by John M. Borack
The following is an edited and re-written version of a piece that was originally included in my book, John Lennon: Life is What Happens (Krause Publications, 2010).
It was a typical Monday evening in December which quickly turned atypical.
I was working on a paper for a college sociology class in the kitchen of my parents’ suburban California home with Monday Night Football on the television in the background, when I was suddenly jarred by sportscaster’s Howard Cosell’s words:
“…John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous, perhaps, of all of the Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital…dead on arrival.”
Cosell’s dramatic intoning of the words “dead on arrival” made me sit up and take notice. I dropped my pencil and stared at the small TV screen, anxiously awaiting more information on what I was sure had to be some sort of horrible mistake. John Lennon dead? What? Why? Double Fantasy had been released just a few weeks earlier, “(Just Like) Starting Over” was already in the top 10, there was talk of a concert tour, and now…this.
For the next week or so I remained glued to the television and radio as the tragedy and its aftermath unfolded. As a young, sensitive Beatles and John Lennon fan, I was swept up in endless waves of emotion, weeping at the drop of a hat as I listened to Lennon’s recordings for hours on end. Finally, it was all too much for my old-school father, who had come to avidly dislike John Lennon after I had the audacity to play the Plastic Ono Band tune “God” on the car stereo one too many times. (This was about as rebellious as my well behaved, 18-year-old conformist self ever got.) The lyric “I don’t believe in Jesus” in particular raised the hair on the back of my dad’s neck, so he had very little sympathy during my extended mourning period. “Why the hell are you crying?” he’d bark at me. “It’s not like you knew him or he was a member of your family.”
With all due respect to my dear father, he could not have been more wrong.
I first made John Lennon’s acquaintance as a 5-year-old boy, when my dad purchased me a copy of the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” 45. It was the beginning of my lifelong love affair with the music of John Lennon and the Beatles, one which continues to this day. Why? It’s simple, really; John Lennon was – and remains – a legend, and he created peerless music that touched me like nothing has since. Lennon was legendary not only for his incomparable singing and songwriting skills, but also because he was a true renaissance man – author, artist, political activist, a leader in the cultural revolution of the ’60s, a proponent for peace, and so much more. Like so many others, I looked up to the man who always stood up for what he believed in, said what was on his mind and did what he felt was right, consequences be damned. And of course there were his songs – far too many to go into here – which are burned into the collective subconscious of millions. For all these reasons and more, when we lost John on that horrible December evening, I felt as if a family member had been taken from me. And it hurt.
Nearly 13 years after Lennon’s murder, I was visiting my father, who was in the final stages of his battle with cancer and who had mellowed considerably. As we chatted, the television was on in the background – just as it had been on that awful night 13 years earlier – when suddenly I heard the distinctive piano chords of “Imagine” coming from the TV set. I could see my dad’s ears perk up a bit. “Who sings this song?” he asked softly as the music continued. “Dad, that’s John Lennon,” I replied hesitantly, unsure as to how he would react.
“John Lennon,” he whispered, then he paused. “I love that song,” he said. “‘Imagine all the people living life in peace.’ That’s nice.” I walked over and sat next to him on the bed and reached for his hand. “I love it too, dad,” I told him. We sat in silence for a while as I held his hand and tried my hardest not to cry.
A few months later, my father passed away. He was only 67. 35 years after John and 22 years after my dad, I still find it difficult to listen to “Imagine” without thinking of that special moment my father and I shared at his bedside. And then my eyes fill with tears when I think about the two men who meant so much to me and who both left us far too soon.