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James Ferragut, Published December 08 2010

Ferragut: Can it be 30 years already?

‘What are you supposed to do when they keep killing your heroes?” I knew the voice: my friend Dick Weaver. It was 8 a.m., and I hadn’t gotten to bed until 3:45 a.m. I was opening up a retail store in Detroit Lakes and was spending 18 hours a day there and driving back to Fargo at night.

I didn’t have a clue as to what he was talking about. He said, “You better sit down.” I was not prepared. “John Lennon was killed last night.” I was stunned. It was appropriate Dick told me. I discovered the Beatles at Dick’s house in January 1964 when I saw the Beatles for the first time on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” My life changed.

Every television and radio station, all the papers, everyone, was talking about John’s assassination. The shock and disbelief were tangible.

John’s new album “Double Fantasy” had just been released and was headed to No. 1. John had come out after five years of being a house-husband raising his son, having turned his back on the industry he almost lost his soul to. A song was dedicated to his son, Sean; it was so precious it ached. I’d been singing that song to my firstborn, Justin, days before.

When I got back to Detroit Lakes, I ran to an electronics store to watch the news. Walter Cronkite said: “The conflict in Poland, the ongoing cold war and the worst economy the United States has seen in years have all been overshadowed by the death of a young man who wrote songs and played guitar. Former Beatle John Lennon was killed in cold blood last night as he returned home to his apartment in New York City with his wife, Yoko Ono, by his side …”

Maybe it’s crazy for a man my age to obsess over the death of someone I never knew. But Lennon’s honesty, lightning wit, intelligence, effortless humor and his quest to improve himself and the world earned my respect. Then there was the music – brilliant, addictive, still relevant. When pop radio was playing songs about dates and car crashes in ’64, John wrote, “I’m a loser and I’m not what I appear to be …” and “I’ve got a chip on my shoulder that’s bigger than my feet …” Self-aware, honest, transparent and fearless. That was John.

He had no self-editing mechanism. At the first Beatles press conference at Kennedy International Airport, a newsman asked, “Hey, you, Beatles, would you sing for us?” John retorted, “No, we need money first.” Then he smiled.

In 1965, he said the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. It wasn’t anything more than fact. He caught holy hell for honesty.

Thirty years ago today John was killed. His legacy lives because he was an original, the real deal, the rule breaker. He wrote the book on being a rock celebrity who transcended his music. He quit the group he created at the peak of their career. He used his celebrity to promote peace when the Vietnam War still had public support. He lobbied for peace. “WAR IS OVER, “Give Peace a Chance” and “Imagine” are timeless mantras two generations after his death.

Then, the ultimate irony: John, always respectful of fans, is pictured signing an album for the man who killed him hours later.

John feared being known for his politics over his music. He said, “I want to be known as a comedian, because all of the peace advocates, like Martin Luther King and Kennedy and Gandhi, got shot ...”

Imagine. John Lennon murdered in cold blood. Oh, no. Not John.


Ferragut is a marketing executive and contributor to The Forum’s opinion/commentary pages. E-mail jferragut50@gmail.com