For every Beatles fan old enough to remember, 8 December 1980 was a day of complete shock and sadness: John Lennon was killed outside his New York apartment building in the most horrific of circumstances. Just three weeks earlier, he had released his first new album in five years, and as interviews given at the time indicate, life was good and he was full of plans for the New Year. Devastatingly, those plans were obliterated by the actions of a disturbed gunman. For those who had grown up with The Beatles, it was like losing a part of themselves.
For those of us not old enough to remember, John’s death is a tragic story that has been with us all our lives. Although I wasn’t born when it happened, thinking about it makes me feel angry and upset. Most of the time it’s easy to focus on the joy and happiness that this music has made me feel throughout my life, or to smile and laugh at John’s sardonic wit in those early Beatles interviews and press conferences, and simply enjoy what he gave us during his life. But on days like today, the 36th anniversary of his death, I can’t help but think about the awful way we lost him.
Every fan who was around at the time remembers the exact moment when they heard the news. I can’t remember a particular occasion from my childhood when I became aware of what had happened to John, but I do remember numerous times growing up when I found myself wondering: why? How could anyone want to take another person’s life, let alone a musician who was loved the world over? It’s something we’ll never come any closer to understanding, because there is quite simply no sense to it.
In August 2009, my family and I went on holiday to New York. I had never been before, and I wanted to visit the Dakota building to pay my respects to John. It’s difficult to describe the emotions I felt, standing across the street from a building that seemed so familiar to me from countless photographs, and knowing what had happened here in 1980. It was also strange connecting such a sad and tragic event with this beautiful building, which John lived in and loved, and this gorgeous sunny day in NYC.
Just inside Central Park West, which the Dakota overlooks, is the Strawberry Fields memorial to John. It was unveiled by Yoko Ono on what would have been John’s birthday in 1985. The most striking part of the memorial is the ‘Imagine’ mosaic, where fans often leave flowers and come together to sing and remember John on the anniversaries each year. I spent some time here during my visit to the Dakota, and I enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere. It distracted me from that feeling of loss and allowed me to think more about the incredible impact John made on so many people’s lives. I also met another Beatles fan there who was around my own age, and it was nice to share the experience. Neither of us were old enough to remember the tragedy, yet here we were, showing our love for and remembering an artist who was (and is) important to us.
Many of us have wondered what would have been had John lived. It’s impossible to know for certain, but I think there’s a strong chance he would have worked with his fellow Beatles once more. He clearly had so much left to give, and he would have had plenty to say about the current state of the world, in his music and in general. At the end of his life, he seemed happier within himself than he had ever been before, and perhaps this is how we should best remember him.
It’s hard not to focus on the painful side of things today. Nothing will ever change how horrible 8 December 1980 was for John’s family, friends and fans. His death was shocking and senseless, but he packed so much into his 40 years of life and created many amazing memories for all those who loved him. And ever since that day, people have been keeping his legacy alive and ensuring that he will never, ever be forgotten. We are still singing his songs, and they are the greatest gift he left us with. As long as we have those songs, there will always be a bit of John Lennon left in the world.