On December 8, 1980, I was a sophomore at the University of Maryland. And I spent a lot of my time at the college newspaper, the Diamondback.
In those days, the newsroom had an old-fashioned Associated Press teletype machine – the “ticker” – and it was constantly clacking with news stories from the AP.
When a major story broke, the ticker had an alert system to let everybody know. It was a bell. Depending on how big the news was, the bell would ding once, or twice, or three times... up to five.
Five bells was very rare. Five bells was huge. Five bells and editors ran to the ticker to see what the fuck just happened.
The murder of John Lennon got five bells. The only other time I remember hearing five bells was when President Reagan was shot.
Actually, I hope I’m not conflating those two events in my head. My memory isn’t flawless. But I have long associated Lennon’s death with the image of students gathered around the AP ticker, looking grim.
About 12 hours before he was shot, John Lennon recorded an interview, along with Yoko Ono, in the offices of Geffen Records. That interview was recently reissued on CD as “Testimony: The Life and Times of John Lennon In His Own Words.”
This 14-track album is downloadable from eMusic, Amazon.com and iTunes.
I’m streaming a 1-minute clip on my Vox site, wherein Lennon recalls meeting Paul McCartney for the first time... when they were both adolescents. Click here to listen.
(The top photo is © 1974 Bob Gruen, and is used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.)