I remember where I was exactly.
It was late and I was finishing up work on a book on the history of Canadian postmasters, a quirky little assignment I’d taken to pay for my wedding. I was typing away on a IBM Selectric, a pretty fancy typewriter for its day, when I heard the news from Peter Trueman.
John Lennon had been shot to death by a crazy person named Mark David Chapman coming out of his posh New York co-op, not far from Strawberry Fields. One minute he was there, making breakfast for little Sean, the next minute he was gone, one of the heroes of my youth, the voice of peace and reason.
I remember spending the days after listening to his new album, Double Fantasy a mashup of tunes from the addled head of a genius, a musical journey that was both beautiful and horrible, a body of work that demonstrated that even John Lennon wasn’t above sacrificing good taste in the name of love. I watched his brothers in arms, Paul, George and Ringo who were shaken, almost stricken, with hearts filled with things left unsaid while the stoney and nearly stoic widow went through the motions of burying her famous husband.
It’s been 30 years since that fateful night. John would be an old man with grandchildren, possibly a recluse, potentially a voice for a new generation horrified by war and greed and poverty. Before John, there was no thought of AIDS leaving an entire continent of children without parents. Before John, there was no Bin Laden or Saddam; there were no 15-year-old boys incarcerated for war crimes.
Before John, there were only possibilities.
As a kid growing up listening to his music, I learned much from John Lennon. I learned that one man and his music could make a difference in the world, that music could change the world. I learned that a man once lost could find his own inner comfort in the loving arms of family. That hallucinogenic drugs were a bad idea. That skinny people really shouldn’t display their naked bodies in front of a camera.
John Lennon was a true original who was taken too soon. Or was he? Maybe John would have done nothing in the last 30 years but smoke pot and make love to Yoko. Maybe he would have got the Beatles back together. (I truly doubt it.) Maybe he would have sat on stage with Bono and Michael Jackson and all the rest of the peaceniks in concerts for AIDS, and peace and the eradication of poverty.
All I know is that on the 30th anniversary of his death, I thank God for giving his voice to the world.
Imagine if John Lennon had never walked the Earth. Imagine if he had lived.