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Imagine, Still

From Annie Liebowitz’ famous photo shoot for Rolling Stone the day Lennon died. “This is it,” he told the photographer. “This is our relationship.” The image was the cover for what became Rolling Stone’s January 22nd, 1981 tribute issue. 

On December 8, 1980, a crazy man with a gun shot and killed John Lennon outside his New York City apartment; this week marks 40 years here, 40 years gone. Still, the heartfelt tributes and remembrances poured in, often from those who lived through it and, like earlier, shocking, bloody moments of the times – JFK, Malcolm X, MLK, RFK – still vividly recall it. Having newly re-emerged into public view after five years of self-imposed exile, isolation, house-husbanding and re-evaluating,  Lennon’s last day was a busy one – photo shoot, radio interview, haircut, studio work on a new album. That night, in Jimmy Breslin’s chilling account – written on deadline, yet – police got the call for “man shot” on 72nd Street. Two cops describe putting “this guy with blood all over him” in the backseat of their patrol car; one, newly cognizant, suddenly turns back to ask “Are you John Lennon?” and gets a nod and groan in response. At the hospital, Breslin describes the cops watching  doctors work on Lennon in the trauma room: “Tony Palma said to himself, I don’t think so. Moran shook his head. He thought about his two kids, who know every one of the Beatles’ big tunes. And Jim Moran and Tony Palma, older now, cops in a world with no fun, stood in the emergency room as John Lennon, whose music they knew, whose music was known everywhere on earth, became another person who died after being shot with a gun on the streets of New York.”

40 years later, Lennon is still viewed by many as a famed victim of America’s gun violence, “assassinated by a man who bought a gun in Hawaii for $169 and brought it to New York in his suitcase,” wrote gun-control advocate Shannon Watts. “Since then, over 1.5 million Americans have been shot and killed.” But of course he’s remembered and revered for much else: His wise way with words, from the kid at school asked what he wanted to be when he grew up – “I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life” – to the “instinctive socialist” who argued “Love is all you need” and “Peace is not something you wish for; it’s something you make, something you do, something you are, and something you give away” led inexorably to the musical legacy of “this magnificent soul,” whose genius, like Dylan, was to “personalize the political and politicize the personal.” Rolling Stone continues to honor Lennon this week with a wide-ranging tribute that includes their full, nine-hour interview days before his murder, a piece about Sean Ono Lennon’s Gimme Some Truth box set of his father’s remixed solo catalogue to mark what would have been his 80th birthday, and a 1981 essay by Scott Spencer that recalls Lennon’s “radiant example” – his willingness to take risks, speak up against injustice, “capture the imagination of millions” and teach us about integrity as someone “uninterested in existing on any but his own terms. He sang and wrote what he believed, and he trusted us to listen.”

“The death of a loved one is a hollowing experience. After 40 years, Sean, Julian and I still miss him. ‘Imagine all the people living life in peace.'”Yoko Ono Lennon

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