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John Lennon at 65

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We’re coming up on two significant dates in the life (and death) of John Lennon. On October 9, Lennon would have been 65 years old had he not been gunned down 25 years ago on December 8, 1980. Both Time and Newsweek gave over their covers to Lennon’s passing. I’ve chosen Newsweek to focus on because it has that haunting portrait by Richard Avedon. Also, I had previewed the first Newsweek cover to feature the Beatles back in 1964 in an earlier post, and it’s interesting to compare how the coverage changed in those intervening years.

December_22_1980_1

John Lennon 1940-1980
December 22, 1980

Newsweek devoted twelve entire pages to the death of John Lennon in a special "pull-out" coverage. It contained a handful of separate articles entitled: "Death of a Beatle" which was the news coverage, "Lennon’s Alter-Ego" about assassin Mark David Chapman, "Strawberry Fields Forever" about the influence of the Beatles, and "An Ex-Beatle ‘Starting Over’" about Lennon’s new emergence on the public scene after nearly five years of absence.

"Come together, he had once asked them in a song, and now they came, tens of thousands of them, to share their grief and shock at the news. John Lennon, once the cheeky wit and sardonic soul of the Beatles, whose music had touched a generation and enchanted the world, had been slain on his doorstep by a confused, suicidal young man who had apparently idolized him. Along New York’s Central Park West and West 72nd Street, in front of the building where Lennon had lived and died, they stood for hours in tearful vigil, looking to each other and his music for comfort."

But, of course, there was no comfort because no matter how many times we sang "Imagine" that week, nothing would bring him back. I remember hearing the news myself — at the time I was a CNN correspondent in Los Angeles (we had just gone on the air) and I was at home and saw it on the TV. I immediately called my brother and told him and he seemed to react like, "So why are you calling me?" About a half hour later he called back and said he didn’t know what he was thinking — he was devastated like the rest of us. Looking back, I think his delayed reaction came from the sheer out-of-left-field unthinkablility of the news. Nobody saw this coming.

The magazine called Lennon the "unofficial" leader of the Beatles, cited his "numinous influence" on pop culture and noted: "the killing stunned the nation — and much of the world — as nothing had since the political assassinations of the 1960s."

"Lennon, semiconscious and bleeding profusely, was placed in the back seat of Officer James Moran’s patrol car. ‘Do you know who you are?’ Moran asked him. Lennon couldn’t speak. ‘He moaned and nodded his head as if to say yes,’ Moran said… Though doctors pronounced Lennon dead on arrival at Roosevelt (Hospital), a team of seven surgeons labored desperately to revive him. But his wounds were too severe. There were three holes in his chest, two in his back and two in his left shoulder. ‘It wasn’t possible to resuscitate him by any  means,’ said Dr. Stephen Lynn, the hospital’s director of emergency services. ‘He’d lost 3 to 4 quarts of blood from the gun wounds, about 80 percent of his blood volume." After working on Lennon for about half an hour, the surgeons gave up, and went to break the news to Yoko."

Newsweek gave Lennon and the Beatles a great deal more credit for their music than they had 16 years earlier. "These are great songs. If they are pop, then clearly pop is capable of greatness in expressing the pathos of mass society." Lest we give them too much credit, however, for "getting it", that same article concludes talking about the song "Happiness Is a Warm Gun", never mentioning (or knowing) that the "gun" was not a firearm, but a hypodermic needle.

Lennon never gave up his passion for social justice. On the day he was shot, John and Yoko had decided on a trip to San Francisco for the following week to walk with Asian workers who were demonstrating for wage equality. Let’s close with Yoko Ono’s own words:

"Some people are saying this is the end of an era. But what we said before still stands — the 80s will be a beautiful decade. John loved and prayed for the human race. Please tell people to pray the same for him. Please remember that he had deep faith and love for life and that, though he has now joined the greater force, he is still with us."

Happy 65th birthday, John. We still miss you.

**********

Instant_history_oj1 Instant History is all about the "first draft" of history.  For over seven decades, both Time and Newsweek have provided a weekly snapshot of our lives — sometimes profoundly insightful and other times woefully inadequate but, in all cases, before conventional wisdom has time to set in.  Like today’s blogs…

Bryce Zabel is a working screenwriter/producer whose current credits include The Poseidon Adventure and Blackbeard.   He was chairman of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences from 2001-2003.  He maintains two other blogs:  his flagship News! — Views! — & Schmooze! and Movies-Squared.

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  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    Relevant now as much as ever.

  • MT

    I surprised by the absence here of anti-Lennon posts. Maybe that’s a good sign.To those outraged by this story, I say this — John Lennon was perhaps the most important social and political figure to come out of pop music in the last 50 years and that is why we’re celebrating his life today — 25 years after his passing.

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    MT, give it time. They will come.

    I understand Lennon’s wider cultural impact… I just don’t care about it. It’s the music for me.

  • vern halen

    I don’t know if his cultural impact is as much as some people would like to think. For sure, those of us who have an interest in music & pop culture will likely support the opinion that Lennon was and continues to be an important influence. I’m equally sure that many others only see him as a tragic footnote in the Beatles’ story. Maybe the biggest tragedy is that for some, Lennon has been reduced to a convenient & recognizable icon for those say they want a revolution – “count me out/in.”

  • Greg

    We love you John. We will always remember you

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com Michael J. West

    I’m not really anti-Lennon, despite some of my earlier musings on BC, but I do question his being “the most important social and political figure to come out of pop music in the last 50 years.” His political stature is peripheral at best; he was only briefly aligned with the American left and even then his major contribution was his celebrity. And I would argue that Elvis Presley had him licked on social impact — in fact, John would have said so, too. Lennon/Beatles and Dylan are probably about neck-and-neck for second, although Lennon/Beatles certainly win the musical relevance question hands down.

    Again, this isn’t intended as Lennon hating. I genuinely love his music and am always very sad that there wasn’t anymore.

  • MT

    Elvis & John — two great rockers but let’s look at this from a simpler angle. One was the intitial force behind rock and roll. The other idolized him and was inspired by him One overdosed and the other was murdered. One cleaned up his act and said give peace a chance. The other became a 300 pound parody of himself. Elvis was a great talent but basically a redneck hillbilly. Lennon was far more complex and intellectual. No comparison.

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com Michael J. West

    But you’re not talking about their relative importance, there, MT. More about their social and intellectual statuses. (And Elvis, believe it or not, was quite a complex man. Check out Guralnick’s biographies.)

    To simplify even further:

    If there had been no Elvis Presley, there would be no John Lennon.

    That alone should speak to Elvis’s importance.

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    Lennon also thought if you needed a name for rock and roll music, you could just call it Chuck Berry.

    You’ll get no argument there from me.

  • http://freewayjam.blogspot.com uao

    I was one of the throngs outside the Dakota on Dec. 9, 1980; I cut school to be there. I was an enormous Beatles fan at that time, and the shock of it all seemed overwhelming.

    I met David Peel that day, who had brought his guitar and a bunch of us sang with him. Fans played Lennon’s music on boomboxes; 100 songs from 100 boomboxes up and down 72 St. and Central Park West.

    Ringo showed up, although I didn’t see him and didn’t want to; his grief was his own as mine was mine.

    If any “good” came out of that day, which was cold and drizzly, it was how several thousand people, who didn’t know each other at all, somehow had instant empathy for each other. Strangers cried on each others shoulders on the streets of New York that day. I made a couple of lasting friends there; we all had something very important to us in common.

    It’s pretty heartbreaking what happened to Lennon (and Harrison); the Beatles story should never have ended that way.

    Sometimes I wonder what he’d be doing now, in the post 9-11 New York, and America. Would he still be outspoken? Would he still make interesting records?

    Hard to believe it has been 25 years.

  • Robert B

    I would just like to say John Lennon’s best music was yet to come. He was the greatest song writer ever!!! When he died so did I.

  • http://3point1.blogspot.com Yashin

    I find it difficult to believe that John Lennon would have been making great music at 65, difficult, but not impossible.

    His contemporaries – Dylan, Rolling Stones, Brian Wilson, Roger McGuinn, McCartney – had all lost their way by the mid-80s. Only Dylan emerged with any vintage material (‘Not Dark Yet’).

    Lennon’s focus had moved beyond music, and I think it showed in his solo work.

    On the other hand, I’m sure Lennon’s acute social conscience would have been just as apparent today as it was in the 1970s.

  • vern halen

    McCartnet actually has had some good stuff recently. But Brian Wilson, yeah, nothing new happening there for a good long time.

  • fab4fan

    One thing I’ll *never* understand is anyone being anti-Lennon or anti-McCartney or anti-Beatles! At least I found posts on web sites and message boards from 42 former Beatles haters who are now big fans! They say they were told a lot of ignorant garbage about them and many hadn’t even heard most of their music. Some others said they didn’t start to like and appreciate them untill they were in their 30’s.

  • http://bztv.typepad.com/newsviews/ BZTV

    Why be “anti” period? Even if the Beatles music isn’t for you (your loss) then you ought to be able to appreciate that they had a sustained worldwide impact and were a groundbreaking music and cultural phenomenon. Why be anti appreciating that?

  • fab4fan

    BZTV,

    You are *so* riht,only the ignorant doesn’t recognize how musically brilliant and groundbreaking The Beatles especially John and Paul really were! But in every major pol that has been done with over 1,000 people ages 18 and older, The Beatles are voted The Greatest Rock Group of All Time! The Gallup Poll, The VH1 Poll,The Mister Pol,The Zogby Poll,The Virgin Records Poll,etc! Also as Rock On The Net says in The Beatles biography,Few Could Argue That One Of The Best If Not The Best Groups In Rock History is The Beatles!

    The OTTAWA Beatles fan site says in a section called,The Beatles Timeline, what the objectives of the Timeline is,and it ays, For Those Familiar With The Band And It’s History,This Will Defintely Be A Fun “Refresher Course”. And To Those Of You Who Have Recently Discovered An Appreciation Of Why Beatles Fans,Music Lovers,And Historians All Agree That The Beatles Were The Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band To Emerge Out Of The Twntieth Century.

    There is an excellent thorough book called The Beatles Recording Sessions by Mark Lewisohn which is a very detailed musical diary of their amazing 8 year ecording career. And it truly demonstrates how brilliant,innovative and creative especially John and Paul werein the recording studio. Many of their recording engineers are also interviewd in this book and are all really impressed with them too! Some of these engineers went on to work with other well known musical artists, Norman Smith,one of The Beatles early engineers went on to work with Pink Floyd, Ken Scott went on to work with David Bowie and Alan Parsons,a highly impressed Beatles fan was one of their recording engineers on their last two albums,Let it Be and Abbey Road.

    The Rolling Stones were also good friends and big fans of The Beatles and Mick Jagger was at 4 Beatles recording sessions and Keith Richards was at 2 of them with him! John and Paul even wrote their first hit song,I Wanna Be You’re Man in early 1964. In The Beatles Recording Sessions book,there is a big close up picture of Mick Jagger sitting in betwen John and Paul in The Beatles recording console room. He came there for a remix for The Beatles great REvolver album. Mick Jagger also came to just stand on the sidelines and watch and listen to The Beatles recording Baby You’re A Rich Man in May 1967. Mark Lewisohn says Mick’s name is even on the Beatles tape box for this song and that it’s feasible he sang at the end verses!

    There are at least 6 music profesors teaching courses on The Beatles at good universities. One of them is award winning music professor Dr.Glen Gass at Indiana University. He’s been teaching a course on The Beatles and rock music since 1982. On his web site for this course it says Dr.Gass teaches about this extraordinary group and song writing partnership. It also says the main purpose of this course is to get students to have a better appreciation of The Beatles remarkable recordings. Dr.Gass told me that he knows a lot of 20 year olds who really love The Beatles music and he said they are like the best of anything like Beethoven they will be loved forever! Dr.Gary Kendall’s Beatles course is the most requested at North Western University. And in Finland a music professor with the last name of Heinonen teaches a Beatles course at JYVASKYLA university.

    Just this summer The Beatles were the # 1 selling music artists in The Amazon.com Hall Of Fame U2 are # 2 and The Rolling Stones are # 10 but these groups are still together,The Beatles broke up in 1970! They also got a special diamond award this summer from The Recording Industry Association Of America for having some of the biggest selling albums of all time! All of this is because they made so much great timeles music of all different styles!

  • fab4fan

    BZTV,

    By the way I have been a *huge* highly impressed Beatles fan especially a big John and Paul fan since I was 9 years old,I got my first Beatles book for my 11th birthday and I had every Beatles album by the time I was 13. I was born in 1965 during the middle of their recording career also!

  • fab4fan

    I just realized I made a few typing mistakes in my second post.

  • ALAN PURSLOW

    the current edition of Newsweek in the UK (dated Nov 29th) features a cover story of John Lennon entitled “Lennon: the Afterlife. The Fight over his legacy” There is afive or six page story inside the magazine.

    For details contact me [Deleted. Alas, it is against policy to post contact data here. Comments Editor]