A Music Journalist and Fan Reflects On John Lennon’s Death 35 years Later

by Greg Gargs Allard

John Lennon is arguably the greatest human icon in music history. Although one might say it was Elvis or Michael Jackson or Chuck Berry or Bob Dylan – and though some may even say it was Mozart or Beethoven – my personal vote goes to John.

He was the leader of the greatest rock band of all time – (please excuse me Rolling Stones fans) and a man who was so powerful that he had one of the most crooked presidents in United States history – not going to mention any names (Richard Millhouse Nixon) – trying to take him down.

What’s ironic is that where such a powerful man as Nixon failed, such a weak man, who I really won’t mention his name (let’s just say the kind who was so physically weak that you could knock him over like the kid with the least muscle mass in the schoolyard) succeeded.

Lennon, by using his fame, tried to make the world a better place, but was ultimately shot to death in cold blood because of that very same fame – a fame that, someone, the devil’s best friend, envied, coveted, and attempted to steal.

I was 16 years old when Lennon was murdered in cold blood in front of his wife and his home with his five-year-old son upstairs, and hearing of it and going through the emotions of losing such a dear hero was probably the most surreal experiences of my life.

His son Sean grew up after that, by the way, always making sure his mother Yoko walked into the Dakota first, so if a gunman appeared he could be her body guard by being between her and the bullets.

People talk about where they were when John Kennedy died, well, I’ll tell you where I was – just about to enter my mother’s womb, along with the rest of us last batch of baby-boomers who were born in August 1964 or later and the generation that followed in 1965. Well, only my brother also entered my mom’s womb – the rest of them had their own moms.

Seemingly coincidentally, although I don’t believe anything is just coincidence, I had just bought Lennon’s record, Double Fantasy, at the Music Land in the nearby town of Manchester, Connecticut around 7 pm that cold and fateful night of December the 8th.

That night, I watched some Monday Night Football, listened to the new album and a little bit of Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road to compare Lennon’s voice between 1967 and 1980. Then I went to sleep with the radio on, as it was my custom back then in the barely still heyday of FM radio.

You have to understand, rock ‘n’ roll was everything to me  – my mother and father, my confidant friend, my teacher, my guru and my religion – and the Beatles, of course, were central figures. I woke up to the morning DJ at either WCCC or WHCN out of Hartford and the radio rocked me to sleep like a baby at night. I didn’t only want it in my conscious state, I wanted it in my subconscious state as well. I was like a vampire and rock ‘n’ roll culture was like my blood. I needed it to survive and to get through life.

I awoke in the middle of the night to the sad news of Lennon’s assasination and couldn’t believe what appeared to be coming out of my radio receiver. A British reporter was describing Lennon’s blood in the streets in New York City. I thought it was some kind of Monty Python parody but it couldn’t have been Python – while Python was obviously irreverent at times, this was just way too distasteful. I switched the channels up and down the dial and heard more of the same. When one ignorant man called in a station calling Lennon a communist, I just starting sobbing by myself. A great voice of reason was gone and we were left with the kooks and jackals. It was the first time I had cried since my mom died two years earlier.

I then got up, opened up the front door and looked outside into the black, cold night. I turned the flood light on the big oak tree and noticed that there was a blizzard outside.

Because of that snow, school was cancelled and my brother and I joined the rest of the Northeastern US and really the rest of the world mourning the seemingly senseless death of our fallen icon.

I always associate John with Christmas, not just because of his “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” song and all the Christmas messages the Beatles used to leave for their fans, but also because he was shot to death as the holiday season was getting into full gear.

Over the next few months not only did Double Fantasy become number one but the radio station obliterated the airwaves with songs from Lennon’s back catalogue and I and many others went out to purchase whatever Lennon records we didn’t have.

Double Fantasy was a breath of fresh air to me – not new wave, not arena rock, not disco and not punk (which I all still love because hey it was my childhood and music was great back then), but just Lennon and what he had been doing the last five years as a house husband and again a father. His realizations all came flooding in and resulted in about 20 songs that poured out of him starting in Bermuda, after captaining his boat through a horrific storm that made his crew sick and unable to help as he navigated the vessel himself through the treacherous Atlantic while shouting at the gods, daring him to take his life if that’s what they really had in mind.

So, every year around this time I shed a few tears and learn just a little more about what kind of person John Lennon was. He wasn’t a perfect person by any means but he was a powerful person who gave the world a lot and was becoming a better and better human being as the years rolled on. He had the ability to stir the intellect and touch the emotion like no figure in music history, at least in my estimation, and sometimes the sheer strength of his songs still affect me in a powerful way.

Because Lennon’s death was so close to my mother’s in the grand scheme of my life, who I probably never grieved for enough, Lennon’s death has been extremely cathartic for me, because when I grieve over Lennon and the horrible violence this planet earth has to offer us all, I also grieve over my mom without a doubt.

Both McCartney and Lennon lost their mothers early in life and besides having genuine empathy for that, I strongly identify with their wit, intelligence, compassion for others and sense of spirituality. Along with probably the most spiritually-minded of the four, George Harrison (who was also incredibly gifted) and the most affable and perhaps most lovable, Ringo Starr, I will always see the Beatles as my dearest friends and greatest inspiration in the popular world.

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