I remember who it was who told me. It was my Grandma, who was taking care of me for a week or two at the end of 1980. That was the year I really discovered the Beatles by way of an ancient reel-to-reel compilation made by my Dad. It was the year that “Starting Over” hit the ariwaves, and I knew that this was the return of someone great, someone who had been away and was back to put out more greatness for the benefit of my thirsty ear for pop music, and particularly all things Beatles. But Grandma said, upon my coming home for lunch that day, “Someone shot him.” My first question was asked with incredulity;
Died on the way to the hospital.
But, that’s John. That’s the guy who answered the question “How do you find America” with the answer “Turn left at Greenland.” Beatle John. The Walrus. How could he be dead? He’s just come back. He’s got a number one on the charts. The song was even called “Starting Over.” That’s not fair.
It was a strange feeling to have that kind of reaction to the news. He was someone I hadn’t met, but he had made an impact on me in any case. I couldn’t put a name to it then, but I went into mourning. The Beatles had changed my life – they gave me a passion in music, something that could be mine. They created a mythic presence in my imagination that is still there to this day, and there it will always be. It was only later in life that the true dimensions of the life the group lived as a unit and those who were in the group became apparent to me. These were mortal men, real people who had lives apart from one another, the group and the preconceptions of those who adored them as I did. But the basic feeling of unfairness, that I had somehow been robbed of something, remains. That the story should end in such violence, such a senseless and meaningless way was unacceptable to me, and yet there was nothing else left to say. He was gone.
It was later still that I understood that he had been killed by a fan, someone who felt the same way about the Beatles as many of us do and as I certainly did. This made no sense to me either, but it is a sobbering thought that the thing which inspires to such a degree, can inspire one to greatness and to destruction in a like manner. Had he been considered merely as a husband and father, would he still have been murdered in the street? This gives my outrage another dimension because this violent act casts a shadow on the very heart of my admiration for what John created and who he was. The shooter, who has gained fame of his own as he wished (and so I don’t name him) ruined it for everyone. Maybe we should have listened more closely. The dream was over. It was time to allow The Walrus to be John and the fact that we couldn’t proved to be his downfall.