, 12.08.2021 01:23 AM

41 years ago tonight

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.”

Lennon wasn’t perfect. In fact, as I much later learned, he was deeply flawed.

But his assassination, on December 8, 1980, was of course a terrible tragedy. It was profoundly sad. It was a loss.

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.

The next morning, exams weren’t cancelled, though it felt to me like they could 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.

Forty years. 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. Breslin wrote it best.

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.


6 Comments


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    Canada Joe says:

    We hardly knew him? Come on, he was a wife beater and child abondoner. We knew enough. Lennon might have been a 1st rate artist, but he was a 3rd rate human being.


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      Andy Kaut says:

      Had he made it past today 41 years ago, just think how he may have come around. The shit thing is that he wasn’t given the chance to settle into a decent aged career. Elton John and McJagger got knighted.

      I daresay John might have recanted his earlier refusal, had he been given another 40 years.

      Nobody is beyond redemption, and we’ve canonized worse in the Church of Music.


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    PJH says:

    I’ll never forget that phone call to my best friend that night….I hadn’t really experienced any loss (aside from family pets) yet….I just remember feeling confused and shocked….things like this…especially to someone who was so beloved, weren’t supposed to happen. I suppose for me, it was the beginning of the end of innocence, that life indeed could be nasty, brutish, and short……


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    The Doctor says:

    That picture that you provided, by Astrid Kirchherr, reminded me of the movie Backbeat, which focuses on those years of John Lennon’s life (when his friend Stu Sutcliffe was in the band — he’s the guy in the background in the photo). An underrated film IMO, and Ian Hart is particularly good as Lennon.

    Another movie about an even younger Lennon is Nowhere Boy, and again I think it’s underrated. Even though Aaron Johnson doesn’t physically resemble Lennon all that much, he does an excellent job and pulls it off. Kristin Scott Thomas and Anne-Marie Duff are also good as his Aunt Mimi and his mother Julia.


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    Lee Hill says:

    I remember that night and the strange days that followed all too well – particularly a shroud of stunned disbelief that took several weeks to fade and resurface as acceptance. Watching Peter Jackson’s magisterial Get Back (a restoration of Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s remarkable footage of the Let It Be sessions) reminded me of Lennon’s many contradictions, but also this simple, but striking phrase Norman Mailer made at the time of Lennon’s death: “We have lost a genius of the spirit.” Lennon and The Beatles had that spirit in abundance and while they also all too human, it is that spirit that speaks to the same in each of us today.


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    Eastern Rebellion says:

    I will always remember where I was when I heard the news. He was a person of his time (as were the other members of the band). I will not speak ill of the dead. The Beatles changed everything in modern music and culture. People who were not alive back then cannot appreciate just how influential they were. I suspect the pressure that came with that success they had something to do with the challenges all of the members faced. He was murdered, and we lost someone far too early.

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