I was a teenager grabbing a few more minutes in bed on the morning of 8thDecember 1980 when maternal shouting at me to get up was interrupted by an audible gasp. TheRadio Clyde news bulletin had to be serious to interrupt parental attempts to get me out of bed. I heard my dad say, “What happened to him?” My mother replied, “He’s been shot. Shot dead.”
Ronald Regan had recently won the 1980 US presidential election and my first thought was it was him who’d been shot dead. I shouted, “Who’s been shot?” My mother came into my room. “John Lennon”, she said. I can still feel the same dreadful feeling at the pit of my stomach even now whenever his murder is remembered, like millions of others around the world I’m sure.
It wasn’t fashionable to be a Beatlesor John Lennon fan in the UK at the time, in the immediate post-punk era when such music was considered distinctly un-revolutionary or worse, un-cool. Us Beatles fans were swimming against the New Wave tide. Plus, Double Fantasy had been not long released and disappointed with its lack of the sort of angst teenagers often seek in their music. It didn’t help our case much, we felt.
Still, I fought The Beatles corner faithfully during many schoolboy musical wars at Woodfarm High, reminding my punk friends that John Lennon could have been the first punk, that Billy Idol/Generation Xcovered the angry Gimmie Some Truth from Lennon’s Imagine album, and that Siousie and the Bancheescovered The Beatles Helter Skelterfrom the Double White album. These facts were met with flat denials of fashionably New Wave pals. When confronted with vinyl proof, unwittingly provided by my secret source – my Punk wee sister who’sGeneration X and Souxsie records I ... err ... borrowed to help me win my case – these New Wavers grudgingly acknowledged there might have been such a concept as rebellion in music before Johnny Rotten.
To see the Beatles and Lennon in particular coming back into vogue in the early 1990s felt like a vindication. To hear their influence on so many successful modern acts, to think that they are still in vogue across generations now mean the world makes at least a little sense. And when I hear my least favourite Lennon album, Double Fantasy, now, I hear a once troubled soul finding peace. I’d say he’d earned it.
It’s ironic that Imagine was ever considered by some as saccharine-like musical Schmaltz when it’s the most anti-establishment song he ever wrote, dressed up for reactionaries, a sort of Anarchy In The UK - or everywhere else for that matter - for mainstream tastes, like a musical Trojan Horse for revolutionary concepts. Now, there’s something Punks and other revolutionaries could learn from...
That night, December 8th 1980, there was a programme on TV on the life and times of Lennon. The presenter appeared genuinely affected by the day’s events. But he finished with a comment that made a lot of sense, something like, “I never knew John Lennon personally. So the John Lennon I know is still alive”. There really is some sort of immorality after all.