Beatles fans remember that grim, sad night

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By Matt Hurwitz
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Dec. 8, 1980. That's a date every Beatles fan over 40 remembers: the day John Lennon was shot and killed. We all know where we were and what we were doing when we found out. It's hard to believe it's been 30 years - harder still to believe it happened at all.

I grew up in Potomac and became a Beatles fan in 1974, when my brother, Mark, gave me my first Beatles album - "Something New" from 1964. I immediately ran out to Waxie Maxie's in Congressional Plaza and bought all four of the Beatles' then-current solo singles. I was hooked.

I bought every album and single I could, building a pretty substantial collection (which I still have). On the night of Dec. 8, 1980, I was in the architecture school studio at the University of Maryland working late. The radio was tuned to DC101. A little after 11 p.m., I heard the DJ - who apparently read the copy cold - say, "This just in: Former Beatle John Lennon was shot and killed in New York City. Oh my God!"

I couldn't believe it. Was this really happening? Somebody would shoot a Beatle? Why John? What was all this?

Stunned, I just sat there listening to the report, until someone told me I had a phone call. My roommate, Jeff, had been watching "Monday Night Football," on which, like many Americans, he heard ABC's Howard Cosell break the news about John. Jeff immediately called me, wanting to know how I was doing. It was then that I cried.

John Lennon was dead.

I graduated from Maryland and eventually moved to Los Angeles, where I still live. Having rekindled my interest in the Beatles, I took over a Beatles fanzine, Good Day Sunshine, in 1995, and ran it for about five years.

The guy who sold me the magazine was Charles F. Rosenay!!! (yes, those exclamation points are legally part of his name). He began organizing Beatles fan conventions in 1978 and was planning one for Boston in December 1980.

Like me, a little after 11 p.m. on Dec. 8, he received a call from a friend who gave him the news. "I thought he was kidding, like another 'Paul is dead' hoax," Rosenay!!! says. "I hung up on him."

But the calls kept coming. He turned on the TV and heard the reports. Cosell repeated the news. Then a call from ABC Radio, and one from another network. "All I remember from that night was, for hours, doing interviews," he recalls. "They wanted a 'spokesperson,' someone who was a Beatles fan. They wanted to know how to get ahold of people who might have known John."

Rosenay!!! decided the convention - scheduled for that weekend - would go on. "The fans needed it. It was cathartic. We needed to commiserate and share together."

It wasn't until the next Monday, after the whirlwind of news and conventions had passed, that the reality of Lennon's death finally sank in. "I was driving in the car with my mom, and 'Starting Over' came on the radio. I pulled over, and I just started crying. For 20 minutes, I just cried. He was as close to me as someone could be without me knowing them," he says.


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