As of today, John Lennon has been dead for pretty much as long as he had been alive. That’s something to wrap one’s head around. It is an observation that prompts the consideration of how short life can be.
Everyone has a story about where they were when this happened. Today, I will tell mine.
MY JOHN LENNON STORY
December 1980 was a big deal for me. I would turn 16 years old early in the week. I’d worked the entire summer to purchase a used car, and was looking forward to having my drivers license and freedom.
It started out as possibly the best month ever.
Before the first week of December was done, I had my drivers license, my own car, and enough birthday money that I could do some unsupervised running around.
On December 8, 1980, I left my small Indiana town and drove over to a neighboring small town to pick up my friend, Tom. Tom played keyboards, he was a drummer in the school band for a brief period, and he was the first person with whom I had ever jammed on drums.
Our mission for the day was to go to the K-MART store, about 10 miles away in the nearby “big city” of 60,000 people. Beyond going there, we had no real plan. It was a Monday, there was no school due to snow, and we weren’t about to stay indoors.
We messed around with the little rides out front. They had a horse that rocked back and forth, so we’d put a quarter in it, and then stand behind it like we were perverts or something. It was 16-year-old entertainment in 1980.
Once inside the store, we hung a sharp left and went straight to the records section of the store. We looked at all of the records that we wanted, with the idea that we might buy one.
I saw a copy of DOUBLE FANTASY by John Lennon and picked it up. We were looking at the cover, and joking about how much John and Yoko look alike.
As we were messing around, hypothesizing ideas on how they could make a photo where they put John’s face on Yoko, there was an announcement over the PA system. Announcements were typically reserved for their “Blue Light Special,” but this one was different.
“Attention K-Mart shoppers. The news has just reported that John Lennon has been shot.”
And there we were, being stupid.
We put the record back and made a beeline out the exit, straight to the car. We were both in shock and didn’t say much to one another. I had the radio on and we were listening in the hopes of hearing some news. We heard nothing.
After dropping Tom off at home, I went home and turned on the radio. I sat in my room and noodled on my guitar while I waited to hear something.
Eventually, I heard the report. John Lennon was dead at 40.
HOW THIS IMPACTED ME
Subsequent reports would indicate that he was working on an album titled, “Life Begins at 40.” I’d sit and wonder what the songs on this mythical album might have sounded like. What would he have written about? What songs would I like or not like?
It would be a few months before I would have to force myself to let go of that obsession.
I’d also be torn between wanting to listen to The Beatles and NOT wanting to listen to them. Reminders were everywhere.
I started performing more poorly in school, except for my efforts at band. Outside of music, for the most part, I stopped opening books and stopped participating in school, skating through and barely graduating.
I went to lots of concerts with the idea that I had to go to see that artist perform before they died. While that might sound paranoid, I got to see Ozzy with Randy Rhoads the following year, before Randy died.
It also helped me to re-focus my efforts and goals. In 1978, I got highly distracted by Van Halen and shredding guitar. The passing of John Lennon was encouragement for me to focus on songwriting as much as my musical abilities.
On a side note, it would not be until my post-high school life that I would be able to see through the shredding guitar and learn to appreciate the songwriting abilities of Eddie Van Halen.
In my humble opinion, The Beatles were not stellar musicians. There was nothing that was impressive about their chops, at all. To me, at best, they were serviceable musicians.
Nobody in The Beatles was shredding impressive licks like dancing monkeys. They weren’t known for their technical prowess. In fact, I’d read stories about how the music had to be slowed down in a few instances so that the lead guitar parts could be played.
So where did John and the band source their magical powers? It came from their songwriting abilities.
They were masters of chord progressions, rhythmic pleasantries, and incredible lyrics. This is what made The Beatles great, and it’s what fueled John Lennon for the remainder of his all-too-short life.
So while they were not virtuosos or impresarios, they were serviceable and reliable musicians, and amazing songwriters.
IN THE END
It was 1968 when I got my first toy drum set. With my radio on the floor tom, I would turn on the radio and play along with those songs by The Beatles. This may very well be where I developed my sense of rhythm, and they were there with me the whole time.
Since then, I’ve played many songs by The Beatles and John Lennon, and have been inspired by them many times. John is always an inspiration who actively lives within my being on an almost daily basis.
John would have been 80. Having recently turned 56, I sometimes wonder why I lived so long, while he was cut down so soon. I suppose it’s a mystery that will never get solved, because there are no answers for any of this.
As I write this, I still wonder what Life Begins at 40 would have sounded like. I wonder “what if” about it all, even still. I don’t obsess over it, but I do think about it during this time of year.
What can we do?
Let’s take a chance and fly away… somewhere…