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Food for Thought

I Heard The News That Day

Tim Madigan reflects on the murder of John Lennon.

Like countless others I can still vividly remember learning of the news of John Lennon’s murder on December 8th, 1980. I actually found out about it on the morning of December 9th. As I came to breakfast, my mother told me that “Lennon was assassinated last night.” I laughed, as the words sounded so ridiculous. Surely she didn’t mean the former Beatle, who had just released an album after five years of being out of the public eye? It must have been some politician who’d been killed – after all, the word ‘assassinated’ was usually only used to refer to the fates of world leaders. But when she made it clear that she did indeed mean John Lennon, I was shattered.

Lennon was an idol to me. First, I learned to deal with my myopia as a young man thanks to his example. Since Lennon wore glasses, it wasn’t necessarily nerdy – and I’ve made it a point to wear round ‘granny’ glasses ever since. Growing up in the mid-Sixties, I came of age with the Beatles and their spectacular break-up. Through it all John was always my favorite. I deeply admired his biting wit, his social activism, and his exuberant love of the English language. I even admired his public commitment to Yoko Ono, one of the original performance artists. If she ‘caused’ the death of the Beatles, then to me that just meant it was time for Lennon to go on to different phases of his life.

In the 1970s the two of them made New York City an even more legendary place through their choosing to live and work there, and through their fight to keep John from being deported by the evil forces of the Nixon Administration. As the Reagan ‘Revolution’ began after the 1980 election, I was glad to know that Lennon had just emerged from hibernation, and I looked forward to seeing what he’d have to say about this new state of affairs. If nothing else, his cheekiness would be a wonderful counterpoint to the Reaganauts just then taking power. But as we all know, it was not to be. I couldn’t comprehend how someone could take the life of such a man, and thirty years later I still can’t.

These deep feelings of sadness returned to me when I read a review of a recent film entitled The Killing of John Lennon. It’s a detailed, almost minute-to-minute recreation of the plotting, stalking and murder of Lennon, filmed on the actual sites, including the Dakota apartment building where Lennon lived and was gunned down. The review stated that the film is an accurate depiction of the life and mind-set of the murderer; and I have absolutely no desire to see it.

Legend tells us that in 356 BC, a deranged young man named Herostratus burned down the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. He did it solely to immortalize his name. The leaders of Ephesus, after executing him for his deed, in an attempt to deny him his ‘glory’, made it a capital offense for anyone to utter his name. But of course his name was indeed recorded, or I wouldn’t be mentioning it now. In fact, in some ways I’m continuing to honor his evil wish. The name ‘Herostratus’ has come to signify a now all-too-common type of person – the nobody who seeks fame not through good deeds or virtuous behavior, but by a reprehensible action of such magnitude that it will continue to live on in infamy.

I find it deeply disturbing that assassins have their names forever coupled with the names of those they kill: Booth/Lincoln, Oswald/Kennedy, Ray/King. It is an unholy alliance. History cannot change the deeds which brought these names together, but we do not need to dwell obsessively on the individuals whose sole claim to fame is ending the existence of human beings who made the world a better place. In this article I have chosen not to mention the name of John Lennon’s ‘assassin’. Indeed, that term is too dignified to attribute to him. He is a murderer, pure and simple, serving time in Attica (I hope until his natural death), and the new film about him is yet another example of the Herostratus effect. I wish him the obscurity he so richly deserves.

John Lennon, tragically short though his career was, lives on through his music. We can continue to ‘imagine’ there will be no more modern Herostratuses, while grimly knowing there are all-too-many lurking in the shadows. In the meantime, in honor of John, let’s continue to talk about Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism, This-ism and That-ism – and as best we can, let’s give peace a chance.

© Dr Timothy J. Madigan 2011

Tim Madigan will be forever grateful to John Lennon for leading him from myopia to utopia (see joinnutopia.com).

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