A World Without Lennon

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

“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.


  1. a very well written good-by to John Lennon and a sad reflection on the past thirty one years and all that has happen in these years. I have been involved in animal rights and animal issues these past twenty years and have really no hope that the humans will ever do anything but continue to degrade and destroy our earth. One day the earth will be so sick it will throw us off as well and may start anew without a species called human.

  2. Martin’s comment reflects the thoughts of a great many of us. Sadly, gun violence did not end with the murder of John Lennon. It continues and will continue until America does something to prevent guns coming into the hands of the wrong people.

  3. You wrote "I wept because no one should have his life taken so senselessly. 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."

    Over all these years there have, indeed, been so many "future victims" so your tears were not wasted. The 9 yr old little girl in Tucson and others who were murdered on January 8 by yet another senseless act of gun violence are the most recent victims. I hope you continue to be moved and to cry. America should be crying a river of tears over our shame.

  4. I remember it so vividly. I was lying in bed with my three month old daughter and my husband came and told me the news. Every year I remember. Thanks for this great article.

  5. Thanks for the reminder!
    I remember coming home and finding my roommate in a heap on the floor. We were freshman in college. An entire university was bonded together from that day forward. There waw a candle light vigil at the campus commons. The seniors syncronized their stereos and Lennon Tunes could be heard throughout the campus. Students openly wept and comforted eachother…

  6. I really liked this article. I felt sad about John Lennon getting shot. I was doing the mom thing then when I got a call from my husband who was on the west coast on business. He was taking it very hard. He was a quiet guy that kept things to himself – but he just kept saying that he didn't like this over and over. He felt very close to Lennon and he always mourned the loss of him for the rest of his life. A moment of silence and introspection is a perfect memorial for both of them. Bill passed away 6 years ago.

  7. I recall exactly where I was when I heard this awful news. My husband and I are native New Yorkers who'd moved to LA just a few years before. We were sitting in our den with the TV on, he was crying and I was totally stunned. Where were you?

  8. Great article describing a beautiful person from our formative years.I think his compassion and sincere spirit was contagious to a lot of us Boomers and gave us some fuel to go out and lead successful family and professional lives because we basically felt as did John that we were on the right side and stil are.Last week was difficult for me .because a good friend of mine that's in my poker game found out he's very very sick.That's why we're all so lucky and Everyday is a holiday.And any day we can hear a John Lennon song will usually uplift our moods.I think Lennon's music sort of always brings us back to basics and what's important.Happy Holidays Alan

  9. A gracious tribute to musical genius. I have four children all of whom love music and are unanimous in their love of the Beatles. I remember he was asked why an Englishman would make New York his home? He said if you wanted to be at the center of the world in ancient times you would live in Rome. If you want to live in the center of culture in our time you live in New York. The gun was not the problem nor was our great Country. The narcissistic monster that took his life for no other reason than notoriety was the culprit.

  10. Paul was the cute one, Ringo the funny one, George the quiet one. But John was the genius behind it all. As a very young girl, he was my first crush, my first love. Can you love someone whom you've never actually met in person? When John Lennon was murdered in NYC I was a full grown, albeit still young, woman. His was the first death in my lifetime of anyone truly important to me. It was devastating. Now I'm a fully mature woman, not so young anymore. But the remembrance of the crushing hurt I felt by his death remains quite vivid. This was a very moving story to read. Thank you. Let me add that, like the author and several readers, I cried too.

  11. I remember crying because I felt like, that's it. The innocence is over. I'm an adult now, my future is bleak, I live in a wretched, dangerous country. No more childhood illusions. I felt so hopeless. I was 26.

  12. A sad day. I remember it well. I took my daughter, who was in her early teens and a friend to the vigil in Spokane, Wash. It was amazing that these teens had fallen in love with the Beatles and were singing along with the songs played at the vigil.


  13. Very well said, and very touching. I remember actually hearing the news from Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football. What a terrible happening. It was exacerbated years later when George passed. It feels like we have lost so much.

  14. Truly, Lennon's death was a great loss, tho' I'm not convinced that more gun legislation will curtail the murder rate. I thank you for y'r excellent & tho'tful piece.

  15. What a wonderful tribute and amazing that on that very day, you captured what a significant loss Lennon’s murder was to generations. Imagine. Just Give Me Some Truth. Give Peace a Chance. The song titles alone send a message. What a voice we are missing. I remember driving to work that fateful day and was thrilled the Los Angeles rock station was playing nothing but Beatles songs. Then, at the next break I found out why and the rest of the day was a blur. “Somebody spoke and I went into a dream.” But it was a nightmare.

  16. A beautiful tribute from a journal you have kept all these years! Thanks for sharing!

    For what it is worth, we can forget very easily because we have a volunteer military….

  17. I was just a teenager in 1980, but I remember this as if it was just yesterday. Thank you for this lovely tribute to John and for reminding us all of how gut wrenching the feeling was to have one of our greatest musical/cultural heroes snatched away so suddenly and ruthlessly. And, just so you know, you were not alone … I cried too.

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