It was 40 years ago today

It was 40 years ago today


norman lebrecht

December 08, 2020

I was working on BBC Newsnight, then a new show, when word came through that John Lennon had been assassinated.

Couldn’t believe it.

Some part of me still can’t.

As John O’Hara said long, long ago: ‘George Gershwin died on July 11, 1937, but I don’t have to believe it if I don’t want to.’

The Royal Liverpool Phil are streaming three concerts this week in his memory. £50 tickets are selling fast.



  • This tribute to Lennon is a good occasion to make another to one of his best friend, the genius Harry Nilsson who was maybe the only singer who made an album produced by Lennon. And after the tragic death of Lennon he was an activist against rifles.

  • Tony Britten says:

    I was music director of ‘Godspell’ at the Churchill Theatre Bromley at that time. We always ended the first half with a blues jam, some of the audience came on stage for wine and the majority went to the bar. That night the band played Hey Jude (I couldn’t trust myself to remember the words to Imagine, and obviously there was no internet to check them). Act one ended and the packed out audience started to move. I played the opening of the song – every single audience member went back to their seat and listened. During the round and round outro the cast instinctively left the stage , one by one and when we finished the song you could have heard a pin drop. Not a sound from a predominantly middle aged, middle class crowd, who were all so sad. I’m weeping a little as I write this – Lennon was no saint, but my God we need a few like him now in our benighted world.

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    I remember it like it was yesterday, my first term at university.

  • Duncan says:

    Ringo said that, at the rooftop concert, he wanted the police to drag him off the drums while he was still playing, but instead the London bobby just said ‘turn the volume down’. It’s great to see Lennon & McCartney really enjoying themselves, in spite of all the aggro that was said to exist between them as the group slowly fell apart. Musicians just having a really good time and Lennon is so missed now. I’m sure his acerbic wit would have plenty to say on current issues.

  • Alexander T says:

    One of the real greats.
    Hard to believe it was forty years ago.

  • Albert Dock says:

    I think it’s £50 for the actual concert. As far as I am aware the concert is not due to be streamed

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Who was the keyboard player? Was it Billy Ocean?

  • M McAlpine says:

    Lennon was worth $200 million at the time of his death. Not bad for a man who said he was an ‘instinctive socialist’ and said that money should be banned.

  • V. Lind says:

    We’ve seen other very big stars — the likes of Jackson, Houston, Prince — all die too young since, but no death in popular music has had the impact of Lennon’s loss. And it is hard to see where anything comparable can happen again in our lifetimes — the other giants will now all have had a “good innings,” when they go, however they do.

    Good and interesting artists have continued to emerge, but I challenge anyone to name a contemporary pop singer, Lennon’s age or younger, whose assassination would be thought even by the most deranged mind to impress a movie star.

    It hardly seems 40 years ago — I can remember that day as if it were yesterday. Sympathies to his surviving family.

    And my antipathy to American gun laws just resurges in remembrance. Look what American guns destroyed in 17 years.

    • Steve says:

      Wasn’t it John Hinckley Jr, who shot Ronald Reagan, who was inspired by a “desire to impress a movie star” (Jodie Foster)? As I recall, Mark Chapman, who shot Lennon, claimed that he had taken offence at Lennon’s “bigger than Jesus” comment and the contrast between Lennon’s espousal of social justice and his opulent lifestyle.

      • V. Lind says:

        Looks as if I got my assassins mixed up. The tragedy (tragedies) of the US is that there are so many of them.

        And that there are so many seriously disturbed people for whom it is absolutely no problem to get guns.

        • William Safford says:

          “Looks as if I got my assassins mixed up.”

          I understand. That’s easy to do. There are so many of them in America, as well as mass murders.

          It has become routine: both the murders, and the reactions to them–mostly pusillanimous on the part of politicians who are afraid of their shadows, and mawkish on the part of the gun death cultists who would rather have tens of thousands of deaths each year than admit that guns kill people.

          Hmmm, there is a corollary with how the pandemic is being handled in this country….

          • V. Lind says:

            The politicians are not afraid of their shadows. They are afraid of the NRA.

          • William Safford says:

            The NRA is right now teetering on the point of collapse. I hope it does. It got taken over in a putsch by extremists, and for years now has been the mouthpiece for gun manufacturers. Its power has waned in the last few years, for the better.

          • V. Lind says:

            Your screen to God’s eyes, or whatever the cyber equivalent of lips to ears is!

    • William Safford says:

      That is due to a false and ahistorical reading of the original intent of the Second Amendment, which had nothing to do with an individual right to own a gun until extremists created one out of thin air.

      (Just watch the gun death cultists come out of the woodwork to challenge this.)

      • V. Lind says:

        Remember Charlton — his cold, dead hands. And that, if I recall correctly, was days after Columbine.

        • William Safford says:

          “The Gun Lobby’s interpretation of the Second Amendment is one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American People by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime. The real purpose of the Second Amendment was to ensure that state armies – the militia – would be maintained for the defense of the state. The very language of the Second Amendment refutes any argument that it was intended to guarantee every citizen an unfettered right to any kind of weapon he or she desires.” – Warren E. Burger, Chief Justice of the United States (1969-86)

          And now this fraud has been given the imprimatur by the Supreme Court, via the hypocrite Justice Scalia’s decision in “Heller.”

          Why hypocrite? Because he was both an originalist and a textualist. He violated both of his guiding legal principles in the Heller decision: he ignored the wishes of the Founding Fathers as well as British precedent in sources such as Blackstone, and he ignored the very words in the Amendment.

          His decision was results-oriented, which is exactly what he decried in the very liberals who attempted to act based on his own principles!

          I remember Colombine well. Two friends of mine teach at the next school over from Colombine. I was simultaneously happy that my two friends were not directly affected, and saddened that others were.

          • V. Lind says:

            I don’t imagine anyone who was over the age of 12 on that day will ever forget Colombine. But for me the horror was just intensified by the NRA rally (previously scheduled) that went ahead a few days later, as if nothing to do with them had happened.

            I could live with Americans wanting to own guns for personal protection. But the sort of arsenals to which private citizens have access with the most minimal of checking is hard to swallow. What does a private citizen need with a Kalashnikov?

            And why do ordinary people who want a gun in their bedside table in case they hear a burglars downstairs object to checks, and waiting periods? If they have nothing to hide, why do they resist registering guns so much? This notion that “when the baddies take over they will round up the guns” is typical fantasism from an infantilistic people.

          • Occamsrazor says:

            “What does a private citizen need with a Kalashnikov?”

            1.75L of Stolichnaya makes a good companion.

      • Occamsrazor says:

        Why do I carry a gun? Because a cop is too heavy. When only police are carrying guns it`s called a police state. People who are against the law-abiding citizens carrying guns are often the kind who do such things in their basements that if known, would cause their neighbors to shoot them on the spot and be exonerated in court later. As for the Beatles and the rest of the so-called rock music, it was created by the Tavistock Institute in order to get millions hooked on drugs and whoredom, it has nothing to do with music.Thanks.

        • Occamsrazor says:

          Liberals got it all wrong as always. Lennon makes a good case not for gun control but for another pet issue of theirs, namely abortion. Imagine (pun intended) how fewer junkies and STD cases the world would have if that thing wasn`t born.

        • William Safford says:


        • V. Lind says:

          I understand you are Russian — but what sort of nutso world have you fallen into? Are there any conspiracy theories you do not subscribe to?

          • Occamsrazor says:

            “Are there any conspiracy theories you do not subscribe to?” Only one, that the government loves me.

  • Scott Fruehwald says:

    I lived at 171 W. 71st Street in 1980. The two cops that first responded to the radio call were sitting below my window. What a sad day.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    I read this recently in a mainstream newspaper, and I think it’s right on the money about Lennon: I’ve just cut and pasted a bit of it:

    By the time he was murdered Lennon had been in a state of living death. Lennon “died” on Tuesday, Aug­ust 31, 1971. That morning he and wife Yoko Ono flew from Heathrow airport to New York. Lennon would never set foot in England again. He was almost artistically lifeless from then on.

    He’d just had back-to-back top 10 singles with Instant Karma! and Power to the People and as part of the Beatles, Lennon had had 21 No 1 singles in the previous eight years. In his nine New York years he would have one.

    By the time he touched down in New York and made his way to the St Regis Hotel on East 55th Street that last day of summer, Lennon’s creative genius has dried up, his eccentric lyrical brilliance was exhausted and his enthusiasm for music would soon give out.

    He would write a handful of worthy, if derivative, songs, retire to be a “house husband” for five years and return with a thin, patchy comeback album that would stall outside the top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic (it fell from 14 to 46 in a single week in Britain) before bursting back to sell millions, top the charts across the globe and win a Grammy for album of the year.

    That was his killer’s doing and our mawkish response.

    But as a songwriter Lennon had shot his bolt. Nothing he did beyond August 1971 was vital, important or even counted. He ended up almost a caricature of the Beatle he hated most at that time: Paul McCartney. You want Silly Love Songs? I’ve got ’em. His luminous, sometimes dazzling songwriting skills would work across just two post-Beatles albums and then were unaccountably extinguished.

    Under the influence of Ono, Lennon’s early solo efforts were unlistenable. With the benefit of a half-century’s hindsight we now understand them to be worse than that. At her best, Ono “singing” sounds like someone strangling a cat. Lennon may have thought of it all as experimental, perhaps even avant-garde, but it is worth noting that in the long tradition of the vanity press the albums were issued by the Beatles’ label, Apple. It wasn’t music and no one liked the noise it made.

    Lennon knew a good song when he heard it. But these weren’t songs. They were … well, who knows really? But the follow-up was already on the way. Unfinished Music No 2: Life with the Lions came next and included the foetal heartbeat of their soon-to-be-miscarried son, John Ono Lennon II. It also failed to chart in Britain and fell 50 places short of its predecessor — at 174 — on Billboard. Things couldn’t get worse for the much-loved Beatle. But they did. Lennon’s third effort, Wedding Album, made little sense but came lavishly packaged and was heavily promoted. It also failed to chart in Britain and limped to 178 on Billboard.

    Alan Howe has been a senior journalist on London’s The Times and Sunday Times, and the New York Post.

    • V. Lind says:

      There is really only on word for you. I don’t use it, and Slipped Disc would not print it.

    • William Safford says:

      Yoko Ono was very much part of the downtown avant-garde scene in New York. She studied (not voice) with a family friend–I wish she were still alive so that I could ask more about Ono. She worked with Fluxus and others.

      According to Wikipedia, Ono was an influence on Meredith Monk–who, as it happens, studied with a different family friend.

    • Andrew says:

      Your timing of this comment is in poor taste. We are remembering the tragic death of a 20th century icon. Why quote some critic’s insult-laden commentary at a time like this?

      • V. Lind says:

        Because she’s a… no, I don’t use that word, even when violently provoked, which was what that cow’s post was meant to do.

        Time and again she shows us that she is totally without empathy with anyone who does not share her absurd and narrow world view. That she is devoid of kindness. It was clear from posts here that those who contributed did so from their good memories of a towering artist and their sadness that a young man, working to get his career back on track, was MURDERED in front of his wife, in front of his home, leaving two young sons.

        But this person, who chooses to participate among this group, manages to find the one nasty article to throw into the mix on an anniversary.

        Not for the first time, I wonder, what sort of a person is she? She shows no humanity, no matter what the issue. God help those around her — I always feel slightly poisoned after reading her posts. This one was toxic. Fecal.

      • William Safford says:

        Because that is who she is–or at least who her persona is.

      • Occamsrazor says:

        Andrew, he was a rich degenerate methadone junkie and a drunk, not an icon.The coroner said he had months left to live anyway due to the irreparable organ failure. The saddest thing is the overall devaluation of language which has caused people to forget the meaning of many words. Here is a friendly reminder of what an icon is:

  • Araragi says:

    I live close to the Strawberry Fields section of Central Park, which for those who don’t know is a memorial for John Lennon (it’s also across the street from the Dakota, where Lennon lived). This year, like every year on the anniversary of his murder, they sang Beatles and Lennon songs all day – and night – in tribute to and remembrance of the slain artist. Perhaps it was more poignant for me this year because I’m now the same age Lennon was when he was murdered. If he were still alive today, Lennon would be 80 years old. RIP John Lennon.

  • Alexander T says:

    The greatest band ever. End of…..