This time of year always reminds me of the night a squad car carrying John Lennon's body sped past me on the streets of New York City. On December 8th of 1980, I was eight years old and in the city with my family for a holiday-related dinner with relatives. We were out late—much later than my parents ever kept me out back home, but I'm sure they'd been drinking and having a grand old time. The relatives we'd dined with were somewhat wealthy, and in fact we had eaten dinner at Tavern on the Green, then regarded as one of the city's more exclusive (albeit touristy) restaurants.
I had only a dim awareness of who the Beatles were back then. In 1980, I was far more interested in reenacting scenes from Star Wars with my friends than I was in any kind of music. But the Beatles' legacy was forever burned into my consciousness after my father jerked me away from the street as that squad car came screaming past, the bloody head of its famous occupant slumped against the rear passenger window. The Dakota apartment building where Lennon was murdered is only a few blocks from Tavern on the Green's old location near Central Park West, and sometime shortly before 11 PM, we were walking back to the garage where my father's car was parked. But when we crossed 72nd Street and observed the chaos left in the aftermath of the shooting, someone—a tear-streaked woman, by my father's recollection—told us what had happened. We left the city and drove home to the dark suburbs of New Jersey without speaking, probably listening to the news on the radio.
In spite of the weirdness of having been only blocks away when one of history's most famous murders went down, I never got into the Beatles the way most other kids seem to, and I often wonder why that is. Until I got older and started getting an allowance, the only Beatles record in the house was Let It Be, which belonged to one of my older siblings. Perhaps Lennon's death coupled with the eulogistic tone of that album's eponymous track is what set my associations with the band on such a weird path so early on. When you're a little kid, a song's lyrics are often the first thing that hits you, and lines like "in my hour of darkness / she is standing right in front of me / speaking words of wisdom / let it be" certainly influenced the childhood anxieties I experienced in bed at night. Long after my parents had ordered the lights switched out, the images conjured by that type of poetry were a lot to wrap my head around. It's funny to think about it again thirty years later—by anyone's estimation, a long time has passed since then. It's also quite peculiar for a band that broke up two years before I was born to in some way serve as a milemarker by which to observe my own aging. Maybe that's what people mean when they call Lennon's music "timeless". Maybe it's why that term has always bothered me so much.