I can only imagine why he mattered to me.
I was too young for the Beatles — not yet born when they first visited America and not yet 6 years old when they broke up. Too young for Working Class Hero or Give Peace a Chance to mean anything when they were new.
But even as a kid, Imagine was a song that captured me.
I recall waking up that morning of Dec. 9, 1980, to the clock radio playing that song, one of my favorites, and wondering why that particular song was on the radio. I was pleased; you seldom heard it on the radio, and it was weird to hear it playing, especially since Lennon had recently released a new single.
But then the announcer came on, very quietly, and said John Lennon had died last night, Dec. 8, shot in front of his New York City home, and the suspect was in custody. He repeated that officials were saying Lennon had been pronounced dead at the hospital of gunshot wounds. Details were still sketchy at that early hour.
If a 16-year-old cried, you could forgive him that.
Maddening, though, was that the other kids at school that day thought it only a passing curiosity, this news of a celebrity’s murder. So what? He was in that band back in the ’60s, right? Just another famous dead guy. It wasn’t the first time I knew they weren’t like me.
Maybe it was all those darn 8-tracks.
When I was 12, I earned money by cutting lawns in the neighborhood, and used the money to purchase (on time) an 8-track player at the Flomaton, Ala., Western Auto. My uncle Joe gave me all of his 8-tracks when he upgraded to cassettes, and several of those were Beatles albums. That meant that most of my collection was comprised of the Beatles. So I listened, and learned and sang along.
Revolution No. 9, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, Yellow Submarine, Julia, Blackbird.
Happiness is a Warm Gun.
Lennon was no saint, according to various accounts. He was as unlikable in many ways as any human being can be, particularly one with an artistic streak.
But that’s for folks who knew him to work out — the rest of us only have his music.
From this same era, an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati echoes in my memory because of how it used the lyrics of Imagine to expose how a would-be censor used religious fundamentalism for personal power. The song doesn’t ask for a world with no heaven or hell, you see. It just asks you to try to imagine a world like that.
Imagine living life in peace. Above us only sky.
In a world where Mick Jagger continues to strut on stage and Paul McCartney still rocks, Elton John tours and David Bowie reinvents himself, you have to wonder what Lennon would be doing now, 25 years later.
Imagine a world where peaceful folk aren’t murdered for no reason at all.
It’s easy if you try.
(This was my Undercurrents column five years ago, Dec. 4, 2005, on the Sunday before the 25th anniversary of Lennon's death. I repost it tonight on the 30th anniversary.)