“A sad sad day but remembering my friend John with the great joy he brought to the world. I will always be proud and happy to have known and worked with this incredible Scouser! X love Paul”
Reading this tweet from Paul McCartney this morning, I was reminded what day it is. December 8th. If you’re a Beatles fan, it’s a date that probably sticks in your mind. 40 years ago today, John Lennon died; shot on his doorstep by deranged fan Mark David Chapman.
In the 18 years prior, Lennon – as a member of the Beatles and as a solo artist – had changed the face of popular music. That’s not hyperbole. Many of the records that Lennon produced are amongst the most important cultural artefacts of the modern age. They paved the way for pretty much everything that came in their wake; they shifted the paradigm.
And then, suddenly, just like that, he was gone. The Beatles would never get back together. “Double Fantasy,” the album intended to be his comeback, would instead be the final recorded statement released during his lifetime.
To understand the enormity of Lennon’s death at the time, you’ve only got to look at the outpouring of grief that followed.
On December 14th, 1980, 30,000 people congregated in his hometown of Liverpool to honor him. A further 50,000 came together in Central Park, New York. It was unprecedented; a testament to Lennon’s massive impact on the culture of the ’60s and ‘70s, and to the intense connection that people felt to his music.
That connection was perhaps best expressed by Rolling Stone’s Scott Spencer, who paid tribute to the singer in the magazine’s January 1981 issue with a piece titled “We Are Better People Because of John Lennon”:
“…In a cautious age, John Lennon was uninterested in existing on any but his own terms. He sang and wrote what he believed, and he trusted us to listen. And he was right: we listened. Taking his lesson to heart, embracing his radiant example, ennobles the work we do. John’s success, his awesome ability to communicate with millions — to say difficult things to people whom others felt were fit only to hear the emptiest words, to say emotionally vulnerable things to the most cynical and say them so well they could not be denied — remains a towering standard. He teaches us faith in oneself, and confidence in and affection for the human community.”
40 years on, Lennon’s music still communicates with millions. There are 13-year-old kids out there listening to The Beatles and Lennon’s solo albums for the first time, and connecting to the music just like their parents and grandparents did. “Strawberry Fields Forever” still blows minds; “Give Peace a Chance” still speaks truth and people still come together to “Come Together.”
Yes, John Lennon is dead. But his music lives. More than that, it thrives. And it will do so for a long time to come.