The world mourned the loss of a musical genius when the iconic John Winston Lennon was shot dead in the archway of his New York City residence on the evening of 8 December 1980.
I can still vividly remember the emotions: shock, disbelief, then grief — just like how millions of people around the world also felt as news about the murder of our dear John Lennon spread like a wildfire. The first time I heard it, it just blew my lights out. I felt so sick. It felt like I’ve lost something, you know? We we’re watching ABC’s telecast of the Monday Night Football, and the game between New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins was tied with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter, when Howard Cosell broke the news of Lennon’s death. There’s the newsflash, then a pause…
No, I did not learn about my favorite rock star’s death until many years later.
It just so happened that I was born on the exact same day that Lennon was slain by a deranged fan, 40 long years ago.
His murderer, Mark David Chapman, instantly became the world’s most hated man.
A self-confessed Beatles’ fan, Chapman travelled from Hawaii, waited for Lennon at the Dakota on the morning of December 8, then met him and even had his copy of the Double Fantasy album signed by Lennon in the evening.
Four of the five hollow-point bullets from Chapman’s .38 special caliber hit Lennon in the back. He was rushed to the hospital in a police car, but was pronounced dead on arrival, while his killer remained at the crime scene reading JD Salinger’s novel, The Cather in the Rye.
Chapman reportedly told the police later that he was inspired by the novel’s fictional character, Holden Caulfield, who rails against all the “phonies” he meets. And to Chapman, Lennon was a “phony”.
When I was younger, I would wear my Lennon shirts every 9th of December as a tribute to my hero. I was supposed to wear them on the day of his death anniversary itself, but since these are black shirts, I always shy away from the idea of wearing them on my birthday because it’s malas, you know (old wives’ tales, hello). Plus we’re almost a day ahead of the US anyway, so technically it’s still December 8 there, thus the “late” commemoration.
Coincidentally, my birthday also falls on the day of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary which is celebrated by the Catholic Church, to which I belong. Although this should be another story which has nothing to do with John Lennon, I just find it ironic (at least to me anyway) that Lennon died on the feast day of the Immaculate Conception.
You see, Lennon always rejected religious teachings and organized religions. He famously flirted with religions, but never committed to any, anyway. When Chapman was interrogated by the police for the murder of Lennon, he said he was angered by Lennon’s hedonistic lifestyle and his public statements, especially the much-publicized, infamous “We (The Beatles) are more popular than Jesus.” Adding to it were the lyrics of his later songs, “God” and “Imagine”, his best known-statement of his vision, and which is regularly described as an atheist anthem.
Some critics from Christian communities may even say his offhand remark against Jesus and Christianity did not go unpunished, and he paid dearly for it. Funny but I think Lennon will be turning on his grave when he learns that his death anniversary also happens to be a famous Catholic feast day. Did he even “Imagine” it?
Religious views aside, John Lennon’s death was a huge story then, leaving millions of fans emotional, even hysterical. It was the most appalling moment in the long history of rock music.
A worldwide outpouring of grief ensued on an unprecedented scale. People did not only grieve for Lennon, but also for the passing of an era. As a fan I can personally say that the day the music died was the day when Lennon died. But I also find it remarkable that 40 years after his death, his spirit is still alive, and millions of people are now migrating to his music.
So on my birthday, as I celebrate one of the most important Marian feasts in the liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic Church, I also commemorate the 40th death anniversary of my rock idol. I’ve three candles to light: one on my cake for me to blow, the other one I light for my Spiritual Mother, and the last one for my fallen hero.
Yes, December 8 is truly a special day for me.*