John Lennon: In My Life

Jon Friedman recalls where he was 43 years ago this week when he heard the stunning news that a crazed fan has assassinated John Lennon.

| 07 Dec 2023 | 07:02

Whenever Dec. 8 rolls around, I take time to reflect. It occurs to me that nothing is real and all you need is love and life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans and don’t let me down and I’m SO TIRED.

John Lennon, Beatle, peacenik and cultural revolutionary, was a hero of mine in my youth and is now. He was murdered on the late evening of Dec. 8, outside the Dakota. That’s where he and his wife Yoko and their son Sean lived. It was at the time the saddest day of my life.

I can remember exactly where I was on that awful night.

I was having a fun holiday-season dinner with my pal Keith Kelly, yes, the current editor-in-chief of this publication, and two media pals, Mary Kuntz and Walter Updegrave.

We went to Szechuan West at Broadway and West 102nd Street, a favorite Chinese restaurant from the era. It was a great time. We were all still in our twenties. It was a promising time. Keith had returned from almost a year in Belfast. He went to that dangerous place because he felt compelled to see, first-hand, what the American media was saying. I seldom admired a journalist friend more.

We had all met when we had establishment jobs at McGraw-Hill Publications. We no doubt all talked about our futures in journalism and how old-fashioned the industry seemed to us whippersnappers and rebels. Little could we know how the Internet, still about two decades in the future, would totally upend everything.

Starting Over

Talk of The Beatles that night was in the air. It was an exciting time. John Lennon had just released his first album of original songs in more than five years. “Double Fantasy,” which he proudly did Yoko, was on the radio 24/7.

John was again giving witty interviews, too. We had missed his voice a lot during his five-year house-husband phase, when he stayed home and baked bread while caring for his son Sean.

Of course, Keith, Mary, Walter and I were asking the same question that every Beatles fan speculated about: Would John, Paul, George and Ringo soon get back together?

Of course, we all wanted this to happen. Besides making the greatest music ever, The Beatles stood for something: integrity. And change. And youth power. And irreverence. But The Beatles mostly meant fun.

Sure, we all dreamed of becoming rich and famous. But as The Beatles had eloquently reminded us: Fun in the one thing that money can’t buy. And: can’t buy me love.

New York was looking like a great place to be young at the dawn of the 80s. The 70s “Me Generation” was over. Disco was fading in favor of punk. The downtown scene was thriving.

The city had come out of its ballyhooed financial crisis. “Saturday Night Live” had reminded everyone that New York was the creativity capital of the world.

Ed Koch, a publicity-hungry mayor who’d do anything for a headline, was setting a tone for new-breed local politicians.

I always felt safe to go barhopping after midnight. The Lion’s Head, among other historic watering holes, was still around and kicking. The Yankees were the team to beat. Mass transit was reliable.


We left the Chinese restaurant and Keith and I jumped on the 1 train. I was going downtown to my apartment at Sixth Avenue and West 12th Street and Keith was heading to Stuyvesant Town.

For some reason that night, the train stayed at the West 72nd Street station for what seemed like a really long time. Naturally, there was no announcement about the strange delay.

I quickly forgot about it when I got home. I flipped on “Monday Night Football” as I planned my schedule at work for the next day. What stories would I write (yes, plural: I was very ambitious!)? What sources would I need to reach out to?

Then sportscaster Howard Cosell, of all people, delivered the shocking news about Lennon’s shooting. It didn’t seem possible. I mean, I had just been a few blocks from the Dakota. It dawned on me that the subway train I was riding on arrived at West 72nd Street just as the drama was unfolding. That was eerie. Nothing is real!

My sister, in her freshman year at SUNY Albany, called to console me. So did my pal Dave in Iowa. Others did, too. I stayed up all night and listened to WNEW-FM, 102.7, then the go-to rock station of the era.

The Christmas season was bleak that year. I sleepwalked through it. On Christmas Day, I did the whole movie-and-Chinese-restaurant ritual (I saw some silly Bo Derek flick). But I was in a malaise.

I have mixed feelings today about Lennon. I revere his music and contributions to society and culture. But I feel bad for the heartache that he put his first wife Cynthia and oldest son through when he treated them shabbily, after he left home to be with Yoko.

I tell my college students today: Separate the art from the artists. Our heroes inevitably let us down.

But mostly, I have a happy feeling about John Lennon. He is still my favorite singer. In his prime, he could go toe to toe with Bob Dylan as a songwriter. He worked for the peace cause. He was never a nowhere man.