The infamous Hey Jude cover



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John Lennon's death, 25 years later


The gravity of some situations isn’t always easy to grasp. Take any natural disaster — reading about hundreds or perhaps thousands dying can sometimes go over the reader’s head. It’s hard to grasp the thought of 500 people leaving this planet at the same time due to consequences beyond their control. It doesn’t make anyone unable to
grasp that any less sensitive; it just makes that person all the more human. Without a real, personal connection to the horror, the horror itself can never fully be appreciated; it just becomes another scene in life’s movie.

However, add any kind of personal connection — a loved one at the scene, a memory of a visit, etc. — and that same situation will shake anyone down to the core. The thought of someone, some thing or some place just disappearing without any warning … it’s frightening.

25 years ago, on Dec. 8, 1980, John Lennon disappeared without any warning. People die every day, with some deaths more senseless than others, but Lennon’s struck an immediate chord with millions across the planet. For some, he sang the first 45 they ever bought at a Woolworth’s, for others he was the leader of the rock rebellion with “Revolution.” He broke hearts when he sang “God,” and he confused even more with his albums of noise with Yoko Ono.

For me, he really wasn’t any of those things. John Lennon was shot outside his New York City apartment 503 days before I was born. I never saw the Beatles live on Ed Sullivan, only in re-runs. I first heard Abbey Road on CD. And while I missed the Beatles while they were in their element, they quickly and forever became one of my favorites. Why wouldn’t they? No one in popular music can hold a candle to their body of work over the last century. Everything they did changed everything after it, and what really makes it so amazing is that they had the same rock breeding ground — Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, the blues — as their British and American peers. Lots of great music came out of the 1960s, but the Beatles ascended to another plain entirely. It might be sickening to constantly be told how great the Beatles were, but to step back and really take it all in can still be overwhelming.

I was born too late for the initial hype, though. And I missed the worldwide candlelight vigils after he died. But my first memory of Lennon is immediate, unmistakable.

I was about 7 years old and standing my family’s living room. My parents had a copy of the Hey Jude LP (a record compiling some of the Beatles’ best non-LP singles, also known as The Beatles Again and never, to my knowledge, re-issued on CD). Side two of the album is still one of my favorites, holding “Hey Jude” (obviously), “Old Brown Shoe,” “Don’t Let Me Down” and “The Ballad of John and Yoko.” “Don’t Let Me Down” was and likely still is my favorite of the bunch.

My parents had one of those huge stereos where the top lifted up to reveal the turntable, the spindle to stack 10 or so albums, an 8-track deck (by then kerplunked) a radio, and storage for about 50 more albums in their sleeves. When closed it looked like a big, flat chest, and it usually had a flower vase or picture on it while at rest.

Of all the records my parents had, Hey Jude was far and away my favorite. One day, and it wasn’t too far in, my cousin, sister and dad were in the room while I was holding the sleeve. They explained to me that the Beatles had broken up and that John Lennon had died. That really shook me. I remember staring at the picture on the front, of Lennon in his big-brimmed hat and shaggy beard, and wondering why this guy died. Somewhere down the line, I learned that he was shot, and for no discernable reason.

The man that had been singing my favorite song, “Don’t Let Me Down,” was no longer of this Earth. All he was now was a picture and a voice coming out of an old stereo. He became mythological to me, ironically, almost God-like. But it bothered me to no end, and it still does, that he was cut down through one deranged, selfish act.

There’s a reason that the anniversary of Lennon’s death gets so much attention every year. So many have their own emotional connection to him. My story is one of billions just like it, each one just as important and influential in the makeup of that person, their tastes and their beliefs.

I still have the record, and many other of the Beatles and his solo work. That old LP has finally been replaced in favor of Abbey Road and Plastic Ono Band, to name two, as some of my favorites in the Beatles/Lennon cannon.

But it’s still hard not to feel upset, angry, sad, happy and bewildered whenever I see that cover.

December 8, 2005

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