Remembering The Day John Lennon Died

John Lennon in 1966. (Getty Images)
John Lennon in 1966. (Getty Images)

This essay first appeared in the 2010 book This Is NPR: The First Forty Years, a collection of writing by NPR staff and contributors.


I should have cared more, but I didn't. I should have cried, but I didn't.

He meant so much to me.

But the day John Lennon died, my life and his music were never more distant.

On the night of December 8, 1980, I was soldering circuit boards in my apartment above a bar in downtown Washington, D.C., when I heard the news. I was building a synthesizer; I was in a psychedelic new wave dance band called Tiny Desk Unit.

I grew up with The Beatles. Their arrival in the United States happened when I was eleven. I heard Beatlemania unfold on my transistor radio and black-and-white TV. I still remember how the lights from Shea Stadium lit up the night sky when The Beatles played there in 1965. I still remember wishing I was there. I never did see John Lennon live, but his music had been my life's soundtrack.

I was inspired by The Beatles to pick up the guitar and play, as were so many kids of the day. I think the words of the guitar teacher to my mom were something like, "He's got no musical ability; don't waste your money." It took fourteen years for me to get over that, and one day I quit my record store job and decided to be an electronic musician, a decision that would eventually lead to my work at NPR.

And yet, on the day John was murdered, I recall feeling how he'd lived a pretty amazing life, and we should all be so fortunate. I was twenty-seven at the time. I remember thinking that at least he didn't die young. Now I see how young forty is, how short his life was, how profoundly sad his death was. He was still coming to terms with his own life.

John Lennon's songs and poetry still inspire, I still hear his influence not only just on his generation, but on every generation since. I only wish he was around to know that — maybe in his old age he would have cared.

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