John Lennon was really my first hero of rock and roll. As a kid I didn’t really latch on to any one particular performer. We had our Partridge Family records, of course, and I remember playing Don McLean’s American Pie over and over for a while (and it was a single, so it faded out and had to be flipped over to hear all of the song, for those of you who remember those funny things called ‘records’). Oh, and I had a brief love of Glen Campbell’s Rhinestone Cowboy. But it was the Beatles that first really grabbed me, even though it was six or seven years since they’d broken up.
Now, I’ll confess, I actually liked Paul McCartney better at first. Paul was…safer, more immediately approachable. But over time, I found Lennon ultimately seemed so genuine. As glib as he could be in interviews (and we’ve probably all seen those clips: “How did you find America?” “Turn left at Greenland.”), the more you watch and read, the more you realize he laid himself out there. He held fast to his ideas. He wasn’t afraid to express himself, he wasn’t afraid to say what was on his mind, and he took his share of lumps for it.
I was one of the people who waited with bated breath for the release of his first album in five years. Lennon, after a tumultuous few years in his personal life that included a separation from Yoko Ono and a heroin addiction, gave up the life to help raise his son, Sean. He was emerging from five years of exile. (Just Like) Starting Over had come out in October, raising expectations for the album, and an entirely appropriate re-entry into the world. And then, three weeks after the album’s release, Lennon was gunned down outside his apartment.
I don’t know what we were watching on TV that night, but I remember the eleven o’clock news coming on, and the report that John Lennon had been shot. I went to bed not knowing what happened, but in the morning, I turned on my radio to my favorite rock station and heard…a Beatles song. I don’t remember which one, but it was a Lennon song, and I didn’t need anyone to tell me what that meant.
I didn’t cry, I didn’t stay home from school and bury myself in the covers, I didn’t cut school and travel to Strawberry Fields in Central Park, but Lennon’s death hit hard. Other rock heroes had gone. 1977 saw three members of Lynyrd Skynyrd die in a plane crash; Keith Moon of the Who died a year later, and Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham passed away about a month before Double Fantasy came out. None of those deaths hit me in the same way. Lennon was different. Lennon is different. It’s a shame he was taken away so young.