“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

By Ken Clarke

It was a typically cold December night in Calgary as my girlfriend Leah and I were sitting on the couch in my southwest apartment. The sounds of Todd Rundgren’s Hermit Of Mink Hollow filled the living room from my stereo speakers as we exchanged descriptions of our respective days over cups of tea.

Then the phone rang. It was Leah’s best friend Sue, who sounded obviously distraught.

“I just heard on the radio that John Lennon has been shot,” she sputtered. “He’s been rushed to the hospital!”

“What are you talking about Sue?” I asked, wondering what kind of strange joke was going on.

“That’s all I know,” she replied. “I’ll let you guys know as soon as I hear anything more.” She hung up.

I relayed this bizarre conversation to Leah and we both thought it must be some kind of horrible radio mistake, or, more likely, an unfunny hoax. As we discussed the matter, I went to my stereo and proceeded to play side one of the newly released John and Yoko album, Double Fantasy, which had been receiving heavy rotation at my place. Since I didn’t own a radio of any kind, it seemed like the only course of action.

The phone rang again, this time being my friend Rick with the same awful news. “That’s all we know too,” I assured him and hung up. More people called with the same shaky information. Leah and I agreed this was getting too weird, as an uncomfortable feeling settled over the two of us. Then Sue phoned back.

“They’re saying John Lennon’s dead!” she cried. “He was shot outside his home and now he’s dead!”

I hung up and bolted for my bedroom closet where I stored an old television set. We tossed clothes and boxes around the room, extracting the set from its hiding place. To get a picture I was forced to jury-rig a makeshift antennae from a coat hanger and some tinfoil. Through the static emerged images of John and Yoko at their 1969 Montreal bed-in.

Leah and I exchanged worried expressions. This did not look good. Frantically searching for another channel we came across the Beatles performing on the Ed Sullivan show. Our hearts sank. Not long after settling on the channel, we were greeted with the grim face of a news-anchor telling us that John Lennon had been pronounced dead on arrival at a New York City hospital.

We turned off the TV and stood in silence. It was too surreal to believe. Just the night before I had enjoyed reading a wonderfully long and winding interview with Lennon in the latest Playboy magazine. He was so alive and happy about the new album.

I put on side two of Double Fantasy and began taking down the many Lennon posters adorning the walls of my apartment.

“What are you doing?” Leah asked solemnly. I just couldn’t bear to look at them.

When my alarm clock rang early the next morning, the previous night seemed like a bad dream. Seconds later reality set in and I asked Leah if she was okay. She assured me she was all right and I hurried off to my construction job. Later there was an accident on the site and the job foreman taxied me to the hospital in his truck. En route we discussed John and the Beatles. Following a lengthy wait in an empty room, a sombre faced doctor eventually appeared. He glanced up from his chart and asked me quietly, “Did you hear about John Lennon?”

Later that night I contacted a good friend of mine who at the time worked for the Calgary Herald. He was angry about overhearing the news editor telling someone to check the record store to see how Beatles and Lennon albums were selling. My friend couldn’t believe it. I told him how lame I thought it was that the Lennon story was at the bottom of the front page, below the fold. He was also pissed off and mentioned there was a debate as to whether to put Lennon on the front page at all. The top story was about that night’s city council meeting. Now, of course, nobody remembers that story or the meeting.

Today we can only imagine what Lennon would have accomplished in the past 25 years had he not been so senselessly taken away. December 8 will remain a bitterly cold date, regardless of the temperature.

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