Imagine: Recalling the life, death, music of John Lennon

Born in Liverpool, England, on this date in 1940, John Lennon was too old to be a baby boomer.

Born in Liverpool, England, on this date in 1940, John Lennon was too old to be a baby boomer.

But the leader of the Beatles has always held a special place in the lives of the post-World War II generation, and his 70th birthday today has millions of fans around the world and thousands here in the Capital Region thinking about his life, his death and what will never die — his music.

There’s been a new release of his post-Beatles hits timed to the landmark birthday, and tribute concerts, or at least musical nods to his influence, are planned at concert venues across the country.

Skidmore College music professor Gordon Thompson, author of “Please Please Me: Sixties British Pop, Inside Out,” said Lennon remains someone special.

“In many ways, John Lennon represented a twentieth-century Everyman: someone in whom we could see ourselves re-imagined in extraordinary circumstances with a quicker wit and more charisma,” Thompson wrote this week on an Oxford University Press blog.

Lennon was the acerbic leader of the Beatles — the “smart one,” in the way people pigeonholed the band members — a genius whose questing spirit matched that of the 1960s. The world followed as he and other band members explored drugs, religions and outer boundaries of what rock ’n’ roll could be.

Then, after the bitter breakup of the Beatles in 1969-70, he and wife Yoko Ono moved to New York City and he became a prominent peace activist while launching a solo career whose best music — like “Imagine” — stands with that of the Beatles themselves.

“It’s one man who pretty much changed a lot of people’s lives for the better. Everybody has their own internal way that they feel about him,” said Howard Glassman, manager of the WAMC Linda Norris Auditorium in Albany and a longtime presence on the Capital Region music scene.

Then, on Dec. 8, 1980, as he released his first album after a five-year hiatus to raise son Sean, Lennon became the first Beatle to die.

“I got up that morning and I thought it was a bad dream. Obviously it wasn’t,” recalled Glassman, then a teenager, who found the tragic news on the front page of the Schenectady Gazette he was delivering in the city.

Lennon was shot repeatedly on the sidewalk outside his Central Park West apartment building, the baffling act of a demented fan to whom he’d given an autograph only hours earlier.

His assassination “left an indelible mark on us, standing as one of those moments stained in memory and time,” Thompson wrote in his blog post.

Mark David Chapman was convicted of murder and remains in prison. He’s currently at the Attica maximum security prison in western New York.

Thompson was living in Los Angeles and returning from an evening out with a friend when he turned on the TV and learned Lennon had been killed.

“I remember watching the news until there was no more news left to watch,” he said Friday. “The next day I ran out and bought the Playboy magazine that had the interview with him and Yoko Ono. That complete interview remains a very significant interview for research purposes.”

And the music Lennon made, especially with Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, remains sought-after.

“Beatles are the No. 1 requested interest here,” said George DeMers, a clerk at Divinyl Revolution, a vintage record store in Saratoga Springs. “No matter how high we price it, it goes.”

DeMers said there doesn’t appear to have been a spike in interest because of Lennon’s birthday, but interest is always high.

Eileen Albright of Middle Grove was another Lennon fan, and then Lennon was shot to death on her birthday. Her sister, then in college in Buffalo, hitchhiked to New York City for the memorial service.

“It’s really hard to accept,” she said of the idea of an aging Lennon. “In my mind, he’s still a young, spry guy.”

Albright has made three trips to Strawberry Fields, the spot in Central Park near where Lennon was shot set aside to remember Lennon and his ideals. Yoko Ono had scattered his ashes there.

“Whenever you go there, it’s crowded,” Albright said. “It’s always covered with flowers.”

Her husband, Dennis, owner of T-Shirt Graphics in Ballston Spa, said the landmark birthday of the superstar just makes him feel “old” — and beyond that, he’d rather remember positive things.

“I remember seeing them on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ that’s what I remember,” he said of another famous date in Beatles history: Feb. 9, 1964.

Categories: Schenectady County

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