For me it was a Monday night like any other, on which I vividly recall being home watching a football game (of the American variety) on ABC’s Monday Night Football between the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots and though I do not remember the exact time I know it must have been close to midnight on the 8th of December, 1980. This given the fact that the game was late in to the 4th quarter with the Patriots winning by seven points though the Dolphins, led by their young quarterback Woodley were heading for what would be a touchdown to send the game in to overtime. It was while the Dolphins were driving up field late in the 4th quarter that Howard Cossell, announced that John Lennon, a name which in all frankness I had never even heard of till that moment; me being 13 at time had been shot while leaving his apartment building, “The Dakota”. The Dakota being a building located on the Westside of Central Park on 72nd Street in Manhattan and not far from where I was living at the time with my mother between 81st and 82nd street on Lexington avenue.
I at the time had no idea who John Lennon was though it was announced that he had been a member of a band which had been known as “The Beatles”. This a name which I had often heard but never taken any particular interest in along with many other names such as “The Rolling Stones” or “The Who” or “Led Zeppelin”.
I however checked with my grandmother, who was in New York and staying with us at the time if she knew who Lennon was, for above all I knew my grandmother to be a classical music fan and not much of one when it came to pop music or rock music or however one wishes to classify it as. My grandmother, who at the time was 76 actually surprised me by telling me she not only knew who he was, but that she had been to a Beatle concert back in 65 when they played in “Shea Stadium” (then home of the NY Jets and Mets and the place where I saw “The Rolling Stones” in concert in 1989) located in Queens in front of 66,000 people; this being the biggest rock concert at the time. After hearing about my grandmother’s experience if one could call it such with not only Lennon but “The Beatles”, I told her that John Lennon, had been shot though nothing else was known about it at the time.
I can’t say that my grandmother was particularly grief stricken to hear the news though like myself, she never desired to hear that hurt had been caused to anybody so with her words of “I hope he does not die” I left her to go back to my room to continue watching Monday Night Football. As for the game, it actually ended in a draw, which given the rules of American football meant there would have to be sudden death overtime; and this was precisely what I was watching when Cossell announced that Lennon unfortunately had died from gunshot wounds received earlier that evening. It was then that I ran back to tell my grandmother, who I could see was saddened much in the way she had been when Elvis Presley died as her statement “It’s a shame, that people feel they have to do such things to one another” indicated.
As for myself, I naturally was saddened by this news but I must say not in a way that was different from any other time when I had heard of tragedy occurring; such as a plane crash or earthquake or something which had been responsible for the loss of life. Regarding the game itself; it finished with the Miami Dolphins winning in overtime. This making me feel just a little better since they were the team I was actually pulling for.
I can not say the death of Lennon personally meant much to me at the time since I practically knew nothing about him; not that it would have made any difference to me if I had since I am not one to mourn the deaths of those whom I do not know personally. As I had for instance the death of my own grandfather, who incidentally had also died in the month of December in the year of 1975. Lennon’s death however did help to augment my curiosity in learning about him much in the way Mercury’s death 11 years later increased my nephews curiosity to find out as much as he could about Queen.
I however will never forget the week that followed which in many ways reminded me of the time following Elvis Presley’s death; this given the fact that John Lennon’s demise was also all over the media, from the newspapers to the TV stations (though not CNN or MTV, as neither had gone on air yet) to the radio stations. It being a case where the last of these could not seem to get enough of playing his songs, weather as a solo artist or while still a member of “The Beatles”. It was songs such as “Imagine”, “Come Together”, “Starting Over” and many others which were among those played but I mention these in particular, given the reason that they were the only ones I knew even if I had been previously unaware that they were Lennon’s. “Starting Over” however stuck in my mind for another reason apart from it being the one that had been receiving heavy radio play in the time leading up to Lennon’s death, as it was the one my brother-in-law used to wake me one morning when I was sleeping over at his apartment. This I will never forget, it was early Saturday morning and I had spent the night sleeping on the sofa in my sister’s living room when all of a sudden I hear, the sound of bells. These bells literally blasting out of the stereo next to me, in what was the introduction to the song “Starting Over”.
Actually during the months that led up to Lennon’s death, I had been listening to the radio, just about everyday as I did my homework and found out that I actually enjoyed not only some of the songs, (some only after having heard them many times over) but even the commercials and general atmosphere of radio stations such as ABC and NBC. Regarding radio stations however I particularly recall two DJs by the names of Don Imus and Howard Stern, who caught my attention, specially since they did a morning show which was also promoted by a TV commercial showing people saying “I love “Imus in the morning” ”. It was also during this time that I for the first time in my life become familiar with some of the popular songs of the day such as “Another One Bites The Dust” (Queen), “I Love A Rainy Night” (Eddie Rabbit), “Emotional Rescue” (The Rolling Stones), “I Love You More Than I Can I Say” (Leo Sawyer) and many others. Therefore by the time of Lennon’s death I had become more familiar with pop music than I ever had which perhaps led to me taking a bigger interest than I would have if it had happened before the fall of 1980 in which I received my first radio with a built in cassette player.
With regards to TV stations, many took to playing films in which The Beatles had stared in such as “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help” along with many a documentary about not only John Lennon’s music (both as a solo artist and a member of “The Beatles”) but his personal life. Much of it I noticed concentrated on his personal life, politics and what had been his marriage to Yoko Ono. There is one moment however in all the week that followed the death of John Lennon which will never leave my memory and it came on the first Saturday after his murder; when during the half time of a football game I was watching, the city of New York held a ten minute silence in Lennon’s honor. This being even more amazing when one takes in to consideration how when John Paul I died only 1 minute of silence was kept and not even by the whole city of New York. After all Popes, their will be many, even if one rather shaky theory says the world will end after a couple have died, but Lennon in his branch of music like Wagner in his will only be but once.
Looking back it is really incredible to think how John Lennon’s death in a way helped bring back popularity not only to The Beatles but that whole era that had been the first British invasion that brought along such bands as The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and many others. It was as if rock and roll were being given a boost, as many people like myself who had not been either Lennon or Beatles fans suddenly become more interested in this sort of music. I for my part can imagine this is what occurred last year when Pavarotti died; that many people who unlike me were not opera fans for the short time that followed Pavarotti’s death became interested in opera. Perhaps even going out and getting a Pavarotti CD or DVD much like people did with Lennon, shortly after his death. Naturally at the time of Lennon’s death, there was neither of which as only albums and cassettes were available but I think most people who read this get my general meaning.
By the time of Lennon’s death, Rock and Roll however had had many death’s in its family which had gained publicity such as Brian Jones 69, Jimi Hendrix 70, Janis Joplin 70, Jim Morrison 71, Keith Moon 78 (who died in the same hotel room as Mama Cass), John Bonham 80, Bon Scot 80, Ellen Naomi Cohen 74 (a.k.a. Cass Eliot) but baring Elvis’s death none had received any where near the same amount of media attention. All of which making it clear what had been Lennon’s contribution to his gender of music which I must admit is not my favorite as I am one to follow classical music and opera though not to the extent that I am blinded to the quality of other different genders of music. This being the case though I am reminded of something I once heard some one say to Edward Van Halen (guitar player for the group that bears his last name) on MTV which was “music isn’t Rock and Roll or Heavy Metal or this kind or that kind but good or bad” only to have Van Halen reply “No, music isn’t good or bad, it’s something you like or don’t like”. This comment by Edward Van Halen being the way I see music as opposed to being good or bad, though I must say that I do like some of the music I heard in the field that is rock music that includes many others apart from The Beatles and Elvis Presley.
With regards to John Lennon’s death it really was not till Farrokh Bulsara (a.k.a. Freddie Mercury) died on November, 24 that any death in or out of music received so much of the media’s attention. This being the case with regards to media attention though perhaps a lot of the coverage received by Mercury was due to the fact that his death was caused by AIDS, which was an even bigger worry at the time than it is today. I for my own do remember feeling some sadness over the death of the “quiet Beatle” George Harrison, who died of Cancer on November 29, 2001, though news of his death was in part drowned out by the events of September. 11 which were still in the media.
The aftermath of Lennon’s death I would say brought about a return to rock music which had in recent years been cast aside perhaps by the “disco fever” that erupted after the film “Saturday Night Fever”. It was as if Lennon’s demise did for Rock and Roll what The Beatles had done for it so many years back in 1964, when they first appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. Rock and Roll was fashionable again and as for me? I can not in all honesty claim to have found in it what I have in classical music and opera ( I, being the author of the book “New York’s Opera Society”) though I did find something of value in it as I have with many other kinds of music. I could even say that it was that time period which followed Lennon’s death that inspired me to listen to many a variety of rock band and even attend concerts by Styx, AC/DC, Deep Purple, Rod Steward, Iron Maiden (on two occasions), Pearl Jam, David Lee Roth, Ian Gillan and The Rolling Stones.