John Lennon & The Beatles

I’m usually about the last person on Earth that someone in this community would think of to write a post commemorating the 30th anniversary of the death of one of the most celebrated musicians of all time. As a general rule, I’m just not very hip when it comes to music, regardless of the genre–I rarely listen to music, I haven’t purchased a CD in who knows how long, and even when I turn on the radio in the car or on the Internet, it’s usually only to follow a sporting event or catch a bit of news.  As such, it’s not obvious why the murder of John Lennon would weigh any more on my mind than the murder or premature death of any other celebrity or public figure. And yet it does.

I grew up in a home which was not particularly media friendly. We had one television, located in the family room, and it was used almost exclusively by my parents in the evenings: The Nightly Business Report (and later, the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour), Jeopardy! (dinner was eaten right after Final Jeopardy ended–almost like clockwork), LA Law (after the kids had gone to bed), and on Sunday evenings, Nature. We owned no movies, with the exceptions of a VHS tape of E.T. some cousins had given us for Christmas and a recording of The Empire Strikes Back, which eventually stopped working due to excess use.  My parents demonstrated virtually no interest in music when I was a child–we never listened to the radio, never attended any concerts, and never sang (to my best recollection). The only exception to this rule was a large, dusty stack of vinyl records in a largely-hidden corner of our basement, and an equally large and dusty record player situated near my father’s recliner by the pool table. Although there were a few other albums mixed in, virtually every record in the stack was by The Beatles.

Due to the presence of our pool table, my home became a destination for all of the neighborhood kids during summer vacations, on weekends, and any other time we weren’t in school. My older brother and the other “big kids” would engage in 8- and 9-ball tournaments for hours on end. (I generally wasn’t allowed to play, and was certainly considered a nuisance–the obnoxious little brother, hanging around the big kids…) Part of this nearly ritualistic pre-lunch activity was listening to the Beatles albums, over and over without end.

As a result, my early childhood summers were filled with every melody and lyric ever recorded by the Beatles, with the sole exception of anything from Yellow Submarine, because, as my mother put it, “It was a stupid song, and they were so drugged out that I couldn’t stand them anymore.” I can scarcely remember a time when I couldn’t sing “Eight Days a Week” from memory, or when I didn’t know that “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was a symbolic title (though my brother would never tell me what LSD was!); the songs John Lennon & Paul McCartney wrote were far more familiar (and enjoyable) to me than primary songs like “I am a Child of God,” “Search, Ponder, and Pray,” or “Follow the Prophet.” Our family’s fascination with the Beatles spilled over into movies as well–we rented and re-rented all of the Beatles movies, such as Help! and A Hard Day’s Night.

During all of this, I remember talking with my mother about the Beatles, about how much she adored them as a teenager, about whether she would have been among the screaming voices when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. I also remember asking her why the Beatles didn’t make music anymore. When I asked her that, I was holding the album cover for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, in which John, Paul, George, and Ringo pose in flashy, brightly colored militaristic uniforms and are surrounded by scores of other people and faces. My mother pointed to Lennon, and said that, “Mr. Lennon was shot and killed by another man.” Being a child at the time, I misunderstood her and thought for years that the murderer, Mark David Chapman, was one of the people depicted in the SPLHCB album artwork.

Later, as a teenager, I discovered a large book in our family library–a Rock n’ Roll anthology of sorts produced by Rolling Stone. The book contained a chapter on John Lennon, and was my first introduction to Yoko Ono and her complicated relationship with the Beatles, as well as other information about the band’s breakup, drug abuse, and Lennon’s murder. Shortly thereafter, in 1995, I sat with my mother in the car as we listened to the newly-released Anthology 1 album, and heard “Free as a Bird” for the time.

Like I said at the outset, I don’t listen to music very often, and I’m no great authority on any aspect of the industry. But I do know the Beatles, and I know John Lennon, and I love them because they are inextricably linked to my childhood and embedded in some of the most distinct memories I have of my siblings, parents, and friends. These memories return to me whenever I hear a new musicians singing Lennon on American Idol, when I see Beatles tunes in movies, or listening–as I did this morning–to a sports talk radio host describe his feelings during the Monday Night Football game when Howard Cosell delivered the news of Lennon’s death.

16 thoughts on “John Lennon & The Beatles

  1. I suppose I should have included a “Please share your own thoughts on Lennon & his music” at the end there…

  2. Lennon’s death falls into the “Where were you when you heard?” category. I was alone in my rented room (less than a month away from my wedding) listening to the radio. The DJ comes on and announces the John has been shot but they have no information on his condition. Cue song from Double Fantasy. When the song is done, the DJ informs us that John has been taken to the hospital in critical condition. Cue another song from Double Fantasy. When that song is over, the DJ immediately announces that “John Lennon is dead”.

    In retrospect, it seems clear that the DJ knew he was dead from the getgo, but was trying to ease his listeners into it. I suppose it sort of worked. If he had started off with “John Lennon is dead” (and there are probably people who tuned in just in time to hear only that) I think my brain would have fried on the spot.

    My dad bought his first TV so we could watch the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. I saw A Hard Day’s Night and Help in the theaters (lines literally around the block), and the only 45s I ever owned were by the Beatles. And yet my oldest daughter (born 1983) is a much bigger Lennon fan than I ever was.

  3. I got pretty into John Lennon as a teenager. Loved the Double Fantasy album. I remember hearing about his death as much as I remember hearing about Elvis’s. Which means not a lot. I read a book about John and Yoko written by Yoko’s tarot card reader (if I’m remember right) that was interesting, but who knows how accurate it was.

    One of my favorite Lennon (solo) songs:

  4. Even though I was born at the end of the 70’s I grew-up as if I were born decades earlier. My folks ignored the 80’s. I know so very little about 80’s music, tv and movies it borders on sad. So for 10 or so extra years the 60’s and 70’s raged om in our house and of course the Beatles were a huge part of that.
    I attribute my parent’s decision to do this to two
    events that happened at the end of 1980. At the end of November my uncle who was my father’s best friend died in a tragic accident and then of course John who was my father and his brother’s hero was killed. December 8th was and will always be a very dark day for our little family. Today I was trying to explain to my son, Winston, that today was the anniversary of the death of the man he was named for. He said, “Mom, I know. He was a Beatle.”. I guess that’s proof that I have done a pretty good job passing on the love for John and the Beatles that my parents gave me. It’s also proof that in a way the man lives on. Today I tip my hat to Mr. John Winston Lennon and thank him for everything he gave us.

  5. I generally do very poorly when I try to force these things into words. I was born after John Lennon died. However, the Beatles have meant very much to me in my life. Suffice to say that today as I listened to a string arrangement of “In My Life” on NPR as a tribute to John Lennon, I cried.

  6. Years before I appreciated his music, I remember seeing something about John Lennon’s death in the newspaper. My parents weren’t rock-and-roll fans and the significance of that event just sort of passed me by at the time.

    As a teenager I walked into a theater to see “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and walked out a Beatles fan, though I didn’t know it immediately. I remember walking over to a Sam Goody’s record store because I needed to know who that was that was singing “Twist and Shout” – as that song completely knocked me over. Once I learned it was the Beatles, I became completely intrigued by the band. I had always known they were famous but had never connected with their music like that previously. From there I ended up buying every Beatles album and read quite a number of books about them as well. I wanted to know everything about them.

    John Lennon quickly became my favorite Beatle and they will always be my favorite band.

    Obviously John Lennon isn’t just about peace and love. He was a contradictory figure who said and did contradictory things. But he had something very special going on and I have wondered many times what kind of amazing music we will never hear because he was murdered. It was truly a tragedy.

  7. My mother was a normal Beatles fan in her twenties, like many Americans who lived in the sixties. I discovered the Beatles my senior year of high school and even found some of her old records. My daughter is 13 and now has a Beatles Tshirt, a Beatles poster on her wall and just made & designed her own tshirt that she wrote “All you need is Love” on.
    Exactly 20 years ago a baked a cake for John Lennon’s deathday when I was in college. I have a picture of it but I don’t know how to post it here.

  8. I have a similar relationship with the Beatles, Scott. When we got our first CD player for our house, the first purchases were Beatles CDs. Though Lennon/McCartney surely had more output, I still think Harrison produced better music, though not as often (While my guitar gently weeps is the best track from them). Still, Abbey Road is the best album, hands down.

  9. I was 21 when John died. I have an older brother who was a genuine Beatle freak during the 60s, so as a young child I heard every new Beatle song and album the day it was released. I was 12 when they broke up, but continued to follow the solo careers. John was always my favorite — I found his songs to be intense, personal, and dressed up stylistically in a very unique way. While Paul always followed the pop music trends (putting out songs that aped disco, proto-punk and new wave), and George’s music varied wildly in quality, John did his own thing, and had his own sound. And I always respected him for the individuality of his voice and style. I always listened to his songs for the words first: they were poems set to music.

    I can’t write about my feelings when I heard the news about John’s shooting. It’s too painful to recall, and too personal to share.

  10. I used to sing “Yesterday” to my daughter. I have a horrible voice and can barely carry a tune. I’ll never forget the day she sang part of it back to me. It sounded a lot better. It was one of those minor miracles that makes parenting worth it.

    I was 9 when Lennon was shot and remember all the adults talking about it as we drove to deliver some Christmas cheer to an elderly woman as part of a Church service project. The poverty of the woman we helped that day combined with the shocking story of the murder left an impression on my mind.

    What left a bigger even impression on my mind was the news that Lennon’s killer, Mark David Chapman, was obsessed with, and his own twisted mind, influenced by The Catcher in the Rye. A book that much like the music of the Beatles is something young people can not escape falling in love with. The idea that a great work by one artist could be tragically misunderstood and influence a person to assassinate another great artist was disturbing. As a teenager I somehow figured that must be why J.D. Salinger is a recluse and never publishes. He can’t bear the thought or responsibility of something like Lennon’s murder happening again.

  11. Scott, I really enjoyed your post. Though my Dad had a great many Beatles LP’s that I never was able to listen to. Perhaps his leaving (with his LP’s) provided me with a strange relationship with the band, and, incidentally, many others. Really it was not until my mid-teens that I re-discovered them in my own right. Though I have moved through different stages regarding their entire oeuvre many of their songs still resonate will me a great deal.

  12. In retrospect, it seems clear that the DJ knew he was dead from the getgo, but was trying to ease his listeners into it.

    The DJ must have been a believer in the “cat’s on the roof” joke from “Capricorn One”.

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