December 8, 2005

When John Lennon died.

The doctor who held John Lennon's heart in his hands and tried to pump it back to life remembers that night, 25 years ago:
"There was just nothing left to pump," Dr. [Stephan G.] Lynn recalled in an interview. "There was so much damage to the major blood vessels leading from the heart" that his blood just leaked out....

"The bullets were amazingly well-placed," he said. "All the major blood vessels leaving the heart were a mush, and there was no way to fix it."
I remember hearing the news on the radio the next morning. I heard the news today, oh boy...

I usually listen to a little news on the radio before getting out of bed. I guess I've done that for a long, long time, because I can remember turning on the radio in 1968 and hearing that Bobby Kennedy had been shot to death.

On the day I heard that John had died, I was a law student at NYU. I remember dragging myself in to the law review office and expecting everyone there to be crying and talking about it, but no one was saying anything at all. I never felt so alienated from my fellow law students as I did on that day. I was insecure enough to feel that I was being childish to be so caught up in the story of the death of a celebrity long past his prime. I didn't even take the train uptown to go stand in the crowd that I knew had gathered outside the Dakota. What did I do? I can't remember. I probably buried myself in work on a law review article.

Back in 1968, all my friends were crying and talking about Bobby's death. When Bobby's coffin was on public view in St. Patrick's Cathedral, we got in my car and drove in to New York City (from Wayne, New Jersey) and waited in the long line to file past. I remember the feeling of being around the other mourners and how extremely kind I thought it was when office workers brought us cups of water from inside their building. In the end, we teenagers started worrying that our parents would get upset, wondering where we were, and we left the line we'd waited in for hours.

How I regret not going uptown to be among the people who openly mourned John Lennon! How foolish I was to think I was foolish to care and to put my effort into blending in with the law review editors who, I imagined, were behaving in a way I needed to learn!

I was especially sensitive about fitting in, because I was six months pregnant with my first child, and I worried that this experience was tearing me away from the career I had spent the last two and a half years studying to begin. I was 29 years old, older than most of the other law students. I doubted any of them had studied fine arts, my undergraduate major. With my age, my art school background, and my pregnancy, I was imposter, constantly threatened with exposure. I couldn't walk out on these people and go be with the mourners. I only watched the mourners on television and felt doubly sad.

On St. Patrick's Day, my baby was born. I named him John.


Ron said...

Ann, I think this the most moving and personal post I've read on your blog. Beautifully written, sad, and with a happy ending? Yes, I think that's so. It just makes my perception of you as a writer that much better, and deepens my sense of respect for you as a person as well. Brava!

reader_iam said...

"With my age, my art school background, and my pregnancy, I was imposter, constantly threatened with exposure."

Interesting, that in looking back at a period in time when you were actually engaged in "taking the road less traveled" that you end remembering with regret something you, a non-conformist, chose not to do because of issues of conformity.

I'm not putting this well, so I'm just going to stop. But I found this whole post compelling, and the particular paragraph from which the above sentence is excerpted especially resonant.

me said...

very well written, and very sad. the more you think about Lennon getting killed, I think the harder it is to take.

strawberry lane

there are two types of people in the world

mccartney fans and lennon fans

mccartney fans tend to get a bad rap

because paul had a bad stretch from the early 70s onward

but many forget how much paul did when he was still a bachelor

sgt. pepper''s was almost all paul

at their peak the two certainly fed off each other

and they nearly were one bringing the entire world together

penny lane must have inspired strawberry fields

or maybe it was the other way around

and the white album was really just john and paul

then, like the rest of our history something broke

the two friends were engaged in a border war

the beatles would have never played again

even if lennon had not been murdered

but paul and john probably would have gone back

to being regular blokes

maybe after linda died

because there are only two types of people in the world

those who know how to fix cars

and those who can''t

Mark Daniels said...

People of other generations find it difficult to imagine how much the Beatles meant to those of us of a certain age. Or how we can remember learning of his death the way our parents remember the attack on Pearl Harbor or the death of FDR...or we ourselves remember the deaths of the two Kennedys and of Martin Luther King, Jr....or how all of us who were alive four years ago will remember September 11.

Lennon's death was a seminal event, the official end of our youth. "

A well-written piece, Ann.

Oh, one other thing: "I read the news today, oh boy" is what I think you meant to say.

Mark Daniels

Ann Althouse said...

Oh yeah. Gotta correct that. I got my age wrong the first time too!

Ann Althouse said...

IAm: "Interesting, that in looking back at a period in time when you were actually engaged in 'taking the road less traveled'..."

Oh, law school was full of women then. It felt totally like entering the mainstream! Women starting law school in the late 70s didn't feel like the leading edge. Maybe 5 or 10 years earlier it felt different. But the change came fast. Law was one of the most obvious and accessible entry points for economic success once women decided that's what we wanted. It's still true. There was nothing brave or pioneering about going to law school in 1978. It wouldn't even have been odd to do it in 1973, the year I graduated from college. I was just in thrall to artistic dreams and counterculture philosophy.

Laura Reynolds said...

I was only 23 but a big Beatles fan. I heard it on Monday Night Football, at home alone in a town I had just moved to a few weeks earlier. I just sat in the dark thinking how my life had changed and although there was never any chance of it going back the Beatles (my youth?) was gone for good.

I am glad you shared that because it meant a lot to me then and it still does. We are not alone.

Buck said...

Well said, Ann.

It's interesting how we can recall with absolute clarity where we were and exactly what we were doing at those defining moments in time. For me it was JFK's assassination, the Challenger explosion, Lennon's death, and of course, 9/11.

I was in London when Lennon was shot and spent most of my day (time difference, ya know) in a chemical warfare suit, playing war games. That evening the second Mrs. Pennington and I sat on the floor of our living room watching the BBC tribute and crying our eyes out. It's just something you never forget.

Wade Garrett said...

Ann, that was the most touching post I've ever read on your blog. I don't know if there's anybody for whom my generation would react in the same way.

reader_iam said...

Ann, I actually wasn't thinking of the law school part, so much as the art-school background, and the age and first-pregnancy parts (weren't you, even for that time, a little older than average to be having your first?). Maybe that wasn't so odd in NY, though; I wouldn't know.

Lhombre said...

What a wonderful tribute to Lennon, memory and place Ann. Describing your thoughts this morning in the context of your experience of Lennon’s death so many years ago says so many wonderful things as to the person you are today. You allow us all to share with you who we were and who we are now. Who could have anticipated the long-term affect that the Beatles, and Lennon particularly, would have on our lives, especially those of us old enough to remember.

Your post seems a fitting metaphor for the wonderful Beatles line “I want to hold your hand.” And in the larger interpretation of what that might entail, I get the sense through your post this morning that you have reached out Ann. And in many ways your post is a fitting handshake to the testimony of the respect for growth through humility. Thank you for the reminder. Through your post this morning Lennon still lives. And we all have much to be thankful for.

amba said...

Ann, you confirm the observation that our greatest regrets are not the things we did, but the things we didn't.

What might have been embarrassing to admit, but was and remains true, is that rock music had an almost religious importance for our generation. Can we come out of the closet and say that now? It would have been a pilgrimage to go mourn John.

amba said...

John himself, of course, brazenly pointed that out when he dared to say the Beatles were better known than Jesus. (Not any more, John, not any more.)

Anonymous said...

I am secure in knowing that since great artists are inherently right wing, that atheist pacifist environmentalist John Lennon would have grown to 64 becoming pro-torture, anti-habeas, anti-choice, nationalistic, fundamentalist christian, anti-environment, pro-cronyism, pro-black-box-voting, pro-lawyers, etc.


amba said...

Pro-lawyers? I thought that was left wing. So sue me.

Meade said...

Aww, Quxxo, how very sweetly sentimental of you!

Imagine indeed.

Palladian said...

Quxxo, just go away.

Beautiful post, Ann.

Paul is a Hermit said...

He's the Marilyn Monroe of the next generation past hers. Other than that, I see no special greatness in the man.
After the Beatles, a quasi-Christmas song, a few catchy tunes and a media's joy for fodder, not much else.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Interesting story from well known civil rights defender and blogger, Jeralyn Merritt about her son, born the night of Lennon's assassination

Not comparing, just linking.

P_J said...


I think this has to be some of your best writing ever. Lennon had no particular significance for me, yet this is powerfully moving and bittersweet. It's also interesting to read about your self-perception back then and compare that to the Ann of today who seems so much more confident and comfortable with herself.

Thank you for sharing this with us.

Annoyed Canuck said...

To me the most striking thing about this anniversary of Lennon's death is how much time has passed, and how quickly it flew by.

I was 20 when John died. One of my first memories was watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan in 1964. I had 4 older siblings, so the music of the 60s was part of my life even as a child. The Beatles were irresistable to everyone I knew. Every new song, every album was pored over and listened to endlessly. The upbeat early Beatles pop tunes evoke the happiest aspects of my early childhood. Their later forays into more sophisticated, emotionally layered lyrics and sounds became part of the fabric of my personality and memories. The crowning maturity of the final albums is as beautiful as any music I know, and gains in resonance and meaning as I grow older.

Everybody, boy or girl, had a favorite Beatle, most choosing John or Paul. Mine was Paul, then and now. He may have been more facile than John, but he was somehow more accessible to a young fan, his voice and manner warmer and less quarded and angry than John.

The sneers against Paul, which have persisted since before John died, are nonsense. It was Paul who began writing songs on his own and encouraged John to start writing. Paul was less imaginative, less abstract than John, but he was the better musician and singer, and the better tunesmith. Their partnership was uncanny; each provided something the other lacked. John's rebelious, poetic nature meshed perfectly with Paul's melodic genius. They were a true partnership of peers - their colloboration was greater than the sum of its parts. Even at the height of his alienation from Paul, John acknowledged this.

John was brilliant, but a deeply flawed man. He was a leader of the peace movement, but terribly self-absorbed. His heroin addiction, facilitated by his wealth, lasted for years. He was a terrible father to his oldest son. He cut off all contact for more than three years after starting up with Yoko, and never gave Julian the attention and love he gave freely to Sean. I read in Cynthia's recently published autobiography than John once lashed out at Julian, angrily telling the little boy that he hated the sound of his laugh. Cynthia wrote that Julian stopped laughing altogether and rarely laughs aloud to this day. This cruelty continued at the hands of Yoko after John's death. Julian had to fight in the courts for years to get a small piece of John's estate, and Yoko refused to give him any of John's belongings. Julian has had to buy Lennon memorabilia at auction as keepsakes of his Dad.

Perhaps this isn't a day to point out John's flaws, but neither should his followers indulge in uncritical idolatry. John Lennon had feet of clay - as all of us do.

The music is the most important thing. With the exception of Imagine, the best of his songs were by the Beatles. The exceptions only prove this rule.

Robgiles said...

Please check out my Lennon tribute song on

Lhombre said...

I doubt that Paul would have argued so strongly in defense of his comparison to John as Annoyed Canuck seems to have felt the need to. Annoyed Canuck was right on when he said that perhaps it isn't a good time to point out John's flaws, just as he was correct in saying that we all have feet of clay. But like so many things in llfe timing is everything. Sigh.

Thanks again for this wonderful post Ann.

bearing said...

This is a wonderful post. It really hit home --- especially the "imposter" part. Oh yes.

jesus zimmerman said...

i remember that night so well. i was 21yrs room mate got caught cheating on his fiance, and the other woman was soon to appear at the house. jim had me run interference while he and his fiance argued.

i went outside to wait for his new girlfriend - to take her out and explain things for him. it was so cold, i sat in the car with heater and radio on. i too was listening to mondaynight football, when the local station broke in w/the news. i knew from that 1st report that lennon was dead.

in a state of shock i slinked back into the house and found the two of them still fighting. they asked me why i looked so sullen. i told them what i had heard. they didn't quite believe me. that's about the time howard made his announcement to the nation on mondaynight football. lennon was officially dead. the three of us were stunned. my friends stopped fighting and began to comfort one another. about that time the other woman pulled into the drive and i excused myself.

we went to a local drinking establishment. along the way i told her what had happened. she could care less. she did't like the beatles and especially john lennon. as i sat at the bar with her it became evident that most of the patrons held her beliefs. many mean and nasty things were said about lennon, the beatles, the peace movement and hippies. as i sat there i had trouble
comprehending what i was hearing.

it was that night, at that bar, with that woman and those bellied up to the bar; years before rush and fox news, when the light went off in my head that; conservatism & reaganism had taken root. love for the fellow man, caring, compassion, the 60's/70's were officially history.

in 95, at 36, my wife and i had our first child. his first name is john. his middle name is lennon.

FieldsOfJoy said...

I was 11 years old...and I cried. I cried like I lost a father figure. I knew very little of John Lennon and his life just that I had some of my step-dad's old Lennon albums and I would listen to them sometimes. It didn't take much for me to know at such a young age that he was a very unique and special man. As age grew on me I was able to understand why I felt those feelings when I was 11 about a man I barely knew who was killed. The emotional intelligence I gained through the years allows it to makes sense. I still cry if I let myself think about it. Never have I watched the movie Imagine and not felt tears on my face.

L. M. Spinelli said...

Hi Ann*

I have to say, although it is 2007 and I am a 1987 baby, my eyes watered after reading your article. (I'm actually a 1st year Art major myself in Canada). It was just beautiful to hear you describe how much John Lennon meant to you and your generation. However, growing up and hearing my Mom listen to the Beatles, I have come to love them as well. I'm sad that I didn't even exist during their prime - I find the Baby Boomer generations teenage years so intriguing, and yet my generation seems so preoccupied with ipods and material items that not much revolution seems to be going on. However, I feel that we are overdue for some change, and I hope that like the 1960s and 1970s, my generation will work together to make a difference. Current world issues in the 21st century seem to be forming somewhat of a paralell to those decades I think.

I have read about the life of John Lennon, listened to his music, and viewed many photos of him in books and album covers. I definitely sense his aura through these experiences, and I admire him very much, even though I am not from your generation. I know many others who have gone back to that era of music (ie - predominantly listen to classic rock) during the '60s and '70s because it's more original and expressive - and I know of several 1980s babies who admire John Lennon - and even a 1990s baby - my little brother, who was born in 1993. He did a research project on John Lennon in Grade 5, because he loved the song "Imagine" so much and he enjoys singing along to my Mom's Beatles CDs.

I remember my Grade 4 class singing "Imagine" at our Remembrance Day assembly (Canadian version of Veteran's Day), and how deeply the song effected me - it really is so beautiful that you want to cry. I still get that same sort of feeling deep in my chest when I hear that song - I also recall not singing it for years, changing schools a couple times and having our teacher play it in a class 4 years later (a long time to a 14 year old) - the song just leaves me in awe (I'm really not sure how to describe it completely, but it definitely grabs me).

I hope that gives you and the other commenters some perspective on younger generations and our relationship with such icons as John Lennon. John carried so much spirit with him in everything that he did that he can influence those who weren't even born during his life - I truly think that's a fascinating, spiritual phenomenon.

L. M. Spinelli said...

Woah okay I finished reading the rest of the posts now.

Jacques Cuze - what in the world made you think that artists are pre-dominantly right winged? Most artists applaud liberal education and left winged beliefs. Some communism, some socialism, or just plain peace and harmony in the world.

Being an art major myself, every famous artist is very unique, and some are eccentric so really generalizing artists' political views isn't very true or accurate.
Being Canadian and growing up an hour away from Toronto, and now in university, most people I know are left-winged (but then again I am in dominantly left-winged environments).

Also...woah. Yes, I have read about the unfortunate things that John Lennon did - everyone makes mistakes, especially if they are emotionally scarred and thier mind is altered and damaged from substance abuse. Remember, his mom's abandonment of him caused him a great deal of grief, and then when he finally met her, she died only a couple years later when he was a teenager. All these things add up and have a psychological impact on a person for their lifetime, you know. But thankfully we are mostly CELEBRATING the good things that John did, which I think balances out to the not-so-good things (my opinion). We're only human, and we all make mistakes - including big ones.