December 8, 1980 was just your average ordinary day. People went to work and children went to school. At this time in music history, new wave was in. However, rock n roll was still here and staying alive. For John Lennon, he was ready to begin the next chapter in his life. He’d just turn 40 back in October. He had a new album out, his first in five years. He had a family, who were living in New York City. His wife, Yoko Ono, and their child, Sean, were just some of the many things going on for him. He even thought about going on tour again. However on that cold night of December 8, 1980, the unthinkable happened. Within an hour, the world first learned about the sad news. For some people, they found out the next day: John Lennon had died. However, it wasn’t of a drug overdose. He wasn’t sick nor did he kill himself. Lennon, of all people, had been shot and murdered in cold blood. Even today, Lennon’s murder remains probably the worst day in music history. Last year, I wrote about how the death of Michael Jackson was similar to Lennon’s death. This year, I will focus on why Lennon’s murder is still relevant to pop culture.
The people who were born after 1980 won’t know what it was like when John Lennon was murdered. I happen to be one of them. However, I’ve been a fan of the Beatles for a decade and I can safely say that I have an idea on how that day was. It was horrible. What the younger generation doesn’t understand is that John’s didn’t pass away: he was murdered. At that time in the world of music, murder was unheard of. It seemed that before that day in 1980, it was presidents or people of high power getting murdered. Before Lennon, there weren’t too many famous musicians who had been murdered (aside from Sam Cooke) . When Lennon was murdered, it was a big deal. Not only was it a musician but it was a former Beatle. By 1980, the members of the Beatles seemed to be all in good health (forget about any supposed drug taking or drinking) and were still active in the music business ten years after their split. The idea of one of the Beatles dying was never thought of; unless you were one of those people who thought Paul was dead. The stereotypical rock star dies usually from a drug overdose in their home at the favorable age of 27. John Lennon didn’t fit this stereotype.
It wasn’t really John’s fault that he died. If it was, it may have to do with the fact that he was living in New York City. John didn’t live in a mansion or penthouse. He wasn’t living much of the high life for several years. Since 1975, John was a self-declared “househusband” and living in an apartment at the Dakota. For someone with his level of star power, it wasn’t usual to be living in the city. Some people may think that if Lennon hadn’t decided to live in the US, he’d still be alive. I’m not too sure about that. Lennon’s murderer (whose name will not be mentioned at all in this article out of respect for Paul, Ringo, Yoko, and John’s other family and friends) was determined to go out and meet Lennon. Who knows if things would’ve changed? The fact is that Lennon was murdered and there was no way out of that. There are, however, people who believe Lennon’s murder was all planned by the CIA due to his fight to stay in the US. This is totally false although these people do have some valid points. About a year ago, there was a man going around saying that Stephen King (yes, the author) killed John Lennon. Believe it or not, the guy actually got a book self-published, showcasing supposed evidence.
I recently did some reading on Lennon’s murder and found out things I hadn’t known or noticed before. Upon hearing the news of Lennon’s death, two people committed suicide. The people were a 16-year-old girl and 31-year-old man. Also, John’s first son Julian was 17 when his father was murdered. Ironically when John was 17, his mother was killed unexpectedly after being hit by a car. John was just getting to know his mother and Julian was just getting to know his father.
Since Lennon’s murder, there have been a number of rock musicians that have also been murdered. Cactus lead singer Rusty Day was shot and murdered, along with his son and a guest, in 1982 after bad business with a drug dealer. Session musician and record producer Felix Pappalardi was shot and murdered by his wife in 1983. In 1994 former Riot singer Rhett Forrester was shot and killed after refusing to give up his vehicle in a carjack attempt. However the most notable is probably the murder of former Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell, who was shot and killed on December 8 2004, exactly 24 years after Lennon’s murder. However compared to Lennon, Dimebag was shot onstage during a performance with his new band Damageplan. The shooter killed a few other people before a policeman gunned him down. I’m not trying to say that John’s murder inspired these other murders. I’m trying to point out that there has been violence before John passed away and after John passed away. There will always violence, bullying, and problems in the world. This year, there have been all those reports on the people who committed suicide just because they were teased about their sexual orientation. There’ve been a number of terrible events for the last ten years: the September 11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and a few others. It seems to me that many people have forgotten John’s message: peace and love. I think if everyone remembers John’s message, the world would be a better place.
I leave you now with a timeline I wrote two years ago. I hope you enjoy it. Rest in peace, John.
Note there are some historic errors in this timeline. I'll fix them later.
John Lennon Timeline: Life of a Beatle
October 9, 1940- John Winston Lennon is born in Liverpool to Alfred and Julia Lennon.
c.1943-1945- John’s parents split. John, only a kid then, wanted to be with his father but when he saw his mother cry, he ran back to her and decided to stay with his mother. John would rarely see his father in his life ever again. Sometime later, Julia meets and marries another man. She felt as if she couldn’t take care of him. So, she has her sister Mimi and her husband take care of John.
c. 1950- When John turns ten, his uncle gives him a harmonica.
c. 1954-1956- By this time, John’s uncle has died. Aunt Mimi is left a widow and in charge of the teenage Lennon, who is now obsessed with the newest craze: rock n roll. The leader of it all was Elvis Presley, who John looked up to the most of anybody. John is also a trouble-maker and his school can’t take any more. With that, John is kicked out and goes to Art College. While John hated it, he met his friend Stuart Sutcliff and his soon-to-be girlfriend Cynthia Powell. Also during this time, Julia tries to renew a relationship with her son. Sadly, Julia is killed by a drunk driver in 1957.
July 17, 1957- John’s skiffle band, the Quarrymen, play a gig. Watching the show is James Paul McCartney, who is known as Paul McCartney. Paul meets John after the show. Paul decides to play music for John and plays “25 Rock” by Eddie Cochran. John is impressed and knows he has talent. Sooner or later, he asked Paul to join. According to John, he said yes the next day.
c.1958-1959- John and Paul form a new group. Paul suggests to John to have his friend, George Harrison, to play guitar in the band. John is reluctant at first, complaining he’s too young. Paul doesn’t give up and one night, the three are on a double decker bus. George had his guitar and that night, John changed his mind. Stuart is also made bassist of the band, despite his lack of knowledge on how to play.
c.1959-1961- Johnny and the Moondogs become the Beatles. Long story short, Pete Best becomes drummer and then the band tour Germany. The tour is a successful but Paul, George, and Pete are all deported for different reasons. George was too young to play at one club while Paul and Pete got in trouble for burning a condom to a hotel wall. John goes back home but Stuart stays to marry Astrid Kirster, a girl who had given the boys their "mop-top" hair cut. Stuart later dies in 1961.
c.1961-1963- Paul switches to bass. The band is eventually discovered by Brian Epstein, who becomes their manager. After a few record labels, the band is finally signed to EMI records. Producer George Martin loves them although he produces classical music. However, Pete Best is sacked for not being a good drummer! Ringo Starr takes his place and the rest is history.
c.1963- It is thought that both John and Brian went on a holiday. It has been rumored that the two experimented/engaged in homosexual acts, as Brian was gay. Over the years, this rumor has been denied. In an interview, John said he let Brian "have a whack" (or masturbation). This has been talked about for many years and even was made into a movie later in the 1990’s.
1963- John and his girlfriend, Cynthia Powell, had been together for some time. One day, Cynthia tearfully reveals to John that she’s pregnant with John’s child. John immediately insists that they get married. John and Cynthia do marry and on April 8, 1963, Julian Lennon (born as John Charles Julian Lennon) is born.
1963-1966- Beatlemania takes off. With the release of the song “Please, Please Me” and an album of the same name, the Beatles become instantly popular. However, it isn’t until 1964 when “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” hits the chart at #1 in America. The Beatles go to America in February and appear on the Ed Sullivan show. The show draws up to 70 million viewers. Besides releasing albums and hit singles, the band appears in two films about them. The first is A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and the second is Help! (1965). Both films are directed by Richard Lester. John also tries to write poetry. His first book is In His Own Write and the second is A Spaniard In The Works. By 1966, touring takes its toll.
1966- An out-of-context quote made by John causes an uproar in America. John says in the statement that the Beatles are more popular than Jesus Christ. Radio stations start to ban the Beatles and hold record burnings. John does apologize but it doesn’t do much. The Beatles play their last concert to the public this year in Candlestick Park. The band then takes a break. John gets to star in the Richard Lester film How I Won The War.
November 9, 1966- John goes to an Indica Art Gallery, which is done by Japanese artist Yoko Ono. John enjoys the art but Yoko has no idea who he is. John is still married but it won’t be long…
1967- The Beatles, all sporting mustaches now, record their next two singles “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane”. Both songs are related to John as he lived near these places as a kid. The band then record Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which is critically praised. John even writes what is probably the most complex thing ever done by the Beatles: “A Day In The Life”
1967- The Beatles meet the Maharishi Yogi but Brian Epstein suddenly dies. The band direct a film and an album called Magical Mystery Tour. The film is only shown in the UK on Boxing Day and shown in black and white. The film is panned while the music is actually great!
1967-1968- The Beatles go to Rishikesh to meet the Maharishi again but leave after a few weeks. The band even makes a record label: Apple. Before this, Yoko Ono comes to England to promote her short film Film No.4, which infamously is just pictures of over 300 butts. Yoko remembers John and asks for music for her next film. Long story short, John and Yoko begin to have an affair until Cynthia discovers this. John and Cynthia divorce in 1968. Cynthia remarries and is left to care for five-year-old Julian, although John shares custody of him. With this John brings Yoko to the studio during the recording of the album The Beatles, better known as The White Album. That album is released the same year.
1968- John and Yoko released an avant-garde album called Two Virgins. The album consists of weird sounds and noises hours before the couple made love for the first time. The cover causes quite a controversy as it depicts a picture of John and Yoko completely naked. Despite the album being covered in a paper bag, the album doesn’t do anything.
1969- The Beatles work on what will become the 1970 Let It Be album. Tensions are high during this time. The Beatles even perform on the roof of Apple, which lasts for only a half hour before the police arrive. John and Yoko are still close. In March, the couple gets married. On their honeymoon, the two decide to sit in bed. This is the beginning of many bed-ins, in protest to stop the war in Vietnam. Some think John and Yoko are nuts but they manage to make a great single called “Give Peace A Chance”. By the end of this year, Abbey Road is the last Beatles album recorded.
1970- The Beatles are now managed by Allen Klien, who managed the Rolling Stones (but the Stones hated him). Klien screws up both the band and Apple Records all together. In April 1970, Paul issues a statement that he has quit the band. Not only this but he’s also filed a lawsuit to end the partnership. The Beatles are no more.
1970- Even before this year, John and Yoko form the Plastic Ono Band. The band consists of guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Klaus Voormann (friend from Germany years and also the artist for the Revolver album cover), and future Yes drummer Alan White.
1970- Both John and Yoko release albums called Plastic Ono Band. John’s album is a personal one. The album opens with “Mother”, a slow song that deals with John’s dead mother and his missing father. “Working Class Hero” becomes infamous for using the word "f**k" twice. John refuses to edit it when asked to. John’s first album is critically praised.
1971- John releases his next album Imagine. The album and the self-titled track are both a success. On the Imagine album, the song “How Do You Sleep?”, which was a hate song written to Paul. Ironically, George Harrison plays on the song! Paul tried to resolve the tension with a song called “Dear Friend” on his album Wild Life with his new band Wings. This year also sees the start of John’s fight to stay in the US, which I won’t go into too much detail about.
1971-1972- John and Yoko start posting billboards reading “War Is Over! If You Want It”. This was in protest to stop the Vietnam War and to promote their new single, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”. Today, the song is still seen as a Christmas song.
1972- John and Yoko attend a protest to free war-activist, John Sinclair, who was convicted of using marijuana. John wrote an original song called “John Sinclair” and as a result, Sinclair was let go of the next day! This song and many other political songs appear on Sometime In New York City. This was John and Yoko’s collaboration with a New York band called Elephant’s Memory. The album received poor reviews and still does today.
1973- Mind Games is released. Tired of John’s antics, Yoko splits from John. The couple does not divorce. Instead, Yoko puts John on a plan to get him sober in a Japanese tradition (I didn't make this up. Larry Kane said it!). Since he wouldn’t have a partner, Yoko pairs John up with her friend May Pang. The next 18 months of John’s life are often referred to as his so-called "Lost Weekend".
1974-1975- John releases Walls And Bridges. John slowly starts to get sober. Part of this plan was to have him make up old relationships. May Pang often tried to have Julian come over and spend time with his dad, which rarely happened before. They spent one day in Disneyland, with Cynthia present. The pairing worked somehow as Julian plays drums on the song “Ya-Ya” from the Walls And Bridges album. In 1975, John releases Rock N Roll, a tribute to the music he grew up to. During sessions, John meets Paul in person for the first time in years. It’s not really known what went on but bootlegs of the old friends have been spread around. The last time John and Paul meet is in 1975. John also collaborates with Elton John on “Whatever Gets You through the Night”, which went to #1 in the Billboard charts. John had told Elton if the song went #1, he'd play on stage with him. This happens and becomes the last time John Lennon performs live.
1975- At the Grammy Awards, John and Yoko are seen together in public for the first time since 1973. John is now sober and he and Yoko were in love again. It came to the point when Yoko was pregnant. This wasn’t the first time Yoko was pregnant with John’s child. Back in the late 1960’s, Yoko suffered from two miscarriages. After the second, she was told she’d never have any more children. Yoko did have one daughter from husband Tony Cox. Her name is Kyoko. She was seen with John and Yoko during the Bed-In. Kyoko went missing after her father took her. Yoko wouldn’t see her until 1998. Anyway, John was excited to be a dad again.
October 9, 1975- John turns not only turns 35 but Yoko gives birth to Sean Taro Ono Lennon that day. Also on the same day, John is finally accepted to live in the US. John was extremely happy. However, he wanted to be with his new son. Beatlemania was at its height when Julian was born, leaving no time for John to be with him. John didn’t want to repeat history. So in 1975, John announced he was retiring from the music business all together to be with his new family.
1975-1980- For five years, John Lennon remained out of the spotlight and lived in an apartment at the Dakota in New York with Yoko and Sean. John referred these years as his "fatherhood years" as he was taking care of Sean. The family would take vacations and on occasion, Julian spent time with his father and his new family. Over this period in time, John and Yoko are writing new material for a new album. John sends the songs on a tape to producer Jack Douglas. Douglas liked the songs and in 1980, John begins working again.
October 9, 1980- John turns 40 years old while Sean turns five years old.
November 1980- John and Yoko’s new album, Double Fantasy, is released. The album is praised for the effort put into it. John, at this time, starts thinking of a tour. However, no one is prepared for what is to come.
December 8, 1980- (CAUTION: This part might get intense and a bit graphic. For those of you who are very sensitive, you’ve been warned.)
In the morning, John and Yoko go to a photo shoot to have a picture taken for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. The cover has the couple lying on a bed. Yoko is clothed while John, naked, is in a fetal position kissing her. Later that day, the couple stop by the studio by the Record Plant studio. Yoko is working on her newest single “Walking On Thin Ice”. In the studio office, a radio station interviews John and Yoko. John is in high spirits and after the interview, the couple leaves. In the limousine, John doesn’t want to go out to dinner. He wanted to go back home to kiss Sean goodnight. So, the limo pulled up by the Dakota at around 10:50 pm. Yoko got out first and while walking, she noticed a man. The man nodded to her as he had met her earlier that night. She nods back. John then walks and sees the man and remembers him too. John keeps walking until a voice asks, “Mr. Lennon?”
John slightly turned his head around. Suddenly, the man had whipped out a gun and fired seven bullets. Five of them hit John in the back. John stumbled his way up the stairs yelling “I’m shot!” and collapsed on the ground. Yoko screamed, asking for someone to call 911.
The police arrive to arrest the man and to also get John to the hospital quick. The police car drove to the Kennedy Hospital, where doctors were shocked that it was actually John Lennon who was the patient. Doctors tried their hardest to cure John. They even massaged his heart by opening his chest. The doctors then saw there was no hope: one of the bullets had pierced John’s aorta, which cause him to lose more than 50% of his blood. By 11:20 pm that night, John Winston Ono Lennon was pronounced dead on arrival from gunshot.
John’s death was a shock to everyone, even to the three other Beatles. A couple of days later, Yoko Ono announced there wouldn’t be a funeral for John. All she asked was for ten minutes of silence in memory of John. Lennon’s killer was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison. He was viable for parole four times, most recently in August 2008. He was, of course, denied all four times. He’ll be up again for parole in 2010. As a fan, I wish that no one mentions the name of John’s killer. He is a bastard for what he did and gets no love from me at all.
Ever since that terrible day, John Lennon has been remembered all around the world in so many ways. Paul, George, and Ringo reunited in 1994 for the Anthology project. Sadly in 2001, George Harrison lost his battle with cancer. Yoko Ono has made a memorial for John in Central Park. It’s called Strawberry Fields, named after the place John used to go to in Liverpool as a kid. For music listeners, the place is better known as one of the Beatles' hits. A huge circle that says IMAGINE in the middle has been the gathering place for all Beatles fans during the 9/11 attacks and George’s passing. Many just visit because they love the music.
John’s sons, Julian and Sean, have both followed in the footsteps of their father and have released some great music. In 2007, Yoko unveiled the Peace Tower in Iceland. This tower will shine a light every year on his birthday and on the day of his death.