Death at the Dakota
I remember this day, 32 years ago… December 8, 1980. I was a fuzzy-faced freshman at TCU. We were all studying hard for the next week of finals. It was a Monday night. Around 9 p.m., word began to spread: John Lennon was dead. It didn’t seem real. It felt more like a prank, like that “Paul is dead” rumor that went around several years before about how there were clues if you played a song backward or looked at McCartney on the Abbey Road album cover . Ironically, Paul McCartney would be the only Beatle to still be singing for his supper and packing arenas well into his sixties.
Since there were no 24-hour news channels at that time, most of the nation found out about it from none other than Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football.
When reality began to set in, it just seemed so surreal. The guy who sang about peace? The guy who made love and not war? He was gunned down on the streets of New York City? Right across from Central Park. Right in front of his building. What was this world coming to?
Beyond the tragedy of a husband and father being gunned down came the stone-cold reality that the Beatles now were really over. There would be no reunion. They were a part of history. If John hadn’t have been killed, there’s no telling whether or not the band would have ever reunited. Who knows if their egos would have ever been able to coexist. I sort of suspect that at some point, nostalgia and a huge pile of money would have brought them together again. It’s sort of weird that the most iconic rock group of all time only made music together for ten years. Especially when groups like the Rolling Stones and The Who are still packing concert halls 50 years later.
That freshman year would see more gun play, even though the calendar would flip to 1981. The next Spring, both Ronald Regan and Pope John Paul would be wounded in assassination attempts. It was a crazy year.
But me being a pretty huge Beatles fan, Lennon’s death haunted me. Years later, I would date a girl who remembered once having met the assassin, Mark David Chapman, in a Glen Ellyn, IL, basement party. So that was sort of bizarre.
Years later, Jean and I stopped by the Dakota during a trip to New York. Across the street in Central Park, there is a permanent memorial to Lennon called Strawberry Fields. No doubt, there will be people there tonight singing “Give Peace a Chance” and “Imagine” by candlelight.
One thing I hadn’t remembered from that time is that Lennon stopped performing in public 5 years prior to his death. Oh, he still wrote songs and put out albums, but were no public performances after 1975. In fact, his last public performance was at a really cheesy TV tribute to some old British producer. He was backed by a group with BOFM on their drum. It stood for Brothers of Mother F*#ckers. Later, they changed their name to Dog Soldier, taking the name from a Lennon song. The band had two-faced masks on because of the dual feelings that Lennon had for the Lew Grade, the honoree. It’s just such a weird and typical mid-70s production. And so unlike everything that John Lennon stood for. How ironic that this was his last public performance.
Like a car accident, it’s horrible but you can’t take your eyes away from it. But I’m also struck by what a good performer John Lennon still was.
Here’s a better tribute from the same year of 1975, and John’s cover of “Stand by Me.”