Wednesday, December 08, 2010

December 8, 1980

Nothing to do to save his life. Call his wife in....

The passage of thirty years does little to alleviate the sense of shock and horror that we felt on that awful night, Monday, December 8, 1980. It was unseasonably warm, that much I distinctly remember. It had been a pleasant day right up to the moment the news came over the television. In the early afternoon I saw on HBO, the Peter Frampton/Bee Gees debacle, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - one of the worst movie musicals ever made. Late in the afternoon and early evening, I saw for the very first time, the Marx Brothers' 1932 classic, Duck Soup - a masterpiece. I remember wondering to myself whether or not John Lennon had ever seen this film. It's comic lunacy combined with an anti war theme would appeal to him, I thought. 
Irony of ironies: I had quit my job as a radio DJ earlier in the week. The man who owned the station, a legendary New York Disc Jockey who shall remain nameless (sorry, cousins) had turned out to be a real impudent son-of-a-bitch to work for. The very last thing I did before I walked out of the place forever was play the new John Lennon single, (Just Like) Starting Over. 
At exactly eleven thirty, after having watched a rerun of M*A*S*H (an episode from the early years when that series was still watchable) I went back to the book I was reading, John Toland's massive biography of Adolf Hitler. Deep in concentration, I was barely aware of the news bulletin that was being relayed on W-NEW channel Five. All of the sudden, my subconscious was jarred by what I thought were the words, "John Lennon". I quickly looked up at the TV to hear the announcer say:

" in critical c
ondition at Roosevelt Hospital with multiple bullet wounds."

"Did I just hear that?" I said to myself, probably out loud, "Nah! Who the hell in their right mi
nd would shoot John Lennon?" I consciously dismissed the very idea as absurd.
I went back to the book. Hardly twenty seconds had elapsed when the telephone rang. It was my brother, Pete. I could tell by the first syllable out of his mouth that I had indeed heard what I thought I had only imagined....

"Oh, my God! What happened??"
"Lennon's been shot.

I went back to the television and turned the channel to the American Broadcasting Company. I knew that the Monday night football game was still in progress and they had not yet broadcast their late evening news. Within a few short minutes the game was interrupted with a "Special Bulletin". The person who made the announcement was a woman named Roseanne Scamardella:


Back and forth I paced the apartment - shell shocked, in a blind grief-stricken rage and in utter disbelief. By chance, my eyes happened to wonder toward the stereo system on the bookshelf. The record resting on the turntable was called, The Beatles First, a collection of their earliest recordings, made in Hamburg, Germany in the summer of 1961 which I had been listening to earlier in the evening.

Then came th
e dreadful, televised image that brought the reality of what was happening crashing down with a vengeance too horrible to even contemplate: the image of John Lennon's lifeless corpse, wrapped in a body bag, strapped to a stretcher, being loaded like so much cargo into the medical examiner's van, bound for the coroner's office. For the first and last time in my life, I drank a bottle of scotch, a drink that under normal circumstances I can barely stomach. These were anything but normal circumstances. It was the only alcohol available that evening. I would never have been able to sleep otherwise.

The next day's headlines only confirmed what many of us, upon awakening from our troubled sl
umber, had hoped had merely been a terrible dream:
The final act of insanity in this insane nightmare would be committed by Rupert Murdoch's New York Post. Three days after the murder, they sneaked a photographer into the New York City morgue. The next day's front page showed a close up of John's dead face; discolored and bloated by three day's rigor mortis.
I read the news today, oh boy....
In the intervening years I have tried to concentrate on the life he lived, not the hideous manner in which he died. But on this anniversary it's difficult - if not impossible - to avoid remembering the events of that terrible evening thirty years ago. Where did the time go? Just recently someone asked me how long it took me to get over the murder of John Lennon. "I never got over it" was my answer. I never will. December 8, 1980 broke my heart. 
Thankfully we can still hear that beautiful, otherworldly voice, forever young, eternally irreverent. John Lennon left an indelible impression on our culture that cannot be denied. He is still a very real part of our lives, almost as much as as he was all those years ago when he walked among us. Thanks to the miracle of recorded sound, the voice of John Lennon is still very audible, a lingering ghost from our distant past that stubbornly refuses to fade into the void. At least we have that to be grateful for. Dr. Winston O'Boogie won't be going away any time soon.
Anyone who was living in Goshen, New York in December 1980 will remember this:

Five days after he died, on Saturday the thirteenth, a worldwide vigil in John's memory was held at 2 PM EST. For ten minutes there was silence - peace - all across the planet earth. I had a couple friends over to observe the event on television. In the village of Goshen, although it had been a clear and sunny day, the moment the vigil began at two o'clock, it began to snow - and not just flurries - for ten solid minutes there was a blinding blizzard. At exactly 2:10, the moment the vigil ended, the snow stopped and the sun came out. His child-like, 1971 anthem, Imagine, drifted through the ether:

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

It was only at that moment that I felt happy for John Lennon.

Tom Degan 
Goshen, NY

Imagine: The Movie
John Lennon: A Life
by Phillip Norman

For more recent posts on this site, please go to this link:


At 11:19 AM, Blogger TSVDP said...

Good column: With or Without the USA, the Beatles were geniuses in their Music without a doubt, but it really took the American Audience and Market to make them so grand and so large like Elvis, that I always felt bad that here, a mixed up American did this killing. It was the American Market, I can even peruse reviews for say a Paul McCartney album 'Run Devil Run' in this case I'd consider it only a little better than average but with American audiences, it almost gets rubber stamped as great. It truly was the USA that made them big, if Canada, UK and Australia were the main audiences, I think the popularity would have been more limited. I appreciate their music and contributions, they were never my favorites.

At 8:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Tom,

My heartfelt sympathy goes out to you on this horrible day in history. I hope you get through it. Life will go on.

Your friend,


At 11:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, El Rushbo, yes, Rush Limbaugh remembered John Lennon on his show, a few times in his speeches he said "Imagine"... emphasis. Not saying Rush is a Lennon fan but anyone listening to the show would have to concede he was alluding to JL today. Chris Matthews mentioned him, good for him.

Lennon, aside from his faux pas with the Virgins cover and maybe some careless rhetoric about the Christ statement has art that carries on and some good ideas too.

At 11:39 PM, Blogger MAC said...

Hey this was a brilliant bit of writing with perspective. I will have to bookmark your blog.

At 12:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lovely. Thanks for writing this. It's easy to forget how we felt so long ago when something devastating happened. You made me remember.

At 8:47 AM, Blogger Tom Degan's Daily Rant said...

"Imagine" by John Lennon:

At 8:49 AM, Blogger Tom Degan's Daily Rant said...

"Woman" by John Lennon:

At 8:50 AM, Blogger Tom Degan's Daily Rant said...

"Stand by Me" by John Lennon:

At 8:52 AM, Blogger Tom Degan's Daily Rant said...

Slippin' and Slidin' by John Lennon:

At 8:54 AM, Blogger Tom Degan's Daily Rant said...

"All You Need Is Love" by The Beatles:

At 11:51 AM, Blogger charles moore said...

Tom, I have read your post several times and each time it brings tears to my eyes.

What a senseless, violent death of a very talented man.

At 1:19 AM, Blogger Dearest Friend said...

Your experience that night is chilling. A friend of mine reminded me yesterday of our rather tough "Sousa-like" band leader being an absolute wreck in tears hanging Beatles photos and album covers in a display case at school the next morning. That display case still haunts me...that and my dad saying those words that made no damned sense to me when he told me. What? John Lennon? Who? Really?!? I went to bed feeling bereft...the school was like - well, silent as a concentration camp, the same haunting eyes all that youth - we were seniors in high school - somehow, that's the day we lost our youth forever. We were all too young to lose him, no matter our age. Bless Yoko for keeping his name alive all these years - as if we could ever forget him.

At 10:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some time ago, I reviewed McCartney's 1999 album "Run Devil Run" and said his rendition did not do the Rick Nelson song justice... I got an email explaining why Macca recorded it that way, Linda had not departed not long before that was recorded and McCartney probably had her in mind. That is some detail to come up with. I suppose a fan could know that. I just listened to it again and appreciate it a lot more, in its own right. Not sure if I'd give the whole CD a top rating. curious.

At 7:58 AM, Anonymous Will Shirley said...

A super nova of talent, he was too much for the world to handle. Naturally an American would kill him, expecting to "get famous". Where do we go for genius anymore? Why don't they wear Kevlar, why ride around in a convertible, why sit in a theater booth with your back to the door?? In the end we miss them, rethink their words and re-imagine life how it could have been. I often try to visualize a 75 year old John Lennon on some late night show, chatting about how he was once shot in the shoulder but the man who shot him was insane and he forgave him. I'd like to hear him sing his old faves and then share some of his new stuff... read his latest book. Oh sigh, when will the next working class hero emerge and how long will we hold him/her before they are taken away?

At 1:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

modusoperandi, Jefferson's Guardian

Timeline shows Bush, McCain warning Dems of financial and housing crisis; meltdown:

my name is barney and lets roll the dice one mo time! if there is a problem i won't admit it and will still get elected again!

At 2:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

one of the chief conceits of centralized economic planning is that the planners know better than everybody else

At 6:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The prophets of the democrat party, Marx and Lenin, the authors of that party's political platform, were men who lived off their family members and friends, engaged in felonious activities rather than honest work, were envious of others' success, resentful of their inadequacies and failures and who conjured up an erroneous set of beliefs on human behavior. These lies appeal to similarly flawed persons who cannot, or will not, care for themselves. Modern democrats have no ideas for growth and improvement, only new ways of stealing wealth from people who earned it.

At 2:42 PM, Anonymous boltok said...

This blogs favorite beatles' song:

At 3:39 PM, Blogger Tom Degan's Daily Rant said...

Back in the USSR....

Very funny, boltok!

Thanks for the link all the same.

All the best,

Tom Degan

At 7:17 PM, Anonymous Pissed Off Biker said...

Anonymous, what the fuck do your last three postings have to do with the Beatles? Do you have an attention deficit problem? An inability to stay focused?

At 7:48 PM, Anonymous boltok said...

When the Beatles are the involed, we should try to stay on topic.

At 7:50 PM, Anonymous boltok said...

This is worth a look:

At 7:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

bad ass vespa biker

i apologize for getting off topic. my bad.

At 2:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A very touching tribute to John Lennon a man I also admired first for his musical talent,then for his conscience resistance to the Vietnam War. I coinsidentally have been reading Philip Normans book,a great read!! Thanks Tom!!

At 1:46 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Thank you for this post. I was 14 on 12/8/80, and I consider that day to be then end of my innocence. The Beatles were my heroes. I remember the night of the 8th I listened to Double Fantasy before going to bed. I didn't learn the news until the next morning. It was the single worst thing that had happened in my life up to that point. Last summer I made my first visit to the Dakota, and found it strangely healing to some degree. Thanks again for the post - I enjoy your blog & your POV!

At 7:19 PM, Anonymous Beatles Discography said...

I never knew it was one of Murdock's papers that took that shot. That's absolutely sick.

At 7:53 AM, Blogger Nummer eins said...

Beautifully said. Thank you.

At 2:22 PM, Anonymous Jay said...


I suppose I don't get it. I suspect that the "magic" of the Beatles and Lennon escapes me due to my age. Maybe it's because I didn't live through that time, but I never understood or felt "the big deal."

I've listened to the Beatles and I'm not a huge fan. I can take 'em or leave 'em. I know--sacrilege! I just don't understand the fuss.

I read this re-post in 2013 simply to try and understand the fuss. You've talked about the Beatles frequently and I was curious to read what the fuss might have been. I'm still reaching.

I haven't made an exhaustive study of the Beatles, but to be honest, to me Lennon was a guy who made his money, found some broad, and decided to do the "Bono thing" and start yapping about causes. Somehow being naked and staying bed was going to stop Viet Nam?

I just don't understand the allure of this guy...or Elvis...or Bono. Everyone I know goes on and on about the Beatles and I could care less.

I'd love for you to do a post on what you feel made them "powerful," "relevant" (outside of the British Invasion), or why he was such a "loss." I feel like I'm missing something and this post just didn't fill in that void.

Educate Tom. What am I missing?


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