Twenty-seven years ago tonight (December 8, 1980), I was a 12-year-old boy sound asleep in my bed. That night was the last night of my life where death held no reality in my life. That innocence died the next morning when my mother awoke us for school with the news that John Lennon had been shot and killed outside his apartment in New York late the previous night.
In January of 1977, my parents moved my family into a new home. The house had an intercom system with a turntable and radio at the control center. One of my fond memories of that house was going to sleep as I listened to music piped through the intercom’s speakers. Most of the music was Christmas songs, the Beatles, or Paul McCartney and Wings. Another thing my siblings and I did was listen to my mother’s early Beatles, Dave Clark Five, Byrds, Rolling Stones 45s and a couple of early Beatles LPs on my father’s old stereo and a Mickey Mouse record player in the basement.
By December 1980, I had a solid appreciation of early- to mid-1960s music. I knew each member of the Beatles. I knew the Beatles had disbanded. I also knew that John’s assassination meant the Beatles would never reunite in the way that every Beatles fan hoped. I spent several hours that week and beyond sequestered from family, so that I could cry without anyone knowing. It affected me deeply, more deeply than anyone realized, even to this day.
That Christmas I got John Lennon’s and Yoko Ono’s “Double Fantasy” album. Listening to the album opened another wave of sadness. Even today, I feel sadness. The ranged and depth of sadness has changed as I have grown older.
Several years ago, the late John Ritter spoke at Eureka College of how much he loved the Beatles and John Lennon and how Lennon’s death affected him. He said it took him a long time to work through the senselessness and grief of it. But even then, the senselessness still touched him deeply.
John Ritter spoke of a friend surprising him by bringing him to a Los Angeles recording studio where Lennon was working on some songs. Ritter was too awed to speak to one of his idols. Later in the evening, Lennon, after being perplexed at who this was in the recording studio, nodded at Ritter.
After speaking with the audience, Ritter greeted, spoke with, and signed autographs for those in attendance. I did not have anything for him to sign, so I ran to my car and grabbed my CD of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” I rushed inside to present it to John Ritter to autograph. As I did so, I said, “From one Beatles fan to another, would you sign this?”
Ritter’s shoulders sunk as he took a deep breath and sighed. He asked, “Where did you get this?” I answered in my car. He turned through the pages of the CD booklet, as interested as if it was the first time he had seen the Sgt. Pepper’s album. After a while he turned to the last page inside the booklet and signed: “A splendid time for all! John Ritter.” When he handed it back to me, it was easy to tell that Ritter was touched by the gesture.
Unfortunately, John Ritter would leave this world prematurely, too. As with Lennon, Ritter left behind a wife and children. Quite a Beatles fan, John Ritter’s gravestone quotes the Beatles’ song, “The End” — “And in end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Coincidentally, three years after his death, my daughter, Maryen, was born on what would have been Ritter’s 58th birthday.
John Lennon lived 4o years. I have found as time goes by, I have been affected by John’s death less in what it cost the music world than what it cost his family. I feel for Sean, having been robbed of his father’s presence and love. I feel for Yoko, having been shorted a lifetime of love and friendship with her soul mate. I feel for John, having not gotten a chance to share in his son’s growth and life beyond the age of five.
Professionally, Lennon was reemerging, “staring over,” after a five-year absence. This time, he was reemerging as a well-grounded individual. What he would have shared with the world, as well as his family, we unfortunately will never know.
Twenty-seven years ago, I awoke to the stark realization that life could merely be “what happens to you
while you’re busy making other plans.” As did many people.