It was my nightly ritual, lying in bed in the dark listening to the radio.
Still in high school and living at home, I had finally exercised some autonomy by moving my bedroom to the basement of our townhouse, two full floors from the rest of the family. It was my sanctuary, surrounded by my books, my mattress resting on the floor, the sounds of Toronto’s 1050 CHUM filling the room, disturbing no one.
The music stopped, as it often would for commercial breaks, but this time for a news announcement. Odd for this time of night.
“Reports are coming in that John Lennon has been shot and killed outside of his Dakota apartment in New York City.”
The air then hung silent—for a moment, a minute, an hour, I can’t say for certain—and then the room filled with the simple piano chords that start the song Imagine.
I knew of John Lennon, at that point in my life. Knew his songs from years of listening to the radio.
And I was well aware of The Beatles; from their music, their movies and even the lesser remembered cartoon series of my childhood.
But where my awareness of John Lennon and The Beatles had been a passive thing up to that dark night of December 8, 1980, something changed in me upon learning that Lennon was dead. A fire to understand, to turn my awareness into knowledge, to experience more kindled inside me, overtaking me.
The world had lost a beautiful, elegant poet who I was later to learn could also be a fragile, ego-centric asshole.
The world had lost a magnificent artist who stood atop a mountain of pain, grief, anger, vindictiveness and sorrow.
And in a Lennon-esque stroke of irony, the world had lost a man who had finally come to grips with his frailties, who had finally learned to express love and not just demand it, who could offer his talents to the world as a gift and not a response.
Although at times I found myself worshipping John Lennon as a god, I now remember the artist as a man.
Later tonight, I will play Imagine and I will remember.
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.