Very poignant video tribute, especially for those of us from a land between the Mersey and Manhattan
"John Lennon's dead".
I was barely awake that dark December morning, 31 years ago today. My sister's voice pierced the tumult of the wind and rain outside. For a minute I thought she was being monstrously cruel but then she knew that George was my favourite Beatle so if she was teasing me why John...?
No, no. She wasn't teasing. It wasn't in her nature anyway and then when I came out of the bathroom onto the landing and could see her looking at me, knowing that she was delivering a message that would dive into my heart and stay a dull ache all my life. As I looked back at her and saw the pain in her dark brown eyes I realised something profound had happened, something different. A personality whose existence, whose immortality I took for granted, was gone.
Downstairs to where the radio was on. Where my mother was trying to get three teenagers and one pre-teen ready for school and out the door. The radio confirmed what my sister had told me. Shot. Dead. Coming home. Yoko next to him. Mark David Chapman, a name I reviled for years.
Going to school as a cold, wet, grey winter dawn flopped over Dublin. Grownups in shock. "Did you hear...? Did you hear...? And my tears falling hot on my teenage face as a gale blasted me the 15 minutes from Lansdowne Road station to school.
My class of fifteen-year-olds were split into mods, rockers, hippies, brainiacs, classical music fans, punks, heavy metal heads... and me and Tom Clancy, the Beatles nuts. The chatter stopped as I walked into the class.
"Heavy vibes man", said Rory, a Doors fan. He'd been there, his idol Jim long dead. Not in his own memory span. My pain was deeper but I appreciated the sentiment.
Where was Tom? Where was the one person in my school who would confirm to me that I was right to feel such anguish? (Oh God I can feel it now again, 31 years on, this pit in my entrails. A whirling whooshing panic, a grey void I could taste).
Our first class of the day started. After ten minutes or so in came Tom, in his trademark mac and leather gloves. A bit of a nerd, highly intelligent, soft-spoken with a fringe that flopped over his glasses. He was speckled with rain, out of breath from trying to get to school on time and failing.
"Where's your black armband Zeb" someone asked him. (His brother was Luke, the names of brothers from some long-forgotten Western TV show.)
Zeb, Tom looked quizzically round and as his eyes met mine I saw he didn't know.
He didn't know.
I found my voice. I knew I had to say it before the teacher, before anyone. I was the only person in the world at that time who could say it, could tell him properly.
"John Lennon was shot dead Tom".
(I could cry again, writing this, for the boys we were, for the men we are. For the music we never got to hear).
Tom froze. His body stopped moving. He blinked, blinked again. Like a mole, I thought, not unkindly. Like a mole emerging into sunlight, tasting the air, knowing this is the world but wanting to retreat back, to never emerge and hear this truth.
"John Lennon's dead?"
Thirty heads nodded. Awestruck.
There was a silence, a terrible silence. I already knew. I had known and had started my grieving two hours previously. Tom was just hearing, hearing this noise which formed words which formed a punch that froze his body.
Tom sat down, put his head in his hands and the class went on.
I went into the city centre on an errand after school, I forget what. All the billboards selling the evening papers, all the snatches of conversation confirmed and reconfirmed and slap slap slap I had to realise that this was real, could not be changed, there would never be a Beatles reunion, that the music we had was all we were ever going to have. That my band, The Switch, would never play support at the Beatles reunion concert. As dreams go, that was a big one, but it had sustained me for years and now it was gone.
I went home, my dad told me the NY cops had said "Lennon was killed by a whacko". It was somehow worse. A jealous lover, a mugger, a wronged spouse... that could be understood. But someone killing John Lennon because he was John Lennon? No. No.
My best friend at the time, my band-mate, my co-songwriter of Lowry and Donnelly compositions was as shocked as Tom and I.
We watched the news, there was only one news item, at least only one that we cared about. Our idol was headline news. He'd just come back out of semi-retirement, just turned 40 (how old that seemed) and we'd loved the idea of him Starting Over, with his Woman.
The satirical TV show Not the Nine o'Clock news was on. It was our favourite show. I always watched it in the Donnelly house (we were allowed to smoke there). I turned to John Donnelly: "If they satirise anything about John I am never watching it again." For half an hour we waited, and of course, nothing bad about Lennon.
As the closing credits rolled, instead of the usual irreverent composition about week's news, a black screen. And Lennon’s voice... "there are places I remember....all my life"
We were so impressed - a massive corporation like the BBC had used one of the prime spots of the week to pay tribute to our hero.
My home was always full of Beatles music. My brother Luke, seven at the time, knew most of the first part of the 62-66 collection by heart. He still loves it, as he approaches 40. Luke has Down's syndrome, and the Beatles music brings him as much joy as it brings me, still. He didn't realise that day how sore it was for me to hear Lennon, but how necessary it was for me to get back on the bike, to embrace the pain and celebrate the music.
I fell in love with the Beatles all over again when I went to work in the ex-Soviet Union and realised how much the Beatles meant to people there, how their music was an oxygen of freedom.
So when I saw McCartney play in Red Square in 2003, a stone's throw from Lenin's tomb, I felt a release, a surge of joy, especially at the reprise of Back in the USSR.
Lennon was no angel. But he was a genius. Phenomenally, obscenely gifted. There's talk that the world has gone too far in adoring the Beatles. That naming a airport after Lennon was too much. They were only a pop band.
They were that, but much more. When a million people sing "All Publish Postwe are saying, is give peace a chance" you know that a man has changed the world. How much more Lennon would have given we'll never know. But for what he gave, for what we have, give thanks. For people and things, that went before.