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40 years ago: Remembering the death of John Lennon

At the risk of having legions of readers stop right about here, I must say that this story is about John Lennon.

Thanks for sticking around. Because if he had been able to stick around, just imagine what he might have given us.

John Lennon was killed, shot four times point blank with a .38, on Dec. 8, 1980. Forty years ago.

John Lennon, of course, was half of the most important songwriting team ever. He was an extraordinary musician and singer. He was a cultural icon.

Growing up in Liverpool, England, Lennon listened to the early roots of modern rock and roll. As a teenager, he teamed up musically with Paul McCartney. They enlisted George Harrison, they later enlisted Ringo Starr and - voila - the most important band of our lifetime was created. Meet the Beatles.

On 8 p.m. on Feb. 9, 1964, 73 million Americans turned on their black and white TVs and tuned into “The Ed Sullivan Show.” From the stage that now is home to “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” the Beatles played “All My Loving,” “’Till There Was You,” “She Loves You,” “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

The Earth wobbled on its axis.

There is little need to expound on the lasting importance of the Beatles. Countless musicians, regardless of genre, owe much of their inspiration and perhaps success to the Beatles.

Sure, there were other bands that shared the Top 10 lists and also pushed the cultural pendulum away from the ‘50s, but the Beatles captivated us in ways new and exciting. The music they created is still part of our soundtrack.

Mark David Chapman is the “fan” who murdered Lennon, after waiting for him outside Lennon’s Manhattan apartment building where, earlier in the day, he’d sought the musician’s autograph for the new album, “Double Fantasy.” Chapman was found guilty and sent to prison for life. He was denied parole for the 11th time last August. At his parole hearing, he said, “I assassinated him… because he was very, very, very famous - and that’s the only reason - and I was very, very, very, very much seeking self-glory. Very selfish.”

There is a video of James Taylor being interviewed by Howard Stern where Taylor talks of the day before Lennon was killed. Taylor lived in the building next door to John and Yoko. He had a habit of taking the subway around the Upper East Side. The night before the shooting, while he was exiting the subway station, Mark David Chapman recognized Taylor and approached him. Taylor said, “He was agitated. You could tell he’d been up for a while… his eyes were dilated. He creeped me out. He was rambling, talking ‘freak spew’ we used to call it, babbling, rambling on about … I told him, ‘OK, man, I gotta go now.”

Taylor went on, “The next day, I was talking to (record producer) Peter Asher’s wife on the phone. I said, ’I think the cops have just shot someone down on the street.’” Twenty minutes later, she called Taylor back to tell him that it was Lennon who had been shot and killed.

Stevie Wonder wasn’t the person who informed me of the shocking news of Lennon’s death - but he could have been. I had tickets to see Wonder perform at the Oakland Coliseum. Having seen him twice before, and with a good friend in town, I passed on the show and had a quiet dinner at home.

Wonder broke the news to his stunned audience at the end of his show, then played “Imagine.”

My mom called that night to ask if I had heard that John Lennon had been killed. I had never been so devastated by a death. The violent suddenness and absolute shock of it floored me.

My Earth wobbled on its axis a little bit then, too.

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