December 8, 1980. I was a young musician studying marine biology at the University of South Carolina. That particular evening was going to be good, because I had a real gig. I had turned 19 eight days earlier, and I had earned a feature solo gig at the on-campus bar, the Golden Spur.
I put together a set of many of the songs I had written around that time (songs that I’ve mercifully forgotten) as well as some favorite cover tunes. (They weren’t called Classic Rock in 1980.) I had songs to sing, the beer would be flowing, and I was actually going to earn some money playing music. I took my trusty Ovation to the bar along with some of my friends in anticipation of a good night.
I played my set to my friends and the other bar-goers that Monday night (sort of a sparse crowd), and a few of us wound up at Don’s, another bar close to campus in Five Points. A couple of pitchers into the evening, the DJ comes on the PA and makes the coldest, cruelest announcement I had ever heard up to that point in my life. If the news hadn’t been so devastating, the three of us at the table would have likely kicked the crap out of the DJ for the crass and uncaring manner he used to make the following announcement:
“Oh, by the way, John Lennon was shot. Looks like there won’t be a Beatles reunion.”
And then it was right back to some proto-rap song like Curtis Blow’s “The Breaks.” There was no sympathy or sorrow in the DJ’s voice, no recognition of how great a loss the world had yet to absorb. The beers continued to flow.
How could anyone want to kill John Lennon? He was a Beatle! He wrote “Imagine” and “All You Need Is Love.” And some wacko nutjob perverted fan decides for the rest of the world that John Lennon shouldn’t be allowed to live any longer?!?
The next day was much of a blur, although I do remember tuning into Cronkite that night. His opening of the CBS Evening News on December 9, 1980 remains one of his most memorable: “The death of a man who sang and played the guitar overshadows the news from Poland, Iran, and Washington tonight.” We all learned who Mark David Chapman was, and we cried along with the mourners and fans gathered in New York, England, and around the world.
It was at that precise moment, 10:50 p.m. on the night of December 8, 1980, that the last hope of the 1960s was murdered along with Lennon. Those who spoke of peace, love, and non-violence seemed to always meet the most violent end.
It was also sad from a musical standpoint as well; Lennon had returned to recording and had just released his and Yoko’s Double Fantasy album, filled with some of Lennon’s best songs ever – “Woman” and “Beautiful Boy” are gems that only hinted at what else could have been.
(Another story of what could have been involved a quiet domestic evening as two music legends watched Saturday Night Live. On April 24, 1976, Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels began what would become a running gag with his offer of $3,000 to the Beatles to appear on SNL. The camera then zoomed in to a close-up of an actual $3,000 NBC check payable to The Beatles. Paul McCartney has since revealed in interviews that he and John Lennon were watching the SNL broadcast from Lennon’s apartment in the Dakota on the night when Michaels made his offer. McCartney said that he and Lennon actually considered going down to NBC studios and taking Michaels up on the reunion offer. Imagine if that had happened!)
It’s hard to believe that 30 years have evaporated since that fateful, dreadful evening. But we should be grateful that the world had John Lennon for the nearly 20 years prior to 12/8/80. Within those years, Lennon gave us music that has, and will continue to, inspire generations that only remember the 1960s from music, books, and video footage. I’ll close with Lennon’s own words…
There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game
There’s nothing you can make that can’t be made
No one you can save that can’t be saved
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time
All you need is LOVE