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Nothing like starting over

December 8, 2020

How is it possible? How can it be forty years?

Forty years ago I was a young journalist living in a lovely flat in Finchley Road.

Clock radios with their snooze buttons may have existed in 1980, but I didn’t have one. Instead, this is how I woke myself up in the morning: I had an alarm clock beside the bed and a boombox across the room. When the alarm went off, I’d get up, cross the room, switch the radio on and get back into bed for a bit. The alarm went off a few minutes before the hourly news came on and listening to that, finding out what had been going on in the world while I slept was how I woke myself up. I’d lay in bed, absorbing the news for ten minutes, then I’d get up.

Not that morning forty years ago. That morning the news began and I sat bolt upright in bed. John Lennon had been shot and killed outside the Dakota in New York. I couldn’t make the information register. It couldn’t be possible, and yet it was.

This wasn’t the first time a musician I loved had died. The late 1960s were littered with corpses: Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Mama Cass, Brian Jones, Keith Moon… The list seemed endless, but these deaths were self-inflicted – drugs, booze, too much of one, too many of both. The news that morning was of a different kind of late 1960s death: an assignation. This was Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Who could possibly want to shoot and kill John Lennon? (A mentally disturbed young man with easy access to a gun. Maybe not only in America, but certainly far too often in America.)

I confess, as a little girl I was all about Paul. He was obviously the cutest Beatle. That changed completely when I saw Help! – specifically the scene in which John sang ‘You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away’. It was game over for Paul after that. It was John all the way.

He’d been quiet for quite a while. And then, just weeks earlier, Double Fantasy had hit the shops. Yes, there were those annoying, screechy Yoko songs in between, but John’s songs? Man, they were wonderful. They’re all on the Best of John Lennon CD I’m playing while I’m writing this: Starting Over, Woman, Beautiful Boy, even Dear Yoko. I loved them all.

Everyone was struck by the terrible irony of that line from Beautiful Boy: “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” It was unbelievable and utterly unbearable. (Somehow it was made even more unbearable several weeks later when another mentally disturbed young man with a gun took a shot at Ronald Reagan. It seemed so unfair that someone could kill John Lennon so easily, yet that bastard Reagan could survive.)

I still remember work that day. Everyone was in a state of shock. John Lennon. Jesus. How was it possible?

Of course Starting Over, which was already charting, shot to number one and stayed there until after Christmas. It was a song played and danced to at Christmas parties that year. And every time it played, the same thought: Lennon wasn’t starting over because of a deranged young man with a gun.


I’d go back to that day a quarter of a century later when I was writing Rum Do. I gave my character Bill the same reaction a friend in New York had to the news.

Twenty-one years later, the week that George Harrison died, Rory Bremner, in his monologue said, “Is it just me, or are the Beatles dying in the wrong order?” I gasped. Not that I was shocked. I’d been thinking the same thing all week, as I’m sure many other people had. I was just astonished that someone had actually said it out loud.

Nothing against Paul or Ringo. Good luck to them. But if I got to choose which two Beatles were still around? It wouldn’t be them.

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