Do you remember where you were when you heard John Lennon had been shot? Do you remember the silent vigil in Central Park? The candle-lit gatherings outside the Dakota Building? I do- I remember it all as clearly as yesterday, as well the grief that came with it. What’s that- I was barely 2 months old when Lennon died, you say? Well, yes, you would be accurate there. And yet the images and music have been so ingrained in popular culture, akin to the moon landings, say, or the assassination of Kennedy, that it can often feel like we were there- we did see those moving images, we did hear that music, we did experience that grief.
The death of John Lennon has always struck a chord with me. I first remember listening to The Beatles in my early adolescence on my dad’s scratchy vinyls on an ancient ‘carry-handle’ record player in my box bedroom room, like so many other teenagers had in the three decades preceding me. The music of The Beatles became the bedrock of my musical taste at the perfect moment, as we perched at the edge of Britpop and all things indie. After starting with Sgt Pepper on 12 inch, I soon found myself making and listening to mix-tapes filled with The Bluetones and Blur, Supergrass and Super Furry Animals.
It wasn’t just me though. My older sister, Mary, became a Beatles expert, full of encyclopaedic knowledge of their records, their various incarnations and their personal lives. We chose our favourites, just as so many young fans had done back in the 60s –George (Mary) and Ringo (me). Together we watched A Hard Day’s Night and the Imagine documentary until we knew the lines off by heart, and wept as A Day in The Life came to its climatic height in the Imagine film and an image of a smoking revolver marked the untimely assassination of John Lennon.
More pertinently than any of this were two facts: 1) Lennon died in the same year as my dad (1980), and 2) like my dad, I always had a feeling that I had ‘missed’ sharing the universe with him by just a short time-frame, dying as he did just 7 weeks after my birth; my father 7 weeks before I was born. And without becoming too poetic, my birth seemed to mark a Meridien line between both men existing in any form of physical reality. If I stretched just an inch to the east or west, I might just might have been able to hold them in my fingertips. Instead, both Lennon and my dad became fabled figures in my imagination, existing in jumpy records and up-beat head-shaking black and white, or staring moodily from theatrical headshots and doing exaggerated Monty Python-esque walks across silent cine films projected on our kitchen wall. Sometimes they blurred; I strained to hear my dad in Nowhere Man or imagined Lennon walking down the streets of Fiji with my dad on his journey back from Australia in the 60s.
My dad became a movie star to me; handsome, ideal and untouchable. His sudden and unexpected death aged 37 encapsulated all of this. It was so unjust and tragic that all you could feel for him was love and admiration, dimming any possibility of less favourable character traits that all humans are wont to have. His images looked down on us from the walls growing up like an icon. All the stories I heard of him were glowing and warm- who tells negative tales to children who have lost their daddy?
Unsurprising then, that the two occasions that I delved into the details of his final hours as recorded in factual recording, I have experienced a wave of grief that pierced the image of the man I had learned to love growing up. Most recently, last summer I unearthed the court pleadings that followed the investigation into my father’s hospital treatment in the hours before he was found unresponsive. Though I was actually looking for some other paperwork, my eyes could not help flicking through page after page as they marked the years that passed as solicitors’ letters were met with appeals and corrections. When I finally lighted on the verbatim record of his final hours as recorded by medical staff, the moving cine film images in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge morphed into imagined panicked scenes on hospital wards. At the time, I was mid-way through bereavement counselling for my sister, and yet I found myself in tears for the first time as an adult, crying over the death of my dad. It was only at this moment that I realised that the reality of his death so punctured my child-like view of my movie star dad.
Perhaps as I sat listening to the accounts of Lennon’s final hours in Imagine aged 14, something unconsciously told me that like all mortals, even our pin-ups will suffer and die some day, but it took me until I was an adult to verbalise it for myself.
We now stand at the threshold of 40 years that marks the eastern most point of that Meridien line; dad’s anniversary looms on 2nd September, whilst Lennon’s stretches to the west on December 8th. I sit in the middle, about to enter my forties. And about me lingers a voice, unmistakably my father’s: Let me go, it whispers. Otherwise, as Lennon says, You’re gonna carry that weight a long time.