Lost Lennon: 30 years after his assassination, fans still long for Beatles’ songwriter
John Lennon wrote of peace and love, and then, one day, he was shot.
Nearly 30 years have passed since Mark David Chapman murdered Lennon outside the musician’s apartment on Dec. 8, 1980, in New York City. Thirty years seems like enough time to move on, but that’s the problem, said several locals who respect Lennon. The years only have reinforced the notion that there likely will never be a songwriter as great as Lennon or a group as great as the Beatles ever again.
“As a musician my whole life, what’s truly so sad is we do not have the music John Lennon would have created,” Sean Flanigan said. “An individual was tragically murdered, but a creative soul was destroyed.”
Flanigan, 49, is a music professor at Mesa State College and teaches a course about the history of popular music in which he touches on the Beatles. However, he could spend an entire school year exploring the works and lives of Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, because of the men’s effect forever on music and the world, Flanigan said.
Lennon is credited with forming the Beatles and was the group’s second oldest, but most outspoken member, particularly in the 1960s regarding social issues such as civil rights, the Vietnam War and communism versus democracy.
“Lennon was not afraid to address these things,” Flanigan said. “Lennon was not a man of his time. He was a man for his time.”
It is true, said Suzi Radosevich, 61. The Grand Valley woman was just a teenager in Wisconsin when the Beatles first came to the United States in 1964. She was inspired by the world peace and harmony the Beatles, and particularly Lennon, wrote and sang about.
Even today, she can’t verbalize how volatile this country was in the 1960s or how concerned younger people were with their place in the world. To help, she turned to the Beatles.
“The Beatles changed my life,” she said. “I consider myself fortunate to be part of that era.”
In 1965, Radosevich won a teen writing competition for Tiger Beat magazine to become a young reporter.
She was assigned to cover the Beatles at the band’s 1965 concert in Chicago. Three weeks before the show, her concert ticket arrived in the mail. Radosevich hid the ticket in her pillowcase where she could touch it every night.
At the show she met the Beatles. Lennon had a sharp wit, she said, remembering that August 1965 day.
Then 15, she asked Lennon and McCartney where their songwriting inspiration came from, and the men agreed it was found in the world around them.
That inspiration turned into melodies, instrumentation and lyrics like nothing that had been heard before the Beatles, Radosevich said.
Pick an album, and it was ground-breaking, particularly, “Revolver,” said Radosevich, who is also known as Suzi Creme Cheeze, the host of Paradise Cafe on KAFM Community Radio. From 3–4 p.m. every other Friday, Radosevich sets aside time for “Fab Four Friday” where she always plays the Beatles. Without fail, at least one person younger than 20 will call to ask who the group is.
The enduring appeal of the Beatles to people of all ages is a sign of the group’s greatness, Flanigan and Radosevich said.
Local musician James Williams, 38, wasn’t alive for “Beatlemania,” and was just 8 years old when Lennon was shot, but he can’t imagine his life without the group, and he can’t imagine music without the Beatles.
“For me, Lennon’s songwriting is amazing,” Williams said. “The sheer impact that he had on the world is big to me. If you like it or not, the way he used his powers, I’ve always admired him for that. I don’t agree with everything he said, and I know people think artists should stay out of politics. But it was almost like people looked to him to stand up and say something. To be honest, if he was in the same position today, he wouldn’t be quieter now.”
“The creative power of the Beatles, and Lennon in particular, was so powerful that they would be relevant today,” Flanigan said. “What music would they write? It wouldn’t be the Beatles you know. The thing you can’t dispute is their music is very powerful and relevant. If it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be excitement of its availability on iTunes. This will introduce a whole new generation to the Beatles.”
The Beatles’ music was released on iTunes Nov. 16.
As of Dec. 2, the Beatles had no songs in the top 100 or any albums in the top 10 of all items downloaded off iTunes. What was tops was a song by Katy Perry and an album from the cast of the TV show “Glee.”
Their iTunes status likely would not upset the Beatles, Flanigan said.
The group became famous because of their music. They didn’t use music to became famous. Lennon had a love-hate relationship with fame, Flanigan said.
No contemporary group will ever matter like the Beatles, Flanigan said.
“The Beatles, but especially the songwriting team of Lennon/McCartney, will be judged historically in the way that Mozart and Beethoven are now,” said Ron Wilson, 53, local concert promoter with Sandstone Concerts. “There simply has not been a body of work composed by an individual in the last 100 years that matches the work of Lennon/McCartney. Sure, others may dispute this… But in an age where celebrities make the worst decisions and expose themselves continuously as fools, we have John Lennon, arguably the biggest pop culture celebrity of all time, who simply wanted peace in the world.”