On December 8, 1980, my fellow disc jockeys and I were gathered up in the WVCW studio. Exams started soon, so we college kids were having our radio station Christmas party early. I was the Program Director and proud of our station — we were the only station in Richmond playing that “new wave” music (Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, Ramones, Clash) but even then, you would still find plenty of Beatles in rotation. “You can’t go wrong with the Beatles” was a phrase I’d say to my DJs.
Suddenly, one of the DJs came rushing in. “Lennon’s been killed!” There was a shocked pause. I ran into the control room and turned to the news feed. It was true. We switched over to the news feed so our listeners would know.
I was in a daze that night. The party had crashed. Why would someone want John Lennon dead?
As Heidi and I silently walked back to our apartment, we saw our friend Mark Brown heading the other way, hands in his pockets, looking dejected. Mark and I were in the Naughty Bits together — one of those “new wave” bands — but yet we did quite a few Beatles covers, since we all loved their music.
“Mark!” Heidi yelled. “Lennon’s dead!”
All my frustration exploded at that point and I screamed at Heidi. “That’s not how you break bad news!” I was irate, and wrongly took my anger at Lennon’s death out on my girlfriend (now my wife).
I slept on the couch that night and dreamed that my father had died.
The next day, I prepared a list of Beatles songs that John had written so the DJs wouldn’t say “Here’s another song to tribute John Lennon” and then stick on “Yesterday.” I also told them which songs not to play because they referenced death (“Yer Blues”; “She Said She Said”; “Happiness is a Warm Gun”; etc.) I had no classes that day so some of the DJs let me take over their shows. I played Lennon and Beatles all day.
Lennon’s death affected me like no other celebrity death (until Jim Henson’s), not just because I am such a fan of his but also because of its suddenness and senselessness. When George Harrison died many years later, it did not affect me the same, because it was expected; he had been fighting cancer for years.
Even today, I get a bit choked up about it.