator. It’s human nature to overlook the shitty things artists do because their art touches us on an emotional and visceral level, doesn’t excuse what they did, and it doesn’t mean they deserve canonization when they die. I had everything Cosby ever did on original first press vinyl. I didn’t think twice about throwing them in the trash when the truth about him came out. Hero worship of people who abuse women is one of the reasons they get away with it.

        • Kevin says:

          You could be right – so many of the people we admire for one thing are rotten for another thing. From sex symbol Jim Morrison who was actually an impotent drunk all the way to Mother Teresa who loved her first-class travel. Why are we so disappointed when they turn out to be human after all?

          No, it’s not the best article. The blatant manipulation really grates.

  6. western view says:

    I am too young to pretend that I was wowed by the Beatles at the height of Beatlemania, but I have acquired a deep appreciation for their music and have the LPs to prove it.
    Mr. Kinsella invites us to listen to the Plastic Ono Band album, but I can’t bring myself to do it. I can’t stand the post Beatles music by Lennon and much of McCartneys solo music either.
    Like Elvis’ Sun recordings, the genius and freshness of the Beatles early 45s and LPs is something to behold. Bolt on a set of headphones and listen to “I Saw Her Standing There”. If the raw energy of that doesn’t pack a dance floor, I don’t know what it would take. And then Lennon spins on a dime and churns out “If I Fell”, a tender recording what lures us in with the wonderful harmonies but also features chord changes that brings a freshness that stands up pretty well today.

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