Wednesday, December 08, 2010

John Lennon - and deaths to remember

It's 30 years to the day since John Lennon died. The Beatles were undoubtedly the biggest band of the 20th century and their influence is still felt today. John Lennon was the radical face of the band and his death was one of those moments that most people of a certain age still remember in detail. In my case the news came to me as I listened to the radio early in the morning. I was living in Bolton at the time and it was shocking that Lennon should have been shot dead outside his apartment. His career had been in decline since the Beatles broke up and his death turned out to be a good career move - for a while at least - as is so often the case when a star dies young.
The greatest example of this was Buddy Holly, who enjoyed (if that's the right word) far more success after his death in February 1959 than when he was alive. I can't remember the exact moment I heard that piece of news (I was only 12 at the time), but there have been a handful of high profile deaths over the years which bring back memories that are frozen in time, and still vivid today.

I remember JFK's death in November 1963 clearly. It was a Friday evening - time for the weekly music gig at the Justin Hall, West Wickham - one of the first venues where David Bowie and Pete Frampton played (in the Konrads and the Herd respectively). As soon as I arrived I was told the news and was gob smacked. Nothing comparable had happened in my admittedly short lifetime. Kennedy was something of a hero to me (we didn't know much about his faults in those days) and suddenly world peace and the move towards civil rights in the US seemed under threat. Johnson quickly accelerated the Vietnam war but to be fair was braver than JFK when it came to civil rights, despite his Southern roots.
The next death that shook me to the core was the shooting of Sam Cooke in LA in December 1964. The event didn't get much coverage in the UK and my memory of receiving the news was a glance at the Stop Press column of the London Evening News on my way home working in Croydon. This was a couple of months before I joined the Croydon Advertiser as a trainee reporter and I was working in the toy department of Grants department store (I even had to stand in for Father Christmas on one occasion - at the age of 18!) Sam Cooke was and still is my favourite singer bar none, and the news was devastating to me. His prophetic anthem A Change Is Gonna Come was a posthumous release (with controversial lyrics removed in the version that came out on 45).
There were other deaths that hit hard over the years that followed, such as that of Otis Redding in 1967 and Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in 1968, but the next big 'death to remember' was that of Elvis in 1977. I was living in Wigan at the time and I recall that the first I heard of it was a sort of 'And Finally' at the end of News At Ten, when Reggie Bosanquet (I think it was) said rather casually that news was coming in that Elvis had died - 'I hope that's not correct' he said. For some reason the natural place to go for further news and the right sort of reaction was Radio Luxembourg, and I spent the next couple of hours listening to Tony Prince playing Presley records non-stop and reminiscences from Jimmy Saville, among others.

Moving forward to 1997, the last celebrity death that left an indelible mark was that of Princess Diana. I was in the habit of going to a car boot sale in Barnet on Sunday mornings at an outlandish time, and it was still dark when I got there. Rumours of the fatal accident started flying round and it wasn't long before her death was confirmed. I met Diana once at a function for the London City Ballet of which she was patron (I was sponsorship manager at Barclays Bank at the time) and she was gorgeous in real life. The nation mourned as never before.
Of other events that sear the memory, of course 9/11 stands out (I was having lunch in the City and dashed back to watch the awful climax), and so does 7/7. I had been in Trafalgar Square the day before when the surprising news about the London Olympics was announced to thousands of spectators, and could well have been on the Piccadilly Line train that was bombed the next day had I not decide to change to the Victoria Line at Finsbury Park. I remember Roy Orbison's death (I was waiting for a tube when I came across the news in the Standard) and other music deaths such as Ike Turner and Bo Diddley, but none of the memories are quite so vivid as the deaths listed above. They really were deaths to remember.


At 4:11 am , Anonymous Eileen O'Farrell said...

Thank you for writing this interesting article about your memories.
The day that John Lennon died started out joyfully for me as I found out that I was pregnant. The next morning upon awakening my joy was shattered by hearing about John Lennon's death the night before. I decided if my baby was a born, John would be part of his name. On July 29, 1981, Derek JOHN was born!
Now Derek JOHN has provided us with two grandchildren - along with the help of his wife LOL! I then realized these children and other young children will have no memories of 9/11/2001. I quickly recorded my memories while lubricating my keyboard with my tears.
I was born and raised in New York City but my husband is from the UK, Edgware, and a lifelong Tottenham fan. So I also remember the horrors of 7/7. We were visiting London shortly afterwards and on the 21st of July, we were on a Thames River cruise returning from Kew Gardens when all of a sudden we noticed emergency vehicles and lights along both sides of the river. My sister-in-law who was with us received a phone call that there were bomb threats received in London. As we returned to Westminster Pier, we quickly got on the tube for the return to Edgware. Honestly, I was terrified going down into the tube but we did arrive safely back to my sister-in-law's flat.
Now my goal in life is to gather people's memories of 9/11 as the next generation will not learn these stories in their history books. If you are interested in sharing your memories of 9/11, please visit 100% of profits from this book are pledged to help military & veteran organizations.

Eileen O'Farrell
Chicopee, MA

At 4:14 am , Anonymous Eileen O'Farrell said...

Oops, I made a typo in the previous post....

Second paragraph should read I decided if my baby was a boy, John would be part of his name.

At 1:30 am , Blogger Private Beach said...

Far from John's career being "in decline since the Beatles broke up", songs like "Imagine" were massive sellers, and at the time of his death he was enjoying a career resurgence with the recent release of "Double Fantasy" after several years of inactivity.

At 2:30 pm , Anonymous Gordon said...

re your blog of Wednesday concerning where you were when........................
yes, it was Reggie B on ITV announcing the reports of the death of Elvis. I remember it well, and assumed at the time it was an unconfirmed (and untrue) item.
Until the next day...


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