“An Unspeakable Tragedy”

What John Lennon’s death means to me

John Lennon Inna New Wave Style (Art: Ron Hart)

“An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City. John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City. The most famous perhaps, of all of the Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital. Dead on arrival.” -Howard Cosell

We were hardly a football family in our house in East Meadow. Yet it was during Monday Night Football as the Miami Dolphins were on their way to defeating the New England Patriots 16 to 13 at home when Cosell broke the news that rocked the whole world to its core.

I was 7 when John Lennon was killed by the derelict Mark David Chapman. My mother was an OG New York Beatlemaniac, and though she was a total Paul girl the news of the murder shattered her heart. It was the first time I experienced how the death of a famous person impacts the general population. It was the first time I saw my mother in mourning. As a Beatles family, John’s death hit us very hard. 

About 10 years ago I interviewed John and Yoko’s only son, Sean Ono Lennon, for the first time. It was at his place in the city, where I got to tell him how much his family means to our family. I also shared with him how my mom must be smiling in Heaven seeing the two of us hanging out. While my mom was indeed a Paul girl, I remember her very much being swept up in those first five years of young Sean’s life. I remember her taking me to the Central Park Zoo and the Museum of Natural History a lot when I was little. I think it was because she was hoping to run into John and Yoko. Hell, she even took me to an eye doctor, Dr. LaVall, whose office was around the corner from the Dakota!

She once shared with me her wish for me to be friends with Sean. And though he’s not coming over for Sunday sauce just yet, having interviewed him around six times through the course of these last ten years, establishing a solid rapport with the brilliant 45-year-old musician is my little way of fulfilling my mom’s sweet wish. 

 

VIDEO: Sean Lennon “Dead Meat”

As for me, I am a Paul guy just like my mom. But I love John Lennon almost equally. The adventures in sound he and Yoko took me on in my college years while getting into both the Lennon and Ono versions of Plastic Ono Band, Fly, the Zappa jam, The Wedding Album, Rock & Roll Circus, all that. There was a savage nature to Lennon’s work with Yoko–certainly augmented by the primal scream therapy sessions they were attending at the time–that opened the gates to my deeper appreciation for free jazz (with special thanks to that Ornette Coleman Quartet cameo on “AOS”) and also the music of such Yoko-centric indie bands as Yo La Tengo and Blonde Redhead. Lennon is also central to my eternal appreciation for Harry Nilsson. I found a copy of their Pussy Cats album from that Lost Weekend era in the late 90s, just as I was getting into Aimee Mann and Jon Brion because of the Magnolia soundtrack. Listening to those two LPs back to back still makes perfect sense 21 years later, and Pussy Cats served as the perfect gateway to Harry’s wild ride of a discography. 

Someone made a mention to me today that Double Fantasy was merely a commercial friendly conduit for a deeper dive into more daring endeavors heading into the 1980s. Could there have been an album of John Lennon backed by Cheap Trick in the works? I mean, “I’m Losing You” is arguably John at his meatiest. For all this innuendo about some kind of beef between Lennon and Todd Rundgren, imagine if they actually wound up working together sometime after Todd finished producing XTC’s Skylarking? Sean’s first album, Into The Sun, was released on the Beasties’ old Grand Royal imprint. But something tells me John would have definitely owned a copy of Paul’s Boutique in 1989, with a full endorsement of its Abbey Road samples to boot.  He had synths at the Dakota, perhaps the ascent of the New Romantic era might’ve put him in cahoots with fellow Luverpudians OMD.

But we will never know because John Lennon was shot twice in the back and rushed to Roosevelt Hospital. Dead on arrival, as Cosell’s crushing breaking news told us that Monday night 40 years ago.

Thinking about Lennon all day today inspired me to go back and listen to all of his songs off both Double Fantasy and the posthumous Milk and Honey for clues as to where he might have been heading as he was looking towards 1981. Then I put together all those songs into a Spotify playlist along with “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love” from the Beatles Anthology series of the mid-90s, the results of which you can listen to below.

We lost Darby Crash of The Germs on December 8, 1980 as well. He and John had more in common that met the eye, and for them to share this date in death forever bonds them in ways we can only hope this new crop of teenage rockers can reckon with in the future.

 

 

 

 

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Ron Hart

Ron Hart is the Editor-in-Chief of Rock and Roll Globe. Reach him on Twitter @MisterTribune.

2 thoughts on ““An Unspeakable Tragedy”

  • December 11, 2020 at 8:15 am
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    Just beautiful, Ron. So painful to think about the records never made — OMD, Rundgren, all of it. Thank you for sharing your memories, especially of interviewing Sean, and I do hope your mom and his dad delight in your budding friendship.

    Reply
    • December 11, 2020 at 3:09 pm
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      Thank you so much, Ken!

      Reply

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