A full quarter-century after his murder on December 8th, 1980, John Lennon's music and personality still resonate strongly with those who grew up with his music -- and their children too. This may be especially so in New York, which the former Beatle adopted as his home with his wife and partner, Yoko Ono. Indeed, twenty five years after his death at age forty, the man and his music still matter.
Strawberry Fields is a peaceful spot in Central Park dedicated to John Lennon's memory a mere fifty or so meters from the apartment building where he lived and died. The usual gaggle of tourists and fans are sitting on benches, some in contemplation, others in song. When asked to express what the place is about, one of the singers says, "It means music. Serenity. It feels like my home. I feel closer to John Lennon when I'm here."
Two and a half decades ago, a deranged fan was able to get close enough to the musician to shoot him. The murder shocked the city - and the world.
Rock and roll photographer Bob Gruen, who knew John Lennon well as a friend, says the pain of that shock can stay with you for a lifetime. "When you get a deep wound, eventually the wound heals but you still have scar and when you touch the scar you still have the pain," he says. When asked what it was about the singer's work that touched his fans so profoundly, Mr. Gruen says that Lennon didn't say things that people didn't know. "In fact, what he said was everybody does know," the photographer explains, "but he said it in a very simple easy to understand way. He just had a magical way of expressing things."
When John Lennon wrote the melancholy "In My Life" during the Beatles earlier days, its tone was is in sharp contrast with the saccharine lyrics that were typical for boy groups at the time. Reporter Larry Kane, the author of a new book, Lennon Revealed, got to know the Beatle during the band's American tours.
"John Lennon was a man who was very angry and embittered most of his life. He was born to a father who was never around, a mother who disappeared mostly," says Mr. Kane. But, he added, "John was also, on the flip side of that, one of the most extraordinary people I have ever met in terms of his ability to overcome those demons that lurked inside him and produce beautiful music…"
Lennon also produced highly political music and poetry, such as "Working Class Hero". Newsweek editor Jeff Giles, who has just written a cover story about the late singer, says that Lennon was a brave person. "He certainly was in the sense that he made political stands very early. He wrote songs that politically took on issues right out of the day's newspapers." Summing up the singer's life, Mr. Giles says "The fact is, he wanted the music to matter! To be that famous and still risk everything for what you believe in, means a lot to people."
Lennon often used his fame to make a point in theatrical ways. That was certainly the case with "Give Peace A Chance," a rollicking anthem which he and Yoko recorded in the early 1970s in a Montreal hotel room with their friends during the couple's weeklong Bed-In for Peace.
A watershed moment for Lennon came in 1971, when he left his native England and settled in New York City with his wife, Yoko Ono. Photographer Bob Gruen says Lennon saw the Big Apple as the world's artistic and cultural center, and felt he could be almost anonymous here:
"In England, he said, people would chase him down the street and get hysterical when they saw him," Bob Gruen recalls. "But in New York, people see famous people a lot. But you're kind of busy, and everybody's got somewhere to go. So he could go to the corner store and buy a newspaper, and go into the espresso shop and read the paper, and people wouldn't bother him so much. He was like a normal person here."
In 1975, when he was 35 years old, Lennon stopped writing and recording music, and for five years, settled into life as a house-husband and dedicated father to the couple's young child Sean. Yoko handled his multi-million dollar music business This reversal of gender roles was in itself unusual for that era. In 1980, the couple recorded and released a new album called Double Fantasy
. Its hit single, "Starting Over", proved to be John Lennon's last.