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John Lennon Remembered

  • December 9th, 2010
  • Posted by 7thmin

double-fantasy-1.jpgInformal commemorations are taking part at the Strawberry Fields memorial in Central Park, New York, for the 30th anniversary of the death of John Lennon, on 8.12.80.

Lee Duffield * recalls the time:

The assassination of John Lennon was a harmful shock to a generation of people, cutting off something good and settled in everybody’s young mind – memories of the Beatles.

It made no difference that the band itself had broken up more than ten years before;  all of its members were much alive and in the news, when the singer and songwriter was shot, arriving home from the pictures with his wife, as a New York policeman said, “by a screwball off the street”.

It was late afternoon in Sydney; I was news editor on the rock station, JJJ-FM (later the JJJ national radio network); as it was 1980, the news came on an actual clacking teleprinter.

What followed was the anatomy of coverage of a major event that everybody could already see and feel was a life-time milestone, especially for people in our 18-24s demographic.

Hundreds of thousands would have to stay up through the night and would be wanting company.

The station had a management meeting going on which authorised our news room to provide continuous coverage.

We played all the tracks from a six-record “history of the Beatles” album for the bulk of the time, breaking in with packages of reportage and reminiscence at points where we would turn over a record.

Nobody was sleeping; we had half a dozen journalists (to recall a few, Heather Grace Jones, and Rick Powell) and several others from a very stunned group of staff members.

We had commentary from New York, calling in a presenter who’d recently been working on the station, Keri Phillips, and a regular stringer there David Witt.

He had seen John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono, often enough, cycling around, opening his despatch: “A neighbour of mine died tonight …”.

Two of the slightly older members of the station team, former Brits, Mac Cocker and Tony Barrell, had direct reminiscences of the Beatles from earlier times.

“I recall them in a room full of mattresses, and pills”, said Tony Barrell.

Some of the packages being made through the night, mixing interview material (including the John Peel interview from BBC) with music, became sophisticated, put together in a rare facility to which we had access, a twelve-track studio, by the producers Keith Walker and Carl Tyson-Hall.

double-fantasy-2.jpgThe album Double Fantasy got heavy attention, from that moment beginning a rocketing rise to domination of the record charts, as would have been expected.

Released three weeks before John Lennon’s death, it had been struggling for recognition.

On it, we had the man himself, singing “Woman”, “(Just like) Starting Over”, “Cleanup Time”, the heart-rending “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”, and “Watching the Wheels”:

“I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go …”

Many took part all over our city and the world; audience members came along next day to say thanks; it was good to keep busy; it was a hard day’s night and in the end a fair tribute.

Moving forward eight years, I was on a visit by journalists to the Amsterdam Hilton hotel suite where John and Yoko had conducted their “bed in” for peace – “talking in our beds for a week”. The hotel management had set it up exactly as on the day the couple met the press, down to the wall posters and the sixties decor, which was looking a little austere. There was some hope that enthusiasts would rent it out, but by 1988 it was all starting to seem a very long time away. Memories of the actual night of the man’s death though, seem to have stayed fresh, a vivid point in personal histories.

John Lennon
, born in England, was aged 40 at his death.

Another Beatle, George Harrison (guitarist, singer, song-writer), died of cancer in 2001 aged 58.

The two other members of the group, Paul McCartney (Sir James Paul McCartney) and Ringo Starr (Richard Starkey OBE) survive.

For Amsterdam Hilton, see “The Ballad of John and Yoko”, lyrics, on lyrics.time,, (9.12.10).

*  Lee Duffield, journalist and academic, is publisher and editor of EUAustralia Online.