And in the End…Mourning a Musical Icon

lennon-headline

This is the headline that greeted readers of the Democrat and Chronicle thirty-six years ago on December 9th, 1980.

The news of John Lennon’s assassination the night before proved devastating to a generation of Rochesterians who had come of age listening to the artist’s canon.

Red Creek proprietor, Jeff Springut, admitted, “I feel hurt. I grew up with the Beatles. It would be like losing Benny Goodman would be to my parents.”

Local radio station personalities alternately played the role of disc jockey and therapist as they fielded calls from shocked fans.

“A lot of people are calling in disbelief. They’ll still be calling next week and asking if it’s true,” explained Uncle Roger of WCMF. The station (and others in the area) put Lennon’s music on heavy rotation after receiving the report of his death.

Not all Rochester music fans were equally affected. The bartender at the Friar’s Inn disco club noted that patrons were surprised at the news, but were otherwise nonplussed.

The ex-Beatle nevertheless made an indelible impact on the broader community as evidenced by the hundreds of people of all ages and backgrounds who attended a hastily organized vigil in Manhattan Square Park on December 10th.

Mourners bearing thermoses of coffee, “jazz cigarettes” and beer bottles couched in brown paper bags huddled together and listened to a series of speakers and the musical offerings of their beloved hero.

One Harvard Street resident attending the memorial observed, “It’s ironic that he was killed at this time. He was a survivor. He got through the 60s. He disappeared for the 70s and it looked like he was coming back with a voice for the 80s. But that got cut short.”

lennon-vigil

Mourners at Manhattan Square Park

In addition to mourning the music and life of the British icon, many fans decried the attempts to cash in on Lennon’s death in the days and weeks that followed the tragic event.

Dismayed by the proliferation of souvenirs and commemorative products that had flooded the market in the wake of Lennon’s passing, one disappointed female fan wrote in a letter to the D&C’s editor:

“They are starting the same kind of garbage they pulled on Elvis. Is there no respect for the dead anymore? Both men gave the American people happiness and more unity than the last three presidents.”

The relatively poor sales of Lennon commemorative memorabilia compared to sales of Elvis ephemera following his death in 1977 was perhaps unsurprising given the fact that Lennon had famously idealized a world with “no possessions” in one of his best known songs.

In order to deter further exploitation of the recently deceased musician, one local business owner launched a boycott of all Lennon memorabilia produced after his murder.

Laura Senft, the proprietor of Play it Again Sam Records on Monroe Avenue, founded her Dignity After Death (D.A.D.) organization after a salesman contacted her offering to stock her store with John Lennon frisbees.

By January of 1981, Senft’s consumer boycott and petitioning efforts had inspired similar campaigns in 20 states and parts of Canada.

Rather than profit from his loss, Senft paid tribute to Lennon with a simple handwritten sign in her store window that expressed the sentiments of many:

“GOODBYE BROTHER JOHN. GOD BLESS, WE LOVE YOU.”

 

-Emily Morry

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Published in: on December 8, 2016 at 10:00 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Correction needed–Lennon’s death was not sixteen years ago, but 36 years ago. I remember it like yesterday. I heard the news on the eleven o’clock news as I was getting ready for bed in Charleston, South Carolina. I immediately phoned my then-boyfriend to tell him of the tragedy. “You woke me up to tell me John Lennon died?!” Right then I knew that that romance was not to last.

  2. apparently my math skills were woefully lacking when i wrote this! thanks for the correction!

  3. I was pregnant and working at the AZ Dept. of Personnel office and carpooling to work with an older couple when we heard the news on the radio about 8AM. I was stunned. Imagine is one of the best songs of all time. I recently got to see the piano he wrote the song on at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. There is a video of him playing the song and I stood there with tears in my eyes. Such a shame that a man who donated bulletproof vests to NYC policeman should die by gunshot.


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