My mother never liked the Beatles when they were together. She particularly disliked John Lennon because he left his wife and child to "marry that Japanese girl." Then she heard IMAGINE, however, and it became one of her favorite songs. Much to her own surprise, she became a Lennon fan.
In December of 1980, my mother was recovering from a cancer operation and only a year away from her own death. I had gone to bed early the night before because I was subcontracting a cleaning position from my dad. At 5 AM I arose and went to work at the office building I cleaned while listening to taped music. At 7 AM, I arrived back home to find my mother up, in her robe, with the radio on. She just stared at me and said, "John Lennon is dead."
As celebrity deaths go, this one was hard to take and even harder to understand. Like most people throughout the seventies, I kept expecting the Beatles to get back together eventually. It seemed to come close from time to time such as when the UN Secretary General personally asked them to reunite for a charity concert...or when SNL's Lorne Michaels jokingly offered a pittance that, according to legend, John and Paul almost took him up on.
When Lennon had emerged from his five years of seclusion late in 1980, the concept of a Beatles reunion seemed more likely than ever...until December 8th.
That next morning, Lennon's friends were interviewed everywhere. Geraldo Rivera was all over GOOD MORNING AMERICA, publicly grieving with little films he edited together of memories. Richard Lester was on TODAY and so many other faces familiar to Beatle-watchers turned up throughout the day. Ringo and Barbara were seen rushing to be with Yoko. George issued a somber statement. Paul decided that perhaps working was the best way for him to deal with the numbness. Unfortunately, as he exited the studio, some reporter stuck a mike in his face and asked the inevitable stupid question, "What was your reaction to the death of John Lennon?" His reply ended with the phrase, "S'a drag, innit?" which caused people to think he was being aloof...rather than in a complete state of shock.
It's hard to imagine John surviving. Looking back, it seems almost as if he was meant to go when he did. His mentally ill assassin has been locked up ever since and is barely spoken of but an important thing to remember is that he was one of us--a Beatles fan. For a man who was never a politician or a great world leader--simply a pop musician who, by his own admission, was a very confused man just searching for the right things to do--John Lennon's death probably affected more people throughout the world than he himself would ever have believed.
People who weren't even born when Lennon was killed still grow up with his music and look at him as a martyr to peace. His well-known flaws are celebrated as proof that we all have issues that we must fight to overcome. His images are iconic and his music and its influence continue to be discovered by subsequent generations. As time goes on and those who actually knew him fade, the image itself becomes the new truth. It will be interesting to see how John Lennon is remembered on the 40th anniversary of his murder...the 50th...and beyond. One can only...imagine.