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John Lennon — In the Night, and in the Light

December 7th, 2010 · 44 Comments · Music, New York City, Real-life Adventure Tales, Weird Things About Me

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NYC, Dec. 8th, 1980 . . . the 3rd month and 3rd day in New York City, America, for this 19 year old kid.  My first week in town I went to the free Elton John concert in Central Park.  He played Imagine, and introduced it with, “He can probably hear us right now,” referring to John in his nearby park-side home at the Dakota.  On October 9th, I was walking in the Village and looked up in the sky and “HAPPY BIRTHDAY JOHN AND SEAN” was being written by an airplane — and I thought how neat it was to be living in the same town as John Lennon.

11:30 on a warm December night, in bed reading, all the lights in the loft are low, the SoHo streets are Monday night quiet, the calm before the storm.  Phone rings in the sleepy background, alarmingly late.  Roommate answers.  “Hello?”  The long odd silence.  Then the scream.  “Oh my God!  Brian!  Turn on the radio!  John Lennon’s been shot!”

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The late, wonderful Elizabeth Edwards put it well once:  Talking about losing their young son, she said, “People ask if you’ve gotten over it yet.  But, it’s like losing your leg and asking, ‘Have you gotten over that leg thing yet?’ You may eventually learn to get around without it, but you never forget. You never ‘get over it.’  It’s something missing that was a part of you.  You learn how to live without it, but you never stop missing it or wishing it was here.”

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WNEW-FM — the internet of the day.  The only connection to the outside world.  It was John’s radio station, the original and longest lasting rock station in New York, the one he showed up at one day as a surprise and played records with the deejay all afternoon.

After an hour of radio group-therapy, I needed to be with people.  I knew I wouldn’t be sleeping.  So this young squeaky-white Canuck ventured out into the nearly 1970s New York war zone streets that just killed John Lennon, and took a 75-cent A-Train uptown to 72nd Street.

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Everyone is crying but no one makes a sound,

Nobody told me there’d be days like these,
Strange days indeed
.

John Lennon, 1980

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The Dakota, 2AM — as I walk up, a couple hundred people are swaying back and forth, singing, “Alllll we are saaaaying, … is give peace a chance,” every one with peace sign fingers swaying towards the heavens.

It’s the dark of night, under haunting streetlight.  Beatles songs play from a transistor radio, and a hundred people are singing every word.  The other hundred are crying.

Every cheek is wet, every eye is red, and most hands hold candles.  Pretty much everyone’s come here alone.  We’re all scared, numb, in shock, quiet, just standing, surrounded by others.  Family.  In mourning.  All are somber, but some not so sober, with joints being smoked and beers drank openly in the old New York.

I’m leaning on the rickety blue police barricade, five or ten feet from where John last stood, looking at the patch of washed sidewalk.  People come and stand, usually silently, for a few minutes, then walk away.  Some bring flowers and reach down underneath the barricade to gently lay them on the pavement.  Some ask and are allowed to go and weave them into the wrought-iron gate.  Some do the sign of the cross and say a prayer.  Everyone is weak, gentle, and white as a ghost.

There’s this one Hamburg-type leather jacket tough-guy who’s crying really loud at one point, almost scaring people.  Suddenly he reaches some breaking point and angrily rips off his road-aged motorcycle jacket and with this primal scream, throws it down into the mass of flowers and photos. Stripped of his armor, the t-shirted man quickly dissolves into the crowd a different person — but Elvis’s rock n roll leather is now part of the collage.

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You may say that I’m a dreamer,
But I’m not the only one,
I hope someday you’ll join us,
And the world will be as one
.

Imagine!!!

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The Dakota, 6AM — What the assembled didn’t know was that the darkness of the night just past was to be our only true memorial, when it was just us.

Our beautiful, tranquil, soulful, solemn, candlelit darkness gave way
from the John Lennon mourning to the New York morning —
with news vans driving,
the human flood arriving,
the streets returning to their New York life —
……and when any part of a pathway’s blocked,
……the city just flows around it like a boulder in a river —
first a trickle,

then a gushing cascade of swirling briefcases out the narrow skyscraper crevasses
into the flow of the sidewalk earth.

What was once ours, was no longer.
It was their’s now.

The Spirits took over and pulled me, and me alone, into the bright light of heaven … Central Park … somehow safe under its winter skeleton canopy, into what’s now known as Strawberry Fields, where I took my place on the throne of a bench in the bird-chirping dawn.

 

For those first few hours of darkness, we had the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to ourselves.  But even in that new day’s light I could still hear the echoing choir, like I can still hear it now, everyone softly and endlessly singing,

All-l-l-l-l-l-l we are sa-a-a-aying . . .
is … give peace a chance
.”

 

 

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For more Adventures in Music — you may want to check out the (Route) 66 Best live performances ever captured on film.

Or here’s a happy comparison of John & Paul to Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld.

Or take the New Orleans Jazz Fest ride.

Or the night Dylan showed up at Springsteen’s show at Shea Stadium in New York.

Or how The Grateful Dead came to play my 30th birthday

Or when Neil Young returned to Massey Hall in Toronto.

Or Paul Simon doing Graceland in Hyde Park in London.

Or Furthur came back and reprised the Dead at Madison Square Garden.

Or when the Dead, Janis, The Band and others took the Festival Express train trip across Canada.

Or the night I was hanging with Dr. John’s band in Toronto.

Or here’s the day I finally “got” Bob Dylan.

 

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by Brian Hassett      karmacoupon@gmail.com        BrianHassett.com

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44 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Chris Francescani // Dec 7, 2010 at 6:00 PM

    Brian – this is beautiful. Seriously, I am so moved. What a remarkable and beautiful account of a turning point in history.
    Thanks buddy!
    Chris

  • 2 Susi Adamo // Dec 7, 2010 at 7:42 PM

    Well, it will be difficult for anyone to give me a better Christmas gift than this!
    I’m wondering how my daughter will react when she reads it. Not even a week ago we were just going over our favorite Beatle songs.
    We were all so lucky to have John Lennon at all.
    “WNEW–the internet of the day.” I love it!
    Thanks so much for writing this.

  • 3 Ralph Stevens // Dec 7, 2010 at 10:05 PM

    Brian – I remember the same evening standing in Boston Common holding a candle singing all his songs with thousands of people.
    My girlfriend and I hugged and cried when we heard the news, grabbed candles and headed straight to the Common.
    No cell phones or email. Everyone just KNEW what to do. It’s amazing how our instincts draw us to share our angst with humanity in times like that.
    How crazy is it that 30 years have passed since that event?
    Thanks for writing this.
    Ralph

  • 4 Rob Salmon // Dec 8, 2010 at 9:27 AM

    Wow!! 30 yrs. have passed on what was and is a horrible day in the world of music and indeed the world of man and humanity.
    How many songs unsung, how many wars unwon.
    His peace of mind and hope for mankind live on in all the hippies and peaceniks that were his generation and those who followed in his shared belief.

    Stand up and scream and shout. Sit in and peace out.

    Love Y’All.

  • 5 Zoe Artemis // Dec 8, 2010 at 10:55 AM

    Brian, your stories are so touching, so beautiful.
    I remember that night and time like it was yesterday. Another tragedy for our city and our species.
    Thanks for singing the songs you do and keeping him alive in all of us.

  • 6 Lewis McDermott // Dec 8, 2010 at 1:19 PM

    Man — did you ever bring that back! Holy shit!
    I was fighting back tears reading that.
    Must have been brutal to be there.
    I remember it just seemed like the whole world stopped for I don’t know how many days. It’s my only frame of reference to understand what people went through when JFK was killed. But I wish I never had to find out.
    Thanks for this touching reliving.

  • 7 John Cassady // Dec 8, 2010 at 11:03 PM

    The Late Great Johnny Ace.
    Can’t believe you were there! No, wait …. why did I say that? Of course you were!! And writing the best damn account of that night I’ve ever read.
    Write on, my eastern brother.

  • 8 Bonnie Peers // Dec 9, 2010 at 9:17 AM

    If only more people in power would listen to John Lennon’s music the world would be a much better and a more peaceful loving place.

    Thanks for what you wrote.

  • 9 Donald Howell // Dec 8, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    That’s almost hard to read it’s so close to the bone. But it’s one of the best tributes to John I’ve ever read. Thank you.

  • 10 Albert Kaufman // Dec 8, 2011 at 5:47 PM

    I don’t remember too much from that day, but I do remember leaving my home at the time, The Sloane House YMCA on 34th St. there were film cameras pointing at me as I smiled and waved while leaving the place in the AM. I learned later that John’s killer had stayed there.

    I can’t think of too many people who’ve had a bigger impact on my musical life. Sad to be reminded of how he passed, and yet appreciate all that he created while alive. Thanks, Brian.

  • 11 Lisa McDonald // Dec 8, 2012 at 11:06 AM

    omg, Brian!
    Although I was nowhere near NYC at the time,
    I felt every word reading that.
    Thank you.

  • 12 Mary Armstrong // Dec 8, 2012 at 1:28 PM

    “Every cheek is wet, every eye is red, and most hands hold candles. Pretty much everyone’s come here alone. We’re all scared, numb, in shock, quiet, just standing, surrounded by others. Family. In mourning. All are somber, but some not so sober, with joints being smoked and beers drank openly in the old New York.”

    Thank you.
    Mary

  • 13 Al Robinson // Dec 8, 2012 at 7:09 PM

    The amazing thing about John is how his universe is still a great place to hang out. I like to go there when I can.

    My 11 yo step-daughter loves Strawberry Fields. She says she can now distinguish between John and Paul when listening to Beatles songs. Just found my cassette of the Beatles Xmas album and will soon convert it to digital.

    The deeper you go the higher you fly.

    Cheers,
    Al Robinson

  • 14 Charles Adams // Dec 15, 2012 at 10:28 AM

    And now another 20 elementary school kids are gunned down almost on the same day John was and Amerika hasn’t learned a fucking thing. Kill poets of peace — kill little kids — kill a black kid walking home with Skittles — kill anybody and everybody — that’s what Amerika is now — and you know not a god-damn thing is going to change.

  • 15 Christian Benning // Sep 2, 2013 at 12:34 AM

    A great piece of writing about a terrible night. But thanks for taking me there.
    John Lennon R.I.P.

  • 16 Jerry Levitan // Oct 9, 2013 at 9:53 AM

    Awesome tribute!

  • 17 Ken Morris // Oct 9, 2013 at 1:05 PM

    Great great stuff Brian. Thanks for your efforts.
    I think you passed the audition!
    😉

  • 18 Thomas Kauertz // Oct 9, 2013 at 2:27 PM

    What a great job! Thank you Brian!!
    I am glad I had the change to visit the Peace Tower in Reykjavík a couple of days after his birthday in 2010!

  • 19 Linda Richmond // Oct 9, 2013 at 9:02 PM

    YOU ARE AMAZING!!!

  • 20 Chris Rafuse // Oct 10, 2013 at 1:59 PM

    dar es salaam #6

    (or An Elliptical Paen To John Lennon)

    for Brian Hassett

    That keeps us indoors
    screened-in, attentive.
    though crumbs
    lead us to friends.
    but not the part
    of us we lay bare
    packed in ice and salt
    or that rots.

    an old jester’s trick – the portly
    misanthrope at high windows
    staring at the catholics; the bearded
    savant at glance beyond the sill
    to his father; or poor christiane
    who frames a landscape
    safely through a door
    feeds her two girls
    with one hand
    and paints with the other.

    and i in my porch.
    jackhammers a riverine tumult
    over the wall, music
    developed, a chasm made there
    i imagine almost as wide
    as between my ears and mind.
    or that exists strangely
    between two dates
    of long interval
    (8 dec 1980 – 9 oct every year).

    we are provoked indoors.
    dates concatenate a run-on.
    dates equal moments, moments equal sound
    that open chasms
    that pool where we stand.
    who can know
    the clarity of pools
    or where they gather?
    within you or without you?

    birth- and death-dates.
    & wine at this low window.
    it helps, a succour
    that dries our eyes, our thesis
    & the assay of us at the sill.
    historiography wtf?!
    some of us
    looking out pass between us notes
    that bridge the rot, and alone
    we fool ourselves.

    it’s tough to suppose i might
    explain to my children
    history is been dead.
    but let’s not talk of love
    or dates that cannot be untied –
    come over to the window
    my little darlings.
    that’s not a chasm, that’s a river
    run from liverpool.

  • 21 Chris Rafuse // Oct 10, 2013 at 3:07 PM

    here’s some footnotes:

    but not the part
    of us we lay bare
    packed in ice and salt
    or that rots.

    – Yeats, on his poetics, ‘All that is personal soon rots; it must be packed in ice or salt.’

    the portly
    misanthrope at high windows
    staring at the catholics;

    – see Philip Larkin, High Windows. if you don’t know it read it. astonishing. (he himself is the portly misanthrope).

    the bearded
    savant at glance beyond the sill
    to his father;

    – my favorite poet, John Berryman. Have you read Dream Songs? His Toy, His Dream, His Rest?

    or poor christiane
    who frames a landscape
    safely through a door
    feeds her two girls
    with one hand
    and paints with the other.

    – the euro\canadian self-taught painter christiane pflug, died 1972, almost our urban tom thompson but died tragically too early. an excruciatingly beautiful and deep and talented woman.

    but let’s not talk of love
    or dates that cannot be untied –
    come over to the window
    my little darlings.

    – you hear lenny singing here, despite the liberties

  • 22 Jeanne Masanz // Dec 8, 2013 at 5:43 PM

    Ah, Brian…that’s beautiful. This is a difficult night for me. For some reason, this year is tougher than usual. The horror of getting murdered before your time and such an influential individual…I remember that the seventies were not kind to John media-wise …. got flack for being a stay at home dad, he was doing what made sense for them. But that 5 year gap in music looms large. I recall snide remarks in music magazines in that time frame. Then Double Fantasy comes out to huge critical acclaim and the public loved it too …. and he gets killed.

    I deeply miss his ability to say the hard things about issues that concerned him and his millions of fans and followers in ways that inspired others to continue to fight the good fights … to see the ludicrous and shout it to the rooftops. An inspirational leader. He’s my Beatle all the way.

  • 23 Thomas Kauertz // Dec 8, 2013 at 7:52 PM

    Thank you, Brain!

    I love your writing!

  • 24 Mary Jo Sullivan-Hicks // Dec 8, 2013 at 8:29 PM

    You have experienced so many things in this life I have only read about. I want to be like you when I grow up!

    I’m turning 55 in May, but in my mind I’m 17.

    I get it now — Everything in life is an adventure & if you just go with it — what a wild ride!

  • 25 June King // Dec 8, 2013 at 9:13 PM

    Amazing that you were there. You have quite the knack for being in just the right place at key moments. Your account is beautiful.

    I was home in Virginia, expecting my first child and weeping…. because she would never ever get to know him as a living being… and one of the earth’s best. I had just bought the Double Fantasy album the day before. I never could get through “Beautiful Boy” following John’s death. We SO need his voice and we have for such a long time… One sane voice. He did so much that urged sanity… and in the end was taken out by someone far from the place in the head and heart where sanity prevails. We should be carrying on John’s battle cry, each in our own ways. Few can do it as creatively as the man who created the Love-In by inviting photographers to his bedside w Yoko.

    The voice of love. In the world of 2013, love is truly the greatest act of revolution… and evolution, come to think of it…He was, without question, a highly evolved human…
    Very sad remembering it today….

  • 26 Marilyn Milewski // Dec 8, 2013 at 10:36 PM

    Beautiful writing, Brian!

    I always wanted to be a writer myself. I enjoy reading and can appreciate good writing.
    I love the way you describe the scene …. You really transport the reader back to that night: the sense of shock, and incomprehension. It was such a sickening loss….

  • 27 Joe Myles // Dec 8, 2013 at 11:07 PM

    Great story! I remember reading it back when you first posted it. Nice to come back to it again. Thanks.

  • 28 Bronwyn Berry // Dec 9, 2013 at 1:22 AM

    Thanks for writing and sharing this, Brian.

  • 29 Alicia Cabrera-Thomas // Dec 9, 2013 at 11:51 AM

    I miss him truly.
    Thank you for this!!
    I remember hearing him talk about writing & producing Double Fantasy & how the words came & saying how some of the tunes were a little letter to everyone —
    all of us his fans young (like me) & old like my big brother & that it read —
    “Well, here we are how are you? Weren’t the 70’s a drag?”
    & I was pleased as pie when Mad About You ~~ the TV show ~~ always talked about & integrated John into the story line because Paul Reiser loved the Beatles & John as well & their mutual love of NYC ~~
    I miss him still…………

  • 30 Chris Rafuse // Dec 9, 2013 at 2:49 PM

    His death diminished the world in a way that few deaths ever have. Though he still sings on, and we sing along. A touching reminiscence.

  • 31 Ken Morris // Apr 18, 2014 at 7:36 PM

    Brilliant, Brian. Truly enjoyed the retelling and realism. Sad but a faithful story. Brilliant piece.

  • 32 Robert Haberman // Dec 8, 2014 at 10:06 AM

    Brian, the great music we have missed for all these years is heartbreaking!!!!! The Beatles and especially John Lennon was my biggest music influence and the reason I am a musician. When I saw them on the Ed Sullivan show, I knew that playing music was what I wanted to do. Still Hurt and Still Sad!!!!

  • 33 Marilyn Milewski // Dec 8, 2014 at 2:38 PM

    I love this. Such a beautiful tribute. Thanks, Brian.

  • 34 Gubba Topham // Dec 8, 2016 at 2:27 PM

    Glad you were there that night. Didn’t make it till several years later, but I’ve been back often. Place has a strong pull for me.

  • 35 Shelly Musgrove // Dec 8, 2016 at 2:58 PM

    Thank you. Shared. Perfectly written. I remember when the world lost a powerful voice for peace. Less importantly, my favorite Beatle. Honestly, I don’t know HOW I would have gotten through the years following the loss of my parents. Their music kept me going.

  • 36 Brian // Dec 8, 2016 at 3:03 PM

    Thanks, Shelly. It took literally 30 years before I could ever go back and revisit that night to write about it. And I was just a puddle and in re-lived pain doing it. So it means a lot and that it was worth it if it came out “perfectly written.” 🙂
    Thanks so much.

  • 37 Jeanne Masanz // Dec 8, 2016 at 3:56 PM

    The emotional pain comes through loud and clear. I cried….

  • 38 Norine Cook // Dec 8, 2016 at 10:09 PM

    That’s beautiful Brian. I can almost “imagine” what it was like to be there that night, share the grievous loss with strangers that you instantly bond with & hear the gentle choir.

  • 39 Raul Ochoa // Dec 8, 2016 at 10:20 PM

    He was pretty cool!He made a permanent impression in my life. I wish he was still alive.

  • 40 Matt Theado // Dec 9, 2016 at 8:01 AM

    I remember the night. Something antique and resonant about pre-Internet days. Listening alone in my room (sophomore in college living 2 miles off campus rental) to FM station, and it was like it was just me and the DJ who played set of Lennon songs.

  • 41 Joe Myles // Dec 9, 2016 at 8:32 AM

    I was actually reading the interview with Lennon in the new Playboy magazine (after gawking at some of the pictures of course!) and got a phone call from none other than Frank Roach telling me Lennon had been shot.

    What a strange night that was. And what amazing years to be in NYC…in all ways! The synchronicity was at peak levels back then!!

  • 42 Brian // Dec 9, 2016 at 8:56 AM

    Magic, mayhem and madness!

  • 43 Indira Guha // Dec 9, 2016 at 3:38 PM

    You know, I always thought he did the best cross cultural mash up ever

    Jai Guru Deva Om

    And it’s his voice I hear singing it, always!

  • 44 Brendan Murphy // Dec 10, 2016 at 12:37 PM

    I’m glad I got to live in his lifetime. It’s made my lifetime better.

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