ON a cold December night 35 years ago, Mark Chapman waited for John Lennon outside the New York City apartment building where the former Beatle lived with his wife Yoko Ono and his son.
Chapman, who was 25 at the time, had asked Lennon earlier that day for an autograph, which the former Beatle signed.
Yet five hours later, the killer, who said he wanted to be famous, opened fire with a .38 pistol hitting Lennon four times.
The 40-year-old musician collapsed, and bleeding profusely, was dead on arrival at hospital.
TV networks in the USA interrupted their Monday Night Football broadcast to announce news of Lennon’s death.
Within hours, the murder became front page news across the globe.
With his death on December 8, 1980, the world began to grieve.
Some 3,300 miles away in the coal steeped pit village of Darton in South Yorkshire, I woke to the news on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Like millions of others I felt numb with shock and grief.
Lennon, along with Bob Dylan, had been the soundtrack to my entire life. And for the past 10 years I had hung on every word and every chord these two singer-songwriters had ever played or sung.
As a trainee teacher I walked slowly to my school singing quietly the words to Imagine, and trying to focus on the day ahead.
Then the irony hit me…. just seven days earlier I had been teaching my fourth year class (10th Grade) about 1960s’ culture, and in particular the music and impact of The Beatles. Somehow I had to continue that day as the curriculum demanded, and follow with the social changes brought about by that decade.
I need not have worried.
My charges’ cruel teenage excitement and questions about the murder of John Lennon made the lesson faultless. They even allowed me to play a couple of his songs as a kind of “education”.
Here was the life, death and music of a true Working Class Hero of my generation.
The day passed and I hurried home to spend the evening listening on my Dansette casette/radio player to hours upon hours of music and eulogies to this amazing man and musician.
One song hit me that day and has stayed with me ever since.
How? is a song from Lennon’s second solo album Imagine, released in 1971. It is a contemplative song inspired by the primal therapy he was undergoing with his wife Yoko, where he faced many personal questions such as “How can I go forward when I don’t know which way I’m facing?”
It summed up my feelings on that cold winter’s day, and now 35 years later it still epitomises my life.
But before I reprint and reload the song, I must share another sad irony.
The BBC Radio 4 Today programme that brought me the news of Lennon’s death in 1980 was produced by my journalist uncle Rod Pounsett.
Rod sadly died yesterday, aged 76.
How can I go forward when I don’t know which way I’m facing? How can I go forward when I don’t know which way to turn? How can I go forward into something I’m not sure of? Oh no, oh no
How can I have feeling when I don’t know if it’s a feeling? How can I feel something if I just don’t know how to feel? How can I have feelings when my feelings have always been denied? Oh no, oh no
You know life can be long And you got to be so strong And the world is so tough Sometimes I feel I’ve had enough How can I give love when I don’t know what it is I’m giving? How can I give love when I just don’t know how to give? How can I give love when love is something I ain’t never had? Oh no, oh no
You know life can be long You’ve got to be so strong And the world she is tough Sometimes I feel I’ve had enough How can we go forward when we don’t know which way we’re facing? How can we go forward when we don’t know which way to turn? How can we go forward into something we’re not sure of? Oh no, oh no