Where were you the night John Lennon died?

"Where were you the night John Lennon died?" That's my memorable moment at University of Illinois, published by the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette. They are commemorating the 150th anniversary of the uni with a weekly series by graduates.

I was working at The Daily Illini, and all the news was all John, all night:

Cullen was skimming the AP ticker — "a rickety old 19th century contraption that supposedly ticked, but definitely clacked each time a story came in" — when the news broke that John Lennon had been shot outside his New York residence and was pronounced dead on arrival at Roosevelt Hospital.

"Someone had stationed the ticker right around the corner from the 'rim,' where the copy editors sat, so we could hear it clacking," he says. "Your ears told you how lively the world was: most nights, it sat silent for long stretches, but when things got crazy, it was relentless, and it never rested that night.

When the editor there asked me for a memory, I actually submitted two, both at the DI. I'm not surprised he picked that one, but I actually prefered the other. Here it is:

But most of my memories were rosy, I'm happy to say. The one etched most deeply, because my eyes constantly rested upon it, is a tiny line of graffiti, less than half an inch high, scratched into the mortar between the bricks at eye level above the only three old urinals way down the corridor in the back of Illini Hall. I stared right at it, and repeated it in my head hundreds of times, every pee: "Though it nearly took a miracle to get you to stay, it only took my little fingers to blow you away."

That was my introduction to Elvis Costello. Punk rock had peaked in England in 1977, but hadn't made it to my Chicago suburb, or me, until I got to Champaign freshman year in 1979, where it was a revelation. I reported to The Daily Illini and they put me to work before my first class, so I literally began my college education there, and it was later that fall that I expanded it with my copy of of My Aim Is True, heard "Watching The Detectives" and the urinal line came alive.

It only occurred to me later that both centered on a shooting. Hmmmmm. That whole Columbine thing may have done more to my psyche than I realized.

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