Pop music legend and New Yorker John Lennon would have celebrated his 70th birthday this Saturday. To commemorate his birth, WNYC has gathered these thoughts and reflections from Lennon fans, including from some of WNYC's most favorite personalities.
Michael Epstein, director of the new PBS documentary, LENNONYC, says his favorite Lennon song is "I'm Losing You.": "For me, this song is everything I love about John Lennon. First, it's rocking...just great rock 'n' roll. But it is also an intimate, deeply personally song. At the time John wrote it, he felt neglected by Yoko—she was working all the time...nice role reversal. It's an expression of loss and insecurity. That John was always willing to let it all hang out, to be so raw...[it] is one of the reasons I love his music so much."
Alice Walker, author and poet, says she will miss Lennon always: "Not the him that he already gave to us so generously. But the him that he would have become even more intensely, delighting us afresh each decade with the John who emerged from whatever secret or not so secret adventures!"
Sasha Frere-Jones, musician and the pop-music critic for The New Yorker, says Lennon's death was the first time he ever cried about a famous person dying: "I was thirteen, and I had just gotten out of the shower. My dad knocked on the bathroom door. He was wearing a big red bathrobe. He told me and I started crying immediately. I wore a black arm band to school, which is kind of dopey, but I was genuinely sad. Even though I was a kid, and grown ups were obviously older, I understood that Lennon wasn't that old."
David Ross, the former director of The Whitney Museum of American Art and one of Lennon's friends, says there are too many good Lennon songs to choose just one: "But 'Imagine' is on more playlists than other Lennon or Lennon-McCartney songs. It is a great piece of music, and though it rarely fails to bring me to the verge of tears, it has an oddly joyous sense of possibility underlying its mournful pace and melodic structure. Also, I heard the song for the first time, sitting stoned on John's Bank Street bed, listening to the master recording fresh out of the studio, on a pair of studio headphones. So for me, the song retains a Proustian connection to the full experience of that memorable evening."
Sara Fishko, host of WNYC's Fishko Files, remembers just where she was the night Lennon was shot: "Just before it happened I had arrived home and turned on the radio. As soon as I heard the news, I tuned down the dial to Pacifica (WBAI), where they had a live overnight show, which immediately became a mournful, marathon call-in session. There was a lot of pain and disbelief and crying on the air. I listened all night as more details on the shooting emerged, and as devastated New Yorkers tried to make sense of it—which of course they couldn't."
Celeste Headlee, host of The Takeaway, was a child when Lennon died, but considers him irreplaceable: "John Lennon was brilliant and arrogant and fearless. He loved fiercely, sometimes rashly, and he was an intrepid creator. Lennon opened himself to inspiration and let it guide him where it would. He allowed himself to change, to be influenced by the people and events around him. Lennon was perhaps the ultimate pop star, who gave voice to a generation. Thirty years after his death, still irreplaceable."
Irene Trudel, WNYC engineer, was at her then boyfriend’s parents’ house when she heard the news: "I was in complete shock and spent the day in a daze, hoping to hear that the news wasn’t true. The day there was to be a moment of silence in his honor we drove to our favorite hillside near Morristown, New Jersey listening to a mix tape of favorite Lennon songs. We lit votive candles and sat in the car in teary silence."
Jeff Spurgeon, WQXR morning music host, says Lennon's music always sounds fresh: "I never walk past the Dakota apartment building without thinking of the awful way John was taken away. But Strawberry Fields, the little section of Central Park set aside in his memory just across the street from the Dakota, is a comforting spot and a sort of remedy for the sadness. John Lennon is among a big group of significant creative figures who didn't live into their 40s—Mozart, Schubert, and Chopin being just three classical composers on that list. Will Lennon's music resound as long as the music of those three? It doesn't matter. What matters is that he speaks to us now, in our time."
Kerry Nolan, morning WNYC News host for WQXR, says John Lennon was a window into a world she hadn't known existed: "I watched the Ed Sullivan Show with my parents that first night, sitting on the floor as my mother put my hair in rag curls (ask your mother) for school the next day. I was fascinated by the harmonies, the thumping beat; the girls screaming in the audience. I saw the movie "A Hard Day's Night" 8 Saturday afternoons in a row, at 50 cents a clip. John was the instigator, the rebel. I wasn't into double digits yet, but I knew he was special."
Please share your reflections of John Lennon with us. What does Lennon mean to you? And to New York City? Where were you when you heard of his death? And tell us your favorite Lennon song.