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50th Edition, Lifestyle

Lennon’s death shocks and saddens

By Denebola
Published: February 2011

By Alex Atwood, Volume 20
December 19, 1980

The death of John Lennon was, for me and many people, the saddest and most upsetting news event we have experienced. Almost all people born in the 60’s, like me, do not remember the assassinations of Martin Luther King or Robert Kennedy. Thus, when a man like John Lennon is brutally, senselessly murdered, it should come as no surprise that we are profoundly grieved as we have never been before. In this letter, I would like to share some of my thoughts concerning the killing.
John Lennon, as probably most know, was no ordinary rock star. He was the primary artistic and intellectual force behind the greatest musical group in history. Led by his tremendous creative talents, the Beatles were rock’s first great innovators, the first to extend their repertoire beyond what the public demanded and work as musical artists.
Lennon himself wrote three books of very clever poetry, and the lyrics he wrote with Paul McCartney, like “Eleanor Rigby” and “Across the Universe” were exceptionally mature and complex songs. Lennon’s solo work, again, showed great wit and imagination. In particular, his LPs “Plastic Ono Band” and “Imagine” described the search for truth and the rewards of self-discovery with the lyricism and sensitivity very rare from a pop musician. Always, he was a man of enormous talent and admirable values.
One of the most frustrating aspects of Lennon’s assassination was that he was on the brink of a true re-birth of his career. Unlike Elvis Presley and other pop stars who died overweight, isolated and with their former talents all but depleted, Lennon was killed only weeks after releasing an excellent new album that marked the end of a five-year semi-retirement.
In an interview the day before his death, Lennon, projecting radiance and vitality, spoke of his work on yet another album and possibly embarking on a world your. The music world could hardly wait to see what our old friend John Lennon held for the 80’s. Then suddenly—he was gone.
At 1:00 A.M., a friend called me from New York to tell me of the killed that had happened only two hours before. Both of us were devastated. I almost cried.
The following day, at Boston University, my classmates told me that dozens of students were sobbing in their dorms when they heard the news. That night, two classmates and I went to a candlelight vigil on the Common. We felt as though we were at a wake.
The next day, I telephoned Denebola’s faculty adviser because I was interested in knowing what the newspaper was planning to print on the matter. The editors were still tossing around ideas, Mrs. Gonson told me. But I was greatly dismayed to hear that there was no consoling message given over the PA system that morning and, on the whole, there was a rather casual attitude toward the killing among South’s teachers and administrators. I am writing from second-hand information, I know, but this scant attention struck me as a failure of leadership at a critical moment on the part of South’s administrators.
Perhaps the shock that students felt was not understood by people of older generations because they did not think Lennon was so important a figure, or that his assassination was quite as important a tragedy as the assassination of some other figure might be. But suppose Jimmy Carter of Ronald Reagan were killed tomorrow. Certainly, almost all of us would be shocked and saddened. But for millions, the death of John Lennon would still be a different matter. Two days after his death, as I wrote this letter, I still felt a numbness, a deep sadness. But also, I felt very angry.
Lennon’s assassin, a born-again Christian from Georgia, walked into a gun shop, bought a .38 caliber, traveled to New York, and killed Lennon. The next day, Reagan said the assassination was a “great tragedy” but that he believed fun control would not have helped.
Reagan, evidently, supports the easy availability of instruments designed specifically to kill people. If handguns were banned in this country, any person wishing to buy a gun would have to resort to the black mark, which would surely form upon such a ban.
But a black market gun would undoubtedly be many times more expensive and difficult to obtain than a legal gun. Probably, the cost alone would put the .38 caliber out of reach of Lennon’s financially-strapped assassin. If handguns had been banned, Lennon might well be alive now.
In fact, if handguns were banned now, a lower murder rate would be statistically unavoidable. Still, there is a fundamental question. Can we call ourselves civilized while permitting – and thus condoning—the use of handguns? In Europe, people are saying the Lennon killing could only have happened in America because only in America are guns so easy to obtain.
I fear they are right. When will our legislators defy the gun lobby and stand up for what Americans support—meaningful gun control? Until they do, we cannot be safe from the violent urges of maniacs like Lennon’s assassin.
 John Lennon has been killed, and life goes on. But, more than just eulogize the slain Beatle, we should recognize that this senselessness was clearly the result of the easy availability of handguns. Let’s give peace a chance, and control them.

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