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The day John Lennon died, my 9-year-old son A.J. and I were in New York City. We were in town dealing with the never-ending litigation related to my late husband, Jim Croce. Jim had died in a plane crash in 1973, but the litigation lived on. We had returned to our hotel after another long day of mean-spirited depositions. Our room overlooked Central Park, and A.J. was looking out the window when he noticed people acting strangely down below. From our window we could see people crying and embracing, while others had dropped to their knees weeping.

We thought that the President had been shot, and immediately I thought of John Kennedy. We turned on the TV and learned the terrible news. Both A.J. and I were fans of the Beatles, and I was fortunate to have met John Lennon in Los Angeles in the late '70s. It seemed like such a personal loss, and I was flooded with the memories of when Jim had died. We spent a very sad night watching the news and thought about going over to the Dakota, but it all seemed too overwhelming. Every December, I am reminded of that sad night and how much the world needs John Lennon today.

— Ingrid Croce, owner, Croce's Top Hat Bar & Grill

The loss of Lennon was one that had me caught between two eras. I was in fourth grade when he was shot, attending an inner-city school. If we had been told that Marvin Gaye had been shot (a news flash still a few years in the offing), I think we all would have been struck more dramatically. As it was, there was much more shrugging than wailing. At the same time, my parents were too old to have been Beatles fans, so I'm not sure the subject even came up at home. But one of my classmates was pretty worked up about it, and this got me interested.

I decided that it was some kind of double-digit-aged rite of passage, to be a Beatles fan, so I began getting books and magazines on the Beatles...without actually listening to any of the music. There were no Beatle records at my home, and while my uncle owned many, all he wanted to talk about was the Lovin' Spoonful. I knew snatches of songs, but that was it. Because I only had books and magazines to rely on, I ended up having less interest in the Beatles than in '60s marketing and media.

A year or so later (an eternity in kid-time), I ended up getting rewarded by my begrudging father with a copy of Rubber Soul, which interested me because of the cover. As much as I tried to like the Beatles, something about my genetic disposition made it a lost cause. My heart had been won by the Ink Spots; their records were in abundance in my mother's home. Luckily, she hung out with middle-aged lawyers, and while I continually found myself out of step on playgrounds and at dances, I held court at piano bars from age 11 onward.

But Ringo? Now, as a huge fan of Caveman, that loss would have shattered me.

— Patrick McCray, theater director, Objectivist author of Elvis Shrugged

"The dope-smoking commie fag is dead" was the secondhand newscast that announced Lennon's death to me. The words came from my stepfather when I asked why people were crying on the news.

I was 13 years old and knew of Lennon mostly as the Beatle who wasn't in Wings.

My stepfather's description was a treasure map to some undiscovered cool, as cool was defined as anything he hated.

He had analyzed my idols as "fags" (Kiss and Queen, one out of eight members), "Commies" (that included Richard Pryor and George C. Scott -- I guess he couldn't come up with a better category), and "dope smokers" (Cheech and Chong, in a rare moment of accuracy). To have someone be called all three was a hat trick I couldn't resist.

I never felt I missed out on anything by realizing his contributions so late. Paying closer attention to his Beatles material in contrast to Paul's made him my favorite Beatle after a few spins of Revolver.

There was a bounce in my step as I walked past my stepfather with Double Fantasy in plain view, daring him to say anything.

The lightness of youth was forever replaced with sadness at the unfairness of the universe when I listened to it. I realized in horror that, though Lennon had been silenced, Yoko's nails-on-chalkboard sonic blitzkrieg could go on forever.

— Spike Steffenhagen, Santee author, cocreator of Kiss's official bio KISStory

I was 15 years old the day Elvis Presley died. It was August 16, 1977. We were on summer vacation in Virginia Beach. Dad was driving, Mom rode shotgun, and I was in the back seat with my younger siblings. Somebody on the radio announced that Elvis had died, and my mother started crying. I remember thinking how weird that was. How strange that someone could actually mourn the death of a person they didn't even know. I kept asking her what the big deal was, and she kept waving me off from behind her tears. I figured it was probably some silly female thing.

At 15, one doesn't realize the degree to which the right music can affect a person. At 15, one cannot hear a song that brings him back to when he was 17. At 15, I was still listening to the Monkees and the Partridge Family and a good four or five months away from being turned on to the Beatles, my first true obsession.

It was probably "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" or "Please, Please Me" that got me started on the mop tops. Then I went and bought the red album, the blue album, every album I could get my hands on. For each birthday, I requested Beatles albums. Every Christmas I demanded, "More Beatles." After I exhausted the entire Beatles library, I dove into the solo stuff.

All illustrations by Jay Allen Sanford.

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