So let’s get one thing straight, kids. Thirty years ago today, on 8th December 1980, it was not cool to like John Lennon, it was not cool to like The Beatles. In what we had in place of iTunes back then, the record department in Preedy’s in the High Street, where I went every week with hard-saved pennies and swapped them for a piece of plastic in a paper wrapper, that lot came a long way behind The Jam, The Police, Blondie, The Pretenders. No doubt Paul Weller, Sting, Debbie Harry and Chrissie Hynde all listed the Fab Four very highly on their list of influences, but their time had now been a generation ago – John was 40 FFS. Who listens to records by a 40-year-old?
I was very familiar with these arguments because I was one of the nerds who was in love with them. I wouldn’t have put it like that at the time. Saying you were “in love” with four boys would mean getting your head kicked in. And I wasn’t in love with them, anyway but their voices and guitars and the urgent sexual rhythm of their early music. See I wasn’t even cool enough to be into the hippy trippy stuff recorded after I was born – the romance for me was four working class boys taking on the world, playing dirty rock and roll.
So on that day early in December 1980, two weeks before my sixteenth birthday, there were perhaps three or four people in the 1,000 kids at my school who would have admitted to listening regularly to John Lennon. Yet 24 hours later, you couldn’t hear anything else on the radio.
My mother woke me up on the morning of the 9th because my friend Sophie was on the phone at 8am and inconsolable and wouldn’t say why. Sophie spluttered out what had happened. I didn’t believe it. I had a typical shock reaction. I probably laughed. And felt nothing and then felt my chest going a bit weird and my arms feeling heavy and was suddenly very present and aware of being alive.
And so Soph came round and we pulled out the Bush portable record player on the floor of my living room and drank lots of tea and ate toast and listened to all his songs that we had between us. Skipping Paul’s treacle, George’s half-baked ditties and Ringo’s comedy numbers. Coming back again and again to John screaming his lungs out on Twist and Shout.
And then we put his new single on and heard those chimes at the beginning and the words:
“Our life, together, is so precious, together
We have grown… we have grown”
And that’s when the tears came – for a forty year old man who I’d never met but who’d taught me to sing, who’d made my heart beat faster, who was just getting back into making music again and who was shot dead on the steps of his apartment building in New York, thousands of miles from his real home.