For John Lennon, it is a simple fact that even in death he brought the people of the world together, expressed our humanity,
and taught us how to rise above.
Veteran San Francisco media personality Steve Wagner was co-host, writer, and executive producer of the Bay Area television programs Reel Life and Filmtrip.
Steve has ghostwritten several published books, contributed articles on music, film, and popular culture to numerous publications, and presented lectures and workshops on music, art, and mythology throughout the U.S.
His book All You Need is Myth: The Beatles and Gods of Rock (2019), a study of the classic rock era through the lens of classical mythology, is the product of ten years of research and composition.
When it comes to “Where were you when…” moments, most of them are unfortunately not very positive. For every transcendent event like the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, there are a dozen Pearl Harbors and JFK assassinations. For me personally, hearing about the death John Lennon was a completely surreal and still unimaginable moment that remains seared in my mind. Beyond the personal loss of such a hero and guiding light in my life, John’s death marked an end to a certain idealism shared by global culture. Something of deep and intrinsic value in our lives was gone, and we would never be quite the same. A cherished piece of our collective heart had been torn from us for all time.
On that fateful night, I was with college roommates and friends partying instead of studying, upstairs in the apartment shared by a group of gals I still consider sisters to this day. The beer was flowing, the air was full of a sweet (and then-still-illegal) scent, and of course rock & roll was blasting out of the speakers. We also had the television on, watching Monday Night Football in the corner of the room. The sound of the game was barely audible beneath the din of conversation and the sounds from the stereo. Then, I thought I heard Howard Cosell say something about John Lennon, and my ears perked up. “Did Howard just say something about John Lennon?” I kept asking, but no one else had heard it. For a few minutes I wondered if I was hearing things, and though I chalked it up to the buzz in my head, I felt somewhat unsettled. When my roommate came upstairs and told me an old friend from St. Louis was on the phone down in our apartment, my heart sunk. I had a very bad feeling about this. Why would this old friend be reaching out to me NOW?
I think you know the sad answer to that question.
How can one put into words such a horrible, awful, needless, and deeply wounding thing?
Once I had somewhat gathered my thoughts, and spoken to maybe a dozen friends by phone, I settled into my room in a state of shock. Somehow, I found the energy to dig the album John Lennon—Plastic One Band out of my record collection and put it on the turntable. And then I cried my eyes out.
I’m going to play that album again now. I play it every year on this day, and it always feels like something I need to do. This most raw and visceral album of them all brings it all back in an unsettling rush of emotion, and makes me feel the gravity of John’s death all over again. But it also makes me feel close to John, like he is right there in the room with me. This album is like that. John was like that.
It was an ancient form of therapy for the community to gather around the fire and tell stories of struggle and pain along with their tales of triumph and heroism. It is a cathartic and crucial ritual, somehow reminding us that we are still here, and that we can, and indeed must, go on. The emotions we share with our brothers and sisters in such a time is a sacred mirror that shows us the best of who we are, even in those times when we might question our very humanity the most. For John Lennon, it is a simple fact that even in death he brought the people of the world together, expressed our humanity, and taught us how to rise above.
Where were you when John crossed over? How does the memory feel to you now? I’d love to hear your story and I thank you for reading mine. We’re all in this together.
Excerpt on John’s passing from All You Need is Myth: The Beatles and the Gods of Rock
John Lennon’s death was an event of truly mythic import, a “where were you when” moment as indelible as the Beatles’ Ed Sullivan appearance had been nearly two decades prior.
Tragic though it was, it further aligned John (and, in turn, the Beatles) with the mythic savior archetype in a manner more visceral than even his potent personal story and revolutionary art could inspire. With this single shocking incident, the temporal, archetypal, and communal mythology of the Beatles became one and the same; the historical reality, existential implication, and mass shared experience forever united through the loss of a global spiritual martyr. John, in death, instantly became an even greater symbol of love, peace, and transcendence than during his extraordinary and inspirational life.
Transcending the sense of underlying energy and the point of direct experience that is beyond the physical world, the logic of the brain, and, most frustratingly, language.
Representing the deeper feminine qualities of inner wisdom and intuitive process, concerns of ecology and equality, possession of hidden knowledge, and emphasis on truth and integrity, attributes of countless mythic goddesses of the ancient world.
Everything we experience in our material world is realized and created through a dance with its opposite.