I knew who he was, of course. I had a couple of Beatles albums. I listened to them (and him) on the radio. Even back then, which seems like a million years ago, pre social-media and You-tube and the ability to listen to any song you want to at any time, the Beatles had permeated the culture enough that any random American thirteen-year-old could sing the lyrics to the "Yellow Submarine" and would have seen the famous magazine cover featuring John and Yoko naked in bed together.
My big thing when I was thirteen was listening to the Top 40 stations and trying to be the certain number caller to win a ticket to a concert or a free record, and one time,
I was the caller,
and I won the new song by John Lennon.
The DJ answering the phone was the DJ I heard every time I listened to that radio station and I was shaking with excitement when he asked me for my home address so he could mail me the record, a 45-single, (which, for the kids in the audience, is a small disc with one song etched onto each side).
I wasn't particularly interested in the song. Maybe I had heard it played a few times and I thought it was just Okay, but I was still looking forward to getting my prize in the mail.
A few weeks later John Lennon was murdered outside his apartment building in New York City.
I heard the news of his death on the radio, saw the horror and shock and sadness of the people on TV, the gathering crowds outside his building that spilled into Central Park, people holding candles and singing Beatles songs and chanting Give Peace a Chance.
I was thirteen, and just beginning to see beyond myself and my house and my town and my world, not grief-stricken by this man's death--someone whom other people, older people, apparently adored--but I was curious, listening to the news reports and reading the articles about the murder in the newspaper and wondering what kind of world, really, was out there, where this kind of random and monstrous thing could happen.
A few days later the prize from the radio came in the mail.
The song by John Lennon, the song I've pretty much been singing in my head this entire month--