If it doesn’t rank up there in the memories of baby boomers like the Challenger disaster, the assassinations of iconic American leaders, and of course 9/11, the death of John Lennon probably runs a close second. It certainly made an indelible impression on writer Morgan Petrini, who wrote us this month about his effort to Imagine … A World Without Lennon.
Oh my gosh . . . I’ve forgotten! I never thought I would, never thought I could. But I did. Until I’d heard the story on the news, I’d completely forgotten that this month marks the thirtieth anniversary of John Lennon’s death. Thirty years ago, news of his murder hit me hard, as it did much of my generation, I suppose. I was living in Hawaii at the time. Here is what I wrote in my journal in December of 1980:
“Living here in paradise I seem to care little about news pertaining to the rest of the world. But I heard a most distressing story on the television news: that John Lennon was shot and killed in New York City -– murdered by a guy from right here in Honolulu! My initial reaction was shock, incredulity. How could such a horrific thing happen to this talented man of peace? How could the murderer be from this peaceful paradise of Hawaii?
“John Lennon’s impact goes far beyond simply being one-fourth of the best rock band ever. People like John Lennon, Bob Dylan, and a handful of others were the musical prophets of their age, representing an entire generation, and to a great degree were responsible for many of the social, cultural and musical changes that occurred during the sixties and seventies. The death of Lennon has shocked me to my very core. With his death is the realization that the spirit of the sixties… the spirit of a generation… are indeed over. John’s death seems symbolic of the death of my own youth and the youth of an entire generation. His death also reminds me of my own vulnerability and mortality. Death both confounds and fascinates me. I know it’s coming… eventually… and it absolutely blows my mind!
“It seems far too beautiful here in the Islands to be dwelling on such terrible thoughts as murder and death. So I tried to escape the grim news by hitting the surf early the next morning, riding the warm waves of a vibrant, living ocean. But my heart just wasn’t in it. Later, as I was lying on the sand soaking in the warmth of the December sun, I found myself actually weeping. The local radio stations played their tributes to John Lennon, I could hear the songs coming from someone’s nearby boom-box. The grim reality really began to sink in, that John Lennon was no more. Tears began streaming down my cheeks. I sobbed, my face moving in nervous twitches, my chin quivering, chest heaving up and down. I felt rather foolish–– a grown man sitting on a public beach crying like a baby. But, the fact is, I wept uncontrollably, right there in public and in broad daylight. I had been holding in my grief over the death of John Lennon since first hearing about it, and finally could contain it no longer.
“I wept for several reasons. I wept because John’s death was the final nail in the coffin of the sixties. I wept because John Lennon was me and I was him–– he was such a part of my youth, my formative years. I’m not saying that Lennon was anything more than just a man, but he became a generational icon to all of us who came of age in the late 1960s. And I wept because no one should have his life taken so senselessly. I wept for Yoko Ono and for Lennon’s young son. For both of his sons. I wept because there is no hope for any real gun legislation and more people will die as a result. I wept for future victims. I wept over the hopelessness of a society that cannot even pass a law to protect its citizens from themselves.
“And so it is that John Lennon has been shot. Later today there is a planned ten-minute vigil of silence to take place all over the world in his memory. Good-bye, John. I can only hope the aftermath of your passing will be that more people are finally encouraged to Give peace a chance. This is the sort of catastrophic event that will be remembered throughout our entire lives; like the assassinations of JFK, Bobby, and Doctor King. Be assured, I will never forget.”
But, of course, thirty years later, I did, in fact, forget. Very, very sorry John.