On Losing John Lennon, 1940-2020

One of the hardest things for me to cope with on December 8th, 1980 was that the shocking  and violent loss of John Lennon was not mine alone to deal with. That I was neither the only one that felt destroyed that day, nor the person most deeply affected by it. When I could focus on any thought other than my own sadness and confusion, it was on Paul, Yoko, George, Ringo, Sean and Julian. Having only recently come to grips with my parents’ divorce, I found I was ill-prepared to handle my emotions and, never having lost anyone to death before, almost completely incapable of even understanding what had happened. Everyone on the news was focused on the death of the man who sang “Imagine” and “All You Need is Love” but I was thinking of the man who had been my leader, my idol and for years curled up next to my record player, my constant companion. 

My Beatle fandom was no doubt started in utero and continued with my parents as fans. When my father moved out of the house, I commandeered his Beatles collection, which was slim, but did feature Yesterday and Today, Let it Be, Abbey Road, Yellow Submarine and the White Album.  Through some gifting I received the twin sets of 1962-1966 (Red Album) and 1967-1970 (The Blue Album) and proceeded to devour them. 

I knew people who talked about ‘not being able to pick their favorite Beatle,” but to me that was crap, since I believed then and now that nobody picks their favorite Beatle. Like a favorite color, you don’t pick one, you respond to one of them in a chemical, instinctive, primitive way, and it becomes yours, a part of you. For me it was always John. I did not see myself as John, (though I had several nightmares where I was a totally unprepared Ringo) but I did respond to him as alpha, leader, joker. Angry and funny, he appeared to me as someone ruled by appetites and instincts that would get him into trouble, but charming and funny enough never to get caught. I envied John since I was nearly always the one who got caught, and hoped that if I grew up to be as smart and funny I would be someone able to get out of all the things I got myself into, too. 

My satirical drawing of “Imagine John Lennon.” (~1979)

I spent hours every day listening to my ever-growing album collection and though they only had 8 years of records, I never tired of them and never seemed to run out of Beatles things to buy or read about. I felt like I could never rest—I was compelled to know everything about them, which was challenging since AOL keyword: Beatles would not be available for almost 25 years. Two books, The Beatles Forever by Nicholas Shaffner  and All Together Now by Harry Castleman and Walter Podrazik Castleman, both of which I still highly recommend, were my constant companions, and when I needed more, I was off to the library or record store, trips which I used as often as I could as ways to avoid my newly divorced household and any of my schoolwork. 

In the ascent of my fandom, I became vaguely aware of the Beatles breakup, and I have strong memories of my mother trying to explain why “Live and Let Die” was not by the Beatles even though Paul McCartney was the singer and writer and George Martin was the producer, and did sound like a Beatles record. Later in that same discussion I kept asking my mother to explain to me again WHY the Beatles broke up? Knowing now what I did not know then, which was that my parents’ marriage was coming to an end, It had to be one of those conversations where the Parent is trying hard not to convey things by tone or by tears while simultaneously trying to answer the question and get out of that room. But I was not having it. I had to know what on earth made the band break up when they were so happy together? I could not fathom breaking up something so perfect on purpose, and continued to hope like so many others that they would get back together one day.

My parents’ divorce was tragic for me, but it didn’t happen at once, instead graduating in severity over months. There were fights, and there were separations and lots of sleepovers at friend’s houses. John’s music — especially Plastic Ono Band—his ‘primal scream’ album helped me through this difficult time. John’s performances, including sung descriptions of the  loss of his Mother and Father are so brutal, intense and unrelenting that it is in fact, very cathartic to listen to. 

Unlike my parents’ split, John Lennon’s death happened instantly— we heard he had been shot and then before the 11pm news that night he was gone.

In quiet moments that December, I found it surprisingly painful to think of Julian and Paul, thousands of miles aways, each perhaps estranged from John, struck with the news and forced to consider alone what they had suddenly and irretrievably lost. Pondering the last conversation they had had with a father or a best friend. That thought was so terrible and caused such intense heartaches that I often felt punched in the stomach and had to steady myself when I allowed it to come into my mind. I know now that this was some kind of way of examining my own violently torn fabric and similar feelings about the loss of my father from my life.  

About a week earlier, some New York radio DJs had been speculating that there might be a “John Lennon tour”, and I remember thinking that THAT would be a show to go to. Following John’s death I ruefully tried to make my peace with that concert I would never attend, and that Beatles, like my family, had broken up for good. 

My daughter freaks out at being near the Fab Four. (Not pictured) I am also freaking out.

Though I was inconsolably sad for a long time, I did eventually find ways to heal through my Beatles fandom. Starting with Freshman year in college, where I met another Beatles fanatic and we went to see some kind of “Beatlemania” show.  I went to Beatle-Fests where friends, fans and collectors assembled to listen, trade, show and tell. In the year 2000, my five month old daughter was with me at The Coolidge to see Brad Delp (RIP)  lead Beatlejuice, a Beatles sound-a-like band that I convinced to play on the 20th sad anniversary of John’s death.  Lastly, a few years ago I took my youngest daughter to a Beatles show for what I think was her first concert and she was totally smitten with the people playing the Fab Four. She insisted we wait after the show and get their autographs. And even though she loved the musician playing Paul, I thought, in terms of my Beatlemania, I can probably rest now.