I was 15, lying on my bed listening to the radio. It was in Kansas City, so possibly Q104, though I wasn't into that particular Top 40 station as much as the other kids. I was listening to the song "Woman," which the DJ said was the next release from that long-awaited album. And he broke into the end of it to say John Lennon had been shot.
For a long time I wondered if the DJ was super creepy and played over 2 minutes of the song before interrupting in order to enhance what would surely already be an incredibly dramatic moment, or if he truly created a painful coincidence. I guess I still wonder, though I lean toward the more jaded answer.
There's a sharp divide between popular music before the Beatles came around, and when they hit it big in the U.S. over the next couple of years, and then again, as their own style evolved and became more layered and complex over the next 5 years.
I've never been a huge Lennon/McCartney/Beatles fan, but I am a huge admirer, if I can split hairs that way. There are maybe a dozen seriously key players in the evolution of 20th century music, and they are near the top of that list.
I knew a lot about the Beatles while growing up because I had older brothers, and parents who were really into music. Without that, could you be younger than me, at 45, and feel the full impact of that violent moment? It's only been in the past 15 years that I've seriously learned a lot about the context of all the old music I like, though I listened to early rock and roll, jazz, big band, and lounge music via my family, as well as some 70s rock trends, before finding new wave and college rock on my own in the 80s.
But I remember being there at the end of the Beatles era, though I was very small. That one fact alone made Lennon's death much more meaningful for me than it could have been otherwise.
Kurt Cobain was my age, but I don't remember feeling more than shock at such a violent end. It wasn't comparable for me.
Now, personally, I get more from Brubeck, Getz, Sinatra, than I ever did from the Beatles. But I'll shed more than a tear at the loss of Dave Gahan, Robert Smith, David Byrne, and/or Morrissey. And the Beatles are certainly an important aspect of the bridge between those two groups.
The world's a different place now, though. Better in lots of ways, so much more jaded in others. Which celebrity death could shock us so much now, as Michael Jackson's did? Most everyone else with that much popular influence is either already gone, or old enough that death would not seem so wild and untimely.
The younger generation has their big names and very big names, of course. But very few of them are so big, and so culturally and generationally transcendent in the way they were in our recent past. Can that still occur in our "everyone gets 15 minutes of fame" world? I do wonder.