A Sad Anniversary

Being in quarantine means I’m not paying attention to dates. Which is how I missed yesterday’s 40th anniversary of the murder of John Lennon.

It would be tough to understate Lennon’s influence on culture. He was a musician and peace activist who first came to fame as a member of The Beatles.

I didn’t see The Beatles in concert. much as I wanted to. My parents wouldn’t let me go to their 1964 show at the Montreal Forum. They didn’t like the music, and they thought I was too young. They were probably right about that – I was eight years old.

I wasn’t too young to have a complete collection of Beatles cards though. Those might be worth a fair amount today, but they got thrown out years ago.

Over the years I have seen the members of The Beatles in concert during their solo careers, Paul, George (who died in 2001), Ringo and Pete. But I never had a chance to see John play live.

He would have been my favorite, if I had a favorite Beatle. I liked his willingness to address controversial topics, even as I found myself disagreeing with his positions.

His death was a shock to my generation, the first of our musical heroes to die. Yes, Buddy Holly died in 1959, but we didn’t remember that. Elvis Presley died in 1977, but he hadn’t had a hit in years and hadn’t really been relevant since before The Beatles. Lennon was part of our consciousness.

At the time I was a volunteer at CKCU-FM, Ottawa’s campus-community station. I went on the air for the overnight shift, 2-7 a.m., just hours after Lennon was shot.

Listeners watching cable television kept me abreast on the details – there was no TV in the studio. In those pre-internet days everyone relied on television and radio for information, but breaking news wasn’t part of the mandate of our station. We didn’t have a news wire.

For five hours I let my listeners program the music I played. Canadian content regulations were ignored, as I played nothing but Lennon and Beatles tunes. That is what people wanted to hear.

I didn’t discriminate as to the songs sung by John or Paul, or even George. People were hungry for all things Beatles. It was time of a collective mourning.

Forty years has gone by quickly. The giants of rock music are senior citizens now, and some will not be with us much longer.

This year alone has brought us the deaths of Neil Peart (of Rush), Bill Withers, Kenny Rogers, John Prine, Little Richard, Peter Green (of Fleetwood Mac), Eddie Van Halen and Spencer Davis, just to name some of the better known ones. None of those deaths had the same impact as Lennon’s.

Maybe that is because Lennon was taken unexpectedly at 40. We didn’t expect that. Or maybe it is because of the magnitude of his impact on society.

I can’t think of anyone from rock and roll whose future death will produce the same outpouring of grief. Mick Jagger? Paul McCartney? Bob Dylan perhaps.

It has been forty years since John Lennon’s murder. For my generation it still feel like yesterday.

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