By VERLYN KLINKENBORG
The New York Times
December 7, 2010
I don’t remember how I heard that John Lennon had been shot. Thirty years ago, on a warm December night in Manhattan, it was suddenly, in the air, on the street — with only a brief, grim gap between news of the shooting at the Dakota, on 72nd Street and news of his death at Roosevelt Hospital. I called my brother in California and then sat in the stairwell of a building at 27th and Third, numb and grieving, like everyone else.
It was a new kind of death — not a political assassination like the ones that claimed the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King Jr.; not the self-immolation that took down Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison. Lennon survived the ’60s and ’70s, and by 1980 he was living in New York City as normally, as modestly, as he and his wife, Yoko Ono, could. Then a deranged young man, Mark David Chapman, found a secular scripture in J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” and shot Lennon in hopes of becoming Holden Caulfield.
Every day I’m at The Times, I pass a photo of the Beatles taken at a press conference during one of their early visits to New York. In the picture, Lennon’s hands are folded behind him, and he stands, with the other Beatles, in a corona from the press lights. Invariably, it reminds me of the famous portrait Annie Leibovitz shot the morning of the day Lennon was killed — the one where he is lying naked, fetal, clinging to Yoko Ono, the ridge of his back so terribly exposed.
We remember what we remember of Lennon, and of that night. When I was young, he was the only adult that mattered outside my family — the Beatle of Beatles. I loved his wit; his irony; his “Help!”; his urgent, reedy voice; his unceasing transformations. Like everyone else who loved him, I can’t help grieving, even now, for all the transformations we lost 30 years ago when John Lennon was only 40.