John Lennon at a news conference in New York. (May 13, 1968)
John Lennon at a news conference in New York. (May 13, 1968)

Thirty years after his murder by a fan on December 8, 1980, John Lennon's music and personality still resonate strongly. This may be especially so in New York, which the former Beatle adopted as his home with his wife, Yoko Ono.

Lasting memories

Strawberry Fields is a peaceful spot in Central Park which is dedicated to John Lennon's memory. It's a mere 50 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.

"It means music. Serenity. It feels like my home," says one man in the park. "I feel closer to him when I'm here. "

Three decades ago, a deranged fan got 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 can last a lifetime.

People sing John Lennon and Beatles songs as they
People sing John Lennon and Beatles songs as they gather around the Imagine mosaic in Strawberry Fields in New York's Central Park to celebrate the birthday of John Lennon in New York, October 9, 2010.

"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. So it's something like that where you never get over it but somehow you get used to it," says Gruen, who tries to sum up what was special about his friend. "He didn't say things that people didn't know. In fact, what he said was everybody does know, but he said it in a very simple, easy-to-understand way. He just had a magical way of expressing things."  

Meaningful music

Lennon wrote the melancholy "In My Life" during the Beatles' earlier days. Its tone is in sharp contrast with the saccharine lyrics that were typical for boy groups at the time.

Reporter Larry Kane, the author of "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. He had a best friend who died of a brain hemmorage at the age of 20," says Kane. "But on the flip side of all that, all the drugs and all the problems - he was also 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 and beautiful poetry."

Lennon also produced highly political music and poetry.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono held two week-long Bed-In
John Lennon and Yoko Ono held two week-long Bed-Ins for Peace in Amsterdam and Montreal to protest the US war in Vietnam. Here the couple is pictured at the Hilton Hotel in Amsterdam on March 25, 1969.

"I think he was a brave person, he certainly was in the sense that he took  political stands very early. He took on issues right out of the day's newspapers," says Newsweek editor Jeff Giles, who has written extensively about the late singer. "He wanted the music to matter. To be that famous and still risk everything for what you believe in, that means a lot to people."

Lennon often used his fame to make a point in theatrical ways. In the early 1970s, he and wife Yoko Ono recorded "Give Peace A Chance," in a Montreal hotel room with their friends during the couple's weeklong Bed-In for Peace.

Family life

A watershed moment for Lennon came in 1971, when he left his native England and settled in New York City with 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 there.

In this Aug. 30, 1972 file photo, John Lennon perf
In this Aug. 30, 1972 file photo, John Lennon performs at New York's Madison Square Garden.

"In England, people would chase him down the street and get hysterical when they saw him. But in New York, people see famous people a lot. But we're kind of busy, and everybody's got somewhere to go," Gruen says. "So he could go to the corner store and buy a newspaper, and go into the espresso shop and have a coffee and read the paper, and people wouldn't bother him so much. He could take a taxicab. He was like a normal person here."

In 1975, when he was 35 years old, Lennon stopped writing and recording music.

For the next five years, he settled into life as a house-husband and dedicated father to the couple's young child, Sean, while his wife handled his multi-million dollar music business. This reversal of gender roles was 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.