Music + Movies + Books

John Lennon.

Photo © David Farrell

I was only five years old when John Lennon was murdered.

I don’t know where I was or what I was doing when it happened (it was late at night on a Monday, so I imagine I was asleep in bed). I’m not sure that I even knew who John Lennon was when I was five. Surely I’d heard the Beatles’ music somewhere, but my house as a young child was one filled with classical and folk music; never rock & roll.

By the next day at kindergarten, though, I was aware that something very sad had happened. Someone that a lot of people loved had died, and someone had killed him. I don’t think that concept—murder—had ever occurred to me before then. Why would it have? I remember hearing talk (maybe among my older siblings, or maybe on the radio, I’m not sure) about guns and about a crazy person, a nut-job. I was aware that the person who died was “famous”, a word I understood from seeing the Muppets Christmas special with John Denver, and that he sang songs and was in a band. I was also aware that John Lennon was murdered in New York City, a place I knew very well.

When an assassination attempt was made on President Reagan soon after, I understood what was going on because it was the same thing that had happened to John Lennon. There was more talk about guns and nut-jobs and fanatics. In my memory, the two events occurred simultaneously. I’m always surprised when I look at the dates and see that, in fact, three months elapsed between the shootings.

By the following year, I was fully immersed in pop and rock music. Two of my older sisters, Sarah and Melissa, were entering their teens, and my brother Gordy—ten years my senior—was playing more and more of his own records at home. My oldest sister, Lisa, had started making dubbed copies of records she’d discovered at college. The world opened up for me musically, and lifelong obsessions began to be born.

At some point, I figured out who the Beatles were, and that John Lennon had been one of them. I found out that John Lennon had a son, Sean, who was only a few days older than me. I also learned about his wife, an artist named Yoko, and where they had all lived together in New York. Everything I discovered about John Lennon was posthumous. By the time I had fallen in love with his music, his persona, his beliefs, his dreams…he was already gone. The loss still feels enormous, though.

Please visit & share your memories → John Lennon: The Teamaker, by Yoko Ono Lennon.

John and Yoko
Photo © Tittenhurst Park Estate

Battery Park
Photo © Iain Macmillan // Courtesy Yoko Ono

John and Sean
Photo © Yoko Ono

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  • Reply Jessica December 8, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    Oh, how wonderful. I guess we are the same age, as I’m a few days younger than Sean too (who I saw once in a movie theater in LA and was touched for this very reason). I also remember Lennon’s assassination and the Reagan shooting as happening at the same time. Thanks for the beautiful images – those are some of my favorites. Especially sweet to see Sean pictured at that age. My son just turned five and is also a beautiful boy.

    • Anna @ D16 December 8, 2010 at 5:02 pm

      My birthday is October 21st, and I’ve always felt connected to Sean because of that. It’s difficult to articulate, but it sounds like maybe you already understand what I mean.

    • Jessica December 8, 2010 at 5:26 pm

      October 22nd. Yes, absolutely connected. When I saw him we were 20 or so, and I didn’t say anything to him, because the place was empty, and you know… why? I didn’t need to. They interviewed Sean for a documentary at about nine or ten (thought it was The Compleat Beatles, must have been another), ever see it? It was heartbreaking to begin with, and has the added layer of being a snapshot of that age for me (us), too.

    • Anna @ D16 December 8, 2010 at 11:51 pm

      Yes, I have seen it—that’s the one where he’s wearing that ultra-’80s shirt, right? 🙂

    • Jessica December 9, 2010 at 3:39 pm

      Yes! I remember a side-swept Flock of Seagulls haircut and a jacket, but since I can’t find a clip, these could be inventions of memory.

  • Reply M December 8, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    Just watched the BBC special.

    I remember playing the (Just Like) Starting over 45 (45 records? goodness gracious I’m old! lol) repeatedly like a chain smoker would light cigarette after cigarette. I was about 6 or 7. I couldn’t get enough of it. I would play it for any of my friends who would sit still long enough for me to get the needle on the record. They didn’t react to it the way I did. Not only could I not understand why but I was also baffled about their reasons for disliking it.

    THAT song led to my first memorable realization that there was some difference, though I didn’t know why, in what we were supposed to be listening to in ‘the hood’. Before that I was used to they way it was in my house…I like the way it sounds so I play it (sometimes ad nauseum). I don’t know why that song touched me the way it did then and not sure I even care. It still touches me and takes me to a wonderful place.

    Sorry for blogging in your comments.

    *presses play on the iPod*

  • Reply jodi December 8, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    i love john lennon. it’s amazing how powerful his music and worldview still are thirty years later.

    i saw sean lennon at the bowery ballroom a few years ago. we managed to snag seats in the upper level. just before sean went on, yoko appeared and sat approximately five feet away from us.

  • Reply Michelle December 8, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    Wow, I find it ironic to see this post as I JUST was listening to Rubber Soul on the way home from a final exam. Great stuff. Great people.

  • Reply Katherine December 8, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    Yeay, thanks for posting this today. I’ve been thinking about John all day. I always love to read your memories because, since we were born around the same time and both with way older siblings, they remind me a lot of my own experiences.

  • Reply stephanie December 8, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    The world tried to make amends…my daughter Adeline Charlie was born on this day 4 years ago. While she can’t sing, she does make beautiful music of her own.

    I love John Lennon and the Beatles.

  • Reply Maria December 8, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    I was a few weeks short of my 18th birthday when he died. I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing. Still one of the saddest days of my life.
    That said, just looking at his picture brings such joy.

    Thanks for posting this.

  • Reply Kristina December 8, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    I always think about John today too, so this post was great. I’ve always felt I had a connection to him partly because I grew up with hippy parents who often listened to The Beatles and how my father also heavily resembles him. I’ve heard my whole life how they could be brothers, but I really think it was because my dad had John’s haircut when having longer hair and a beard were way, way out of fashion in Dallas, Texas.

  • Reply Samone December 8, 2010 at 11:26 pm

    Gorgeous photos and post, Anna. John’s death is also one of the first times I really became aware of death (we are aged about a month apart, you and I). It really impacted on me because my father was crying so much.

  • Reply Phil Zimmermann December 9, 2010 at 12:42 am

    i was living in hell’s kitchen, 47th and 9th. and when we heard the news minutes after it happened, we all walked up to the dakota, about 20 blocks away and there was a huge crowd standing around. it was a very sad and moving with everyone quiet and a few people crying, but mostly just bummed out. he was taken to st. vincent’s where he was declared dead on arrival. he always seemed the most sane and the most intelligent of the beatles to me.

  • Reply Melanie December 9, 2010 at 5:17 am

    I’m just a week younger than you & the candlelight vigil my parents held for John Lennon is one of my earliest memories – our tiny little cottage packed full of teary-eyed long-haired grown-ups, the smell of hand-rolled cigarettes (yeah, probably *that* kind of hand-rolled cigarette too) & the music of the Beatles filling the living room. It’s such a vivid memory still that I wonder sometimes if it really happened.

    While I grew up to not be a huge Beatles fan, my respect & affection for John Lennon still abides.

  • Reply Ceci December 9, 2010 at 9:39 am

    I was waiting for you to post about John Lennon! I was 14 when he was murdered. I remember my mom at the table in the kitchen & the two of us listening to a radio report with witnesses giving their accounts either of the murder or the vigil after it happened. It stuck with me & I think about what I heard a lot.

    Great photos! He’s still with us in the music he gave us! What a great gift!

  • Reply sarah December 9, 2010 at 10:55 am

    i was 6 years old and living half of the time in ny and the other half in liverpool. john lennon used to drink in my nan’s pub, the horse & jockey. i still remember my mum’s red sweatshirt printed with an image of john and the word why.

  • Reply Amanda December 9, 2010 at 11:22 am

    Lovely post. I’m always impressed at how well you remember your feelings and impressions as a child. Last night on the news they did a small segment on him, and the anchor said “Anyone under the age of thirty has never known a world that included John Lennon.” As a twentysomething, this made me really sad for some reason. However, I feel like I DO know a world that included him. My tween/teen world DEFINITELY included him, and I’m so glad it did.

  • Reply Michelle December 9, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    Great Post. I was born in 81, one year short of living in a world with the great John Lennon. But my dad made it his mission for me to know every single track and know how wonderful each song was. I just saw the BBC special last night as well, and even though I wasn’t around during his time, the sadness is so real.

    (I started reading more about Yoko last night after the BBC program..I had no idea she had a daughter that had been kidnapped by her ex!)

    • Anna @ D16 December 9, 2010 at 2:43 pm

      Yoko’s life story is indeed fascinating. She is a really compelling person all around, and it’s a real shame that the overt racism and sexism that led to her being touted as “the woman who broke up the Beatles” has overshadowed that fact.

  • Reply heather December 9, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    I remember moments from this day so clearly. I’m a few months older than you (May 23) but that day is one of my oldest memories. I remember my parents being so upset, my father in particular. They were huge Beatles fans. I remember my Dad listening to the stereo in our old dining room – CBS FM I think – with a look of disbelief on his face.
    I remember the next day at school and how our teacher took time to talk about the event with us and how the older kids seemed so upset.
    I remember that time every time I listen to Double Fantasy and “All Those Years Ago” still makes me tear up.

  • Reply Kellee December 10, 2010 at 9:10 am

    Beautiful post.

    Anna, you are a wonderful writer.

  • Reply raina December 10, 2010 at 9:18 am

    I was in a restaurant in Woodstock NY with my then boyfriend, when the news came on the television the place was silent, no one could believe what had happened. I still get a lump in my throat when I think back to that moment.

  • Reply Design Elements December 10, 2010 at 11:15 am

    wonderful post – words, pics, song…

  • Reply minna December 17, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    we just watched a document about Lennon and it was great but also so sad because of his death. He was great artist.

  • Reply Caroline, No December 18, 2010 at 4:18 am

    Ahh, John. He’ll always be my number one.

    That top picture of him is so lovely. Have you seen the LennoNYC documentary? Loads of great footage and tells the story of him / Yoko / NYC really well.

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