December 8, 1980, John Lennon and a Snapshot of Shock

December 8, 2020

Every generation has its snapshot memory, a historical event that is frozen in time. Talk to a baby boomer about the day JFK was shot. Ask Gen Xers about where they were when the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded. Younger “Greatest Generation” members talk about Pearl Harbor the way elder Millennials talk about 9/11. Like it happened yesterday. So much of the minutia of our lives is lost to the fog of time, but that event, like any snapshot, captures the detail of our lives and frames it in the historical context of that specific moment.

For me it was the morning of December 9, 1980, the morning I woke up to find that my beloved Beatle had been murdered.

Since this blog is dedicated the feminist influence of househusband John Lennon, I thought I’d try to recreate that snapshot. I understand, just like there are people alive now who have never known a world without a cold war or without the internet, there are billions alive who have never lived on the same planet as John Winston Ono Lennon.

Jukebox Hero, 1980.

First things first, in 1980 I was know as the biggest Beatles fan at Redan High School in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Even more than my obsession for the Ramones and all things punk was by fandom for the Fab Four. I bought solo albums the day they were released, including Wing’s London Town and Ringo’s Bad Boy in 1978, Wings’ Back to the Egg and George’s George Harrison in 1979, and Paul’s McCartney II in 1980, and most significantly John’s Double Fantasy in November 1980. John hadn’t released any new music in five years and it was a big deal. Yeah, it was really a “John & Yoko” album and yeah, I wasn’t mad about the Elvis-sounding “Starting Over” single, but I quickly fell in love with the LP (bought at Turtles Records & Tapes on Memorial Drive). There were rumors John would tour in the new year and rumors about the rumors that said Cheap Trick would be his backing band,

By the first week of December of I was reading every interview John was doing and, again, dreaming that the world was preparing us for the inevitable Beatles reunion, at that point, the very reason for living for any music fan. Both John and Paul sported Beatle haircuts on their new albums, That must mean something!

The country in late 1980 was in a weird place. We were a year into the crippling Iranian hostage crisis that played a role in Ronald Reagan beating incumbent Jimmy Carter. The 80s felt like they were about to bust loose on a new wave soundtrack, but there was a dark cloud hovering.

The guy that killed John went to Columbia High School, one of the Dekalb County rivals of my school. He was on some psychotic mission that changed the world at 10:50 pm when he shot John Lennon 4 times outside the Dakota, John and Yoko’s gothic New York City apartment. A spot I visit almost every single time I go to New York City.

John was known as being super accessible in the Big Apple, loving the freedom of movement he didn’t have in England. The fall of 1980 my friend Ed and I discussed going to NYC the summer of 1981, after graduation, and hanging out in front of the Dakota to meet John and thank him for all the great music he had given us.

The night of December 8th, for some reason, I had been gone to bed early. Sportscaster Howard Cosell interrupted his broadcast of Monday Night Football to tell the world that Beatle John Lennon had been shot. Friends began calling our house to share the shattering news but my mother chose to let me sleep. Instead she laid the morning copy of the Atlanta Constitution on the kitchen table the following morning.

Like most Tuesday mornings, I woke up and turned on 96 Rock, pleased to hear a Beatles song on the radio. I showered and got dressed to more Beatles songs. Perhaps it was a “super-set.” I went into the kitchen for breakfast, first turning on my parents 70s console hifi (96 Rock was obviously on a Beatle binge.) The 1967 classic, “A Day in the Life,” began to play. The line “I read the news today, oh boy” came out of the speakers just as I looked down at the newspaper. “John Lennon Slain by New York Gunman.”

The headline was next to a picture of John in a suit and tie from his 1976 immigration hearing. My first thought was, “Wow, there’s another John Lennon” thinking the clean cut gent was a politician or businessman who shared a name with MY John Lennon. Then I realized it was my John Lennon and it felt like the floor fell out from under me. I quickly turned on Good Morning America and saw the scenes of thousands of fans sobbing outside the Dakota in New York. My head was reeling. I wanted to go to New York. I wanted to murder the man who murdered John Lennon.

Instead I ran to my room. “Watching the Wheels” was playing on the radio. I fell on my bed, surrounded by Beatle and John posters, and sobbed. “I just had to let it go.” 

My mother reminded me I had to go to school, so I put on a John Lennon Walls and Bridges t-shirt (that I got at Beatlefest ’78) and carried myself to Redan. I only made it through three periods. I had become the wailing wall for the Beatle fans at school. Where before I got abuse for my weird music tastes, now I got hugs. Girls, who would never talk to me, came up to me in tears to say they were sorry. My English teacher, Mrs. Patsy Zimmerman, told me she had taught John’s killer when she was at Columbia. We both burst into tears and I decided to leave. I put the school’s flag at half mast and walked home, vowing to never laugh again, a punishment for the world stealing this peacemaker from us.

The week was spent playing records and piecing together what happened. I sat in my room, playing Double Fantasy and thinking I would suddenly wake up to find it had all been a nightmare and that the dream was over. Instead of a funeral, Yoko asked fans to gather that Sunday, December 14, for a 10-minute silent vigil. I ended up in Piedmont Park with thousands of other Atlanta-area fans. Without direction, at 2 pm the crowd moved to the center of the field on the south side of the park, grabbed hands and then formed a massive circle for ten very long and quiet minutes. Then someone began singing “Give Peace a Chance.” We all joined in and moved back to the center and hugged each other for the next hour. Peace. “Ah, this is what John was talking about,” I remember thinking.

“Starting Over” shot to #1 on the charts and six weeks later Ronald Reagan was sworn in, launching an era that we REALLY could have used John Lennon to help navigate.

I was 16 on that day and I am 56 today. It seems like a minute ago. John’s served as a model for mine, the evolution of a man. He died at 40, so I will now always be older than him, but I still feel like I learn from him in new and surprising ways. This “househusband blog” has been a part of that lesson. We all shine on in our own way.

I miss you, John and if I had gotten to meet you in the summer of 1981, I would have thanked you for showing me how to grow.

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