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John Lennon’s Assassination: The Day The Music Died

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One of the most tragic music deaths was when John Lennon, co-lead vocalist and guitarist for The Beatles, was shot to death outside of his apartment by Mark David Chapman on December 8, 1980. The Beatles were one of the most influential bands in history and when they split up they continued very popular solo careers. John Lennon not only impacted the world with his music but also with his activism and fight for peace. Lennon was arguably one of the best artists the world has ever seen and his music was just one of his ways of getting his message across. His death was a shock and was felt all over the world. People consider the day John Lennon died was the day the music died.

Mark David Chapman was a fan and obsessed over The Beatles, especially Lennon. Although later in life Chapman began a hatred for Lennon began that began in October 1980 when Chapman read an article published by Esquire magazine talking about Lennon. The article stated how Lennon is now this “drug-addled millionaire” who no longer connects with his fans or his music. Preparing for the December assassination, Chapman took a trip to New York in late October with the intention to kill Lennon then. He had just quit his job and bought a .38 caliber revolver and was hoping to buy the bullets once he arrived in New York City. Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono was living in the Dakota Apartments at the time and would be frequently visited by fans and Chapman.

After a brief change of heart Chapman returned home to his wife in Hawaii but soon would return to New York on December 5. Between the fifth and the eighth he would visit multiple times and associate with other fans while waiting for Lennon. On the morning of Dec. 8, before leaving his hotel he arranged a portion of his most cherished items on a table. Among these things was a copy of the New Testament in which he had composed the name ‘Holden Caulfield’ (as in the character from J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye) and the name ‘Lennon’ after the words ‘Gospel According to John’. Before arriving at the Dakota, Chapman grabbed his copy of Lennon’s latest album Double Fantasy and bought a new copy of The Catcher in the Rye. He would later show the police this as his statement, “Chapman’s plan had been to say nothing to police after the shooting, but to simply hand them a copy of the book by way of explaining his actions”.

When arriving at the apartments, Lennon signed Chapman’s copy of his album and headed off to the recording studio with Ono (Rosenberg). Although many wonder why Chapman did not kill Lennon when he first met him that day it was clear that his fixation on murdering Lennon didn’t subside. Chapman waited at the Dakota for Lennon to arrive back when he shot him at 10:50pm. Yoko left the vehicle first, trailed by John. Chapman welcomed Ono with a straightforward ‘Hello’ as she passed. As Lennon passed him, Chapman heard a voice inside his head asking him on: ‘Do it! Do it! Do it!’ When Chapman finally did it, he fired two shots into Lennon’s back. He fired three more times, two hitting Lennon’s shoulder and the third missing, before Lennon crawled into the building. The cops found Chapman reading his copy of The Catcher and The Rye and handcuffed him as he kept apologizing for what he caused. Lennon died that night around 11:07pm “due to massive internal hemorrhaging”.

What made Lennon’s death so important in the eighties is what he was doing as a anti-war activist. Lennon was the voice for a generation and everyone, fans and critics, would listen to what he produced. He challenged listeners to take action with his songs. John wanted people to embrace love as a leading concept in our lives and would push that message constantly over the years. A lot of his songs were political with messages such as paying attention to what is happening, be engaged in the world, and have opinions. He hoped people would really listen to his music and take action with him.

Lennon was famous for making meaningful music, but he also stood out from other artists and to people everywhere due to the fact that he was vocal on a number of political issues during his lifetime. He used both his music and actions to voice his opinions. Lennon took a very active role from the beginning to spread awareness to people about peace. It began during the Vietnam War when he and Oko initiated a “bed-in” instead of taking honeymoon. There were to bed-ins one in March and another in June and the bed-in was intended to promote world peace. Lennon wrote “Give Peace A Chance” in the June bed-in and two years later he wrote one of his most famous songs about peace, “Imagine” (Behnke 20). His activism did not stop as the Cold War continued.

Lennon continued to persuade fans and others about world peace up until he passed away. In one of his last interviews with Rolling Stone, Lennon talks about his music and how it helps people understand about world peace:

I’m not claiming divinity. I’ve never claimed purity of soul. I’ve never claimed to have the answers to life. I only put out songs and answer questions as honestly as I can, but only as honestly as I can – no more, no less…. I see the world through different eyes now. But I still believe in peace, love and understanding. (Cott)

He has encouraged fans to take a stand with him and help bring understanding to everyone about peace so when Lennon rallied so did his fans (Rosen 47). His music spoke to his fans across the globe. His dedication for peace truly inspired so many people around the world as they were to getting involved and using their voice to stand up for what they believe him. During times with violence, wars, greed, and hate it was Lennon who stood with people and helped them understand what was happening around them (Rosen 51). Fans carried out his legacy after he passed by continuing their fight in honor of Lennon. He’s impacted many people with the way of his music, his thought, and his actions.

Lennon being part of The Beatles gave him an incredible start in the music industry. Well after the split of The Beatles, Lennon continued to be one of the best rock artists to ever live. He made a musical comeback in November of 1980 with the release of a joint album with his wife, Double Fantasy (Cott). Lennon with Double Fantasy was the first time in five years he connected with fans again, “right now, the public is our only criterion: You can aim for a small public, a medium public, but for myself, I like a large public”. So when Lennon passed, it was a shock for people across the world.

There is no question that John Lennon was loved all over the world, and it was clear to see that when the news broke. We can tell how much he impacted the world with the ways people found out. The night Lennon died the Miami Dolphins were playing the New England Patriots and announcer Howard Cosell said “remember this is just a football game now matter who wins or loses. An unspeakable tragedy… John Lennon outside of his apartment building building on the west side of New York City…shot twice in the back…dead on arrival” (“John Lennon Shot 12-8-80 Howard Cosell Tells the World Twice John Lennon Was Dead.” 00:39-01:04). The day after people found out the news, fans held a vigil outside Lennon’s apartment building that lasted several days. These tributes were being held across the world; one was held in Liverpool (where Lennon was from), one in Hamburg where The Beatles played their first concerts, and one in the Netherlands where Lennon and Ono held their first bed-in. A week after his death, Ono held a moment of silence that took place in many countries. In Central Park, New York there were about one hundred thousand came out, twenty thousand in Liverpool, and thousands more across the world (Behnke 78). DUring the ten minute moment of silence, radio stations as well went silent (Behnke 78). Because Lennon had such an impact as a solo artist and in the band record shops were a meeting spot for a lot of fans to mourn the loss of him. The record shops that held his solo albums and The Beatles, albums sold out of the albums in a matter of hours.

The celebration for Lennon’s life and his fight for peace continued for years after. At the 1981 Grammys his last album won Album of the Year, Yoko and their son Sean accepted the award on behalf. Five years later after, New York opened a garden in Central Park dedicated to him on October 9, 1985- what would have been his forty-fifth birthday. The garden is named Strawberry Fields after The Beatles song “Strawberry Fields Forever” and is right across the street from The Dakota. Yoko Ono continued Lennon’s spirit for world peace by inviting countries around the world to contribute to the garden by bringing plants to the garden. In total, there are 150 plants from different nations in Strawberry Fields.

There are statues and monuments of Lennon around the world for tributes. Some places include a statue in Havana, Cuba, in the city’s John Lennon Park. Statues also stand in several cities in Spain, as well as in Lima, Peru. In 2007 a memorial called the Imagine Peace Tower opened in Iceland. Located on a tiny island off Iceland’s western coast, the tower is built from a wishing well. On the base of the tower, the words “Imagine Peace” are engraved in twenty-four languages, from Italian, Russian, and Finnish to Korean, Swahili, and Hindi. Each year, the tower lights up on October 9, John’s birthday, and remains lit until December 8.

Not only did Mark David Chapman shockingly gun down his idol from behind, but he robbed the world of anything and everything remarkable that John Lennon might have accomplished during the ’80s and beyond. After all, the release of Double Fantasy just weeks before his death represented an impressive comeback for Lennon and contained some of his best songs in years such as “(Just Like) Starting Over”. The assassination of Lennon will always be one of the most significant and tragic moments in eighties and rock music history. John Lennon taught us to stand up for what we believe in and dream big. He protested for peace, and many people listened and this is why John Lennon will be remembered as a peace activist. A year after Lennon’s passing Yoko Ono said “death alone doesn’t extinguish a flame and a spirit like John” (Behnke 76). His legendary ideas will be remembered forever as long as we all live.  

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