It is inconceivable to me that it has been 30 years since a maniac came out of the night and assassinated John Lennon. What’s worse is it happened in my city. This was the place where John and the Beatles first broke into the American consciousness, and now in this his adopted city he was taken much too soon. I still can’t even believe that he is gone, but his enormous contribution to music and his amazing spirit certainly live on and on.
The night before John died I had what I’ve always thought was a foreshadowing of his death. I was on the phone with my friend Ralph. He was in the Air Force and home on leave. We were talking about how we were going to get together the next night to celebrate his return, and I was sitting on my sofa looking up at the shelf on my wall, where I had the four individual pictures of the Beatles that came with the White Album in frames. As I was talking with Ralph, the frame with John’s picture in it toppled off the shelf. Nothing precipitated this event: no rumble of the subway below, no bus going by outside, no helicopter flying low overhead. It just fell.
At the time I thought it was weird but nothing else. When I got off the phone I got up and put the picture back in place, staring briefly at John’s face and remembering when I saw him in Manhattan a couple of years before. It was only the second time I had ever seen him in person (the first being when he walked on stage during an Elton John concert at Madison Square Garden). He had been walking down the street, hands in pockets, rather nonchalant and happy. When I saw him he looked at me, and he knew I recognized him even in his sunglasses and hat pulled down a bit. He gave me a little smirk and something like a nod, and I wanted to say something, but my tongue was infinitely tied in knots, and it is best I did not blurt out something stupid. John kept walking and so did I, my hands shaking for blocks. I had just seen John Lennon.
The next night Ralph and I met some friends in a bar in Queens in the shadow of Shea Stadium, where John and his mates once rocked the house. We were there to ostensibly watch Monday Night Football, but the bar was filled with people and music. It was decorated for Christmas, and there was a jovial mood filling the place.
We all talked and talked. Ralph told us about life in the Air Force. He was stationed in Greenland and he couldn’t talk about this and that. We started talking about high school and various teachers, and the night went by very quickly. As it started getting late, our friends who had to work the next morning left. Ralph was on leave and I was in college and had no classes on Tuesday mornings, so we sat at the bar and started watching the football game.
Only a few minutes had gone by when a special news bulletin broke into the program. The announcer spoke stiltedly as she said that there was word that John Lennon had been shot outside the Dakota Building. He was being rushed to the hospital. Ralph and I just looked up at the screen, and everyone in the bar stopped and stared at the screen with us.
The game came back on for a time. Someone pulled the plug out of the jukebox, and the patrons all crowded around the bar and watched the TV waiting to hear an update. I don’t know how long it was until the next news bulletin came on, but the grim face of the news anchor Kaity Tong told it all. Before she spoke, the room was so quiet, I could hear the taps dripping behind the bar.
She confirmed that John Lennon had died at St. Luke’s Hospital. I felt myself shaking, worse than when I had seen John on the street; I felt like I was convulsing. Ralph hung his head and stared at his hands. Behind me I could hear some of the girls crying, the men too, and the bartender who looked like a professional wrestler complete with bald head and tattoos kept wiping the tears from his eyes.