Rock Legends Reactions To John Lennon’s Death
John Lennon live in 1969 - BeatlesAndSolo / Youtube
The news of John Lennon’s death hit differently in a time where relaying information wasn’t as fast or was released in the expected channels.
Stevie Wonder was one of those tasked to spread the news, as a personal duty to a fellow artist who passed away. During his encore at the Oakland Coliseum on December 8, 1980, he decided to reveal the tragic incident himself.
“I want you all to understand that I’m not a person who likes to be the [bearer of] bad news,” the singer said, still in a state of shock. He continued: “For those of you who don’t know this … it’s been really hard for me to do this show tonight but [I] did it in memory of people like this man. … He was shot tonight. … I’m talking about Mr. John Lennon. … I know that you would want me to continue to express the same feelings as he has in his life.”
The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, also decided to break the news the day after the murder on his show at Philadephia’s Spectrum Arena. He said: “It’s a hard night to come out and play tonight when so much has been lost,” he said. “The first record that I ever learned ‘Twist and Shout.’ If it wasn’t for John Lennon, we’d all be someplace very different tonight. It’s an unreasonable world that you get asked to live with a lot of things that are just unlivable. It’s a hard night to come out and play, but there’s just nothing else you can do.”
But perhaps, the most controversial yet misunderstood reaction came from one of Lennon’s closest persons, Paul McCartney. “I was very shocked, you know,” he said. “It’s terrible news. … Drag, isn’t it? Okay, cheers.”
He was soon widely criticized for the comment, telling Good Morning Britain in 1985: “I was probably more shattered than most people when John died. And I had plenty of sort of personal grief. But I’m not very good at kind of public grief. So someone thrust a microphone into my face the day it happened and said, ‘What’s your comment?’ Now all the other pundits came out with great comments: ‘Well, John will be sorely missed.’ … All I could muster was, ‘It’s a drag.’ And it was like … I couldn’t say anything else but that. I just couldn’t. Neither could George, neither could Ringo. Nobody came out with any big comments because he was too dear to us; it was just too much of a shock. But of course that got reprinted: ‘McCartney, when asked what he thought of Lennon’s death, said, ‘It’s a drag.”’ It comes out like that. So you’ve just got to be so careful about all that stuff.”
George Harrison also spoke about the incident a few hours after it happened. “After all we went through together, I had and still have great love and respect for him. To rob life is the ultimate robbery in life. This perpetual encroachment on other people’s space is taken to the limit with the use of a gun. It is an outrage that people can take other people’s lives when they obviously haven’t got their own lives in order,” expressing his shock at the news.
Beatles producer George Martin was angry at what happened and said: “I wouldn’t say he was a great musician as such, but he was certainly a great man. His astringency lent a lot to the sweetness of Paul. The real point is that he was a true original, with a zany sense of humor that could elevate the meanest of spirits. For that alone, he’ll be missed. His death points the lesson that we have to curb the pornography of violence which pollutes our world.”
Ringo Starr learned of it in the Bahamas when his stepchildren called to break the news. In a 2019 Rolling Stone interview, he told Dave Grohl: “They called and said, ‘John’s dead.’ And I didn’t know what to do. And I still well up that some bastard shot him. But I just said, ‘We’ve got to get a plane.’ We got a plane to New York, and you don’t know what you can do. We went to the apartment. ‘Anything we can do?’ And [Yoko Ono] just said, ‘Well, you just play with Sean. Keep Sean busy.’ And that’s what we did. That’s what you think: ‘What do you do now?’”
Yoko Ono said: “I saw John smiling in the sky. I saw sorrow changing into clarity. I saw all of us becoming one mind.”
The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards also recalls hearing the news, sharing it with The Guardian in 2000: “I was downtown on Fifth Avenue in New York. The first bit of news I got, I thought: ‘He’ll make it. It’s just a flesh wound.’ And then, later on, the news really came. … And you think, ‘God, why can’t I do anything about it?’ I got well drunk on it. And I had another one for John.”
Tom Petty was busy in Hollywood’s Cherokee Recording Studios with Jimmy Iovine, who personally knew Lennon. “We thought [the news of the shooting] was a gag and we kept working. Then someone called and said, ‘John’s dead.’ It just stopped the session. I went home, and on the way I could see people sitting in their cars at traffic lights just crying. It was a hard thing to believe. I still have trouble believing it.”
He paid tribute to Lennon by etching the words “We love you, J.L.” into the runout groove on the pieces of vinyl of Hard Promises, the record he was working on at the time of Lennon’s murder.
Rush was busy recording Moving Pictures said Geddy Lee, telling Salon in a 2000 interview, “I remember constantly going back and forth, from working to the TV, to try to get some news. If I remember the environment, looking around the room, my memory just shows me a lot of pale faces staring at the tube.”
The Police had just finished a Miami show when they learned of the news. “I had the reaction that everybody had — disbelief, shock, horror. What happens when people like him die is that the landscape changes. You know, a mountain disappears, a river is gone. And I think his death was probably as significant as that,” Sting told The Guardian.
But what stuck most into the emotions of people was the reaction of a future musician, Lennon’s son, the five-year-old Sean. “Now Daddy is part of God. I guess when you die you become much more bigger because you’re part of everything,” he said.