December 8, 1980.
If you were born after that date, it’d be difficult to try to explain the mood of the country—and most of the world—on that day and the days that immediately followed.
The man, the presence, the magic of John Lennon was extinguished by an assassin’s bullets in the vestibule of the Dakota Building on 72nd street in Manhattan a little before 11 p.m. that night.
The man who reminded us that “All You Need Is Love,” and asked us to “Give Peace A Chance”—the man who hung enormous billboards in 12 different countries around the world stating that “War Is Over” at a time where the United States was still deeply embroiled in Vietnam—could not have met his demise in a more perverse way.
Even at the age of 10 years old, I was painfully aware that something significant died on that day. Something bigger than just a single person. It seemed like a blow to humanity.
Every major radio station from New Orleans to Boston spent the whole next day broadcasting Lennon retrospectives. There were at least two people on record who killed themselves, citing this tragic loss as their motive. Now, 39 years later, the pain has subsided and what we are left with is the indomitable legacy of this artistic giant. “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “I Am The Walrus,” “Come Together,” “Working Class Hero”—there are simply too many songs to name. Each one could have arguably made an entire career for another performer.
And while his music is still as ubiquitous today as it was in the past, it was his words that illustrated what kind of man John Lennon was.
Whether from songs, poetry, or even in conversational interviews, his pithy and sometimes caustic wit was undeniably present:
“When I was five years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
When you do something noble and beautiful and nobody noticed, do not be sad. For the sun every morning is a beautiful spectacle and yet most of the audience still sleeps.”
“When I was about 12, I used to think I must be a genius, but nobody’s noticed. If there is such a thing as a genius…I am one, and if there isn’t, I don’t care.”
“You’re just left with yourself all the time, whatever you do anyway. You’ve got to get down to your own God in your own temple. It’s all down to you, mate.”
“Art is only a way of expressing pain.”
“Peace is not something you wish for; it’s something you make, something you do, something you are, and something you give away.”
“The thing the 60s did was to show us the possibilities and the responsibility that we all had. It wasn’t the answer. It just gave us a glimpse of the possibility.”
“My role in society, or any artist’s or poet’s role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all.”
“We live in a world where we have to hide to make love, while violence is practiced in broad daylight.”
“I’m not afraid of death because I don’t believe in it. It’s just getting out of one car, and into another.”