Yoko Ono At 91. A Generation’s Last Gasp


As I swept through X this morning looking for bits of news for The Bulldog, trending was Yoko Ono.

Clicking on it, one fears that another icon of our Baby Boomer youth had died. Thank goodness she had not. Instead, today is her birthday. She is 91.

How did Yoko Ono turn 91? We see her perpetually in the media on the arm of John Lennon though he is long gone.

In the news, images remain timeless. Reality is much different.

I apologize for making this personal, but Lennon’s death was a watershed for me.

That evening I was at a Winnipeg Free Press editor’s apartment watching Monday night football. It was 1980 and I was fresh out of journalism school two years previous. The managing editor had taken a shine to me and had made me a senior editor in charge of features at that historic old paper. I sat in newspaper legend John W. Dafoe’s desk in the creaky old FP building.

Almost everyone in the newspaper knew more about journalism than I but I was a quick learn, loved the craft, worked extremely hard and was ridiculously determined. I learned management in the hell fire of a newsroom. The pressure was unbelievable and would have killed an older man.

As Monday night football concluded, famous sportscaster and professional blowhard Howard Cosell read aloud shocking news. John Lennon had been murdered by a gunman in New York with Ono at his side.

In 1980, youth culture was in full bloom helping shape the society that we know today. One of its touchstones was Lennon and his wife. Those kinds of people were not supposed to die. In a society with a much more concentrated media than today, Lennon was impossibly popular and headline-making … his Montreal bed-in for peace, his marriage to the controversial and odd Ono, the couple that broke up The Beatles, the man who wrote Imagine.

His death shook the world but for me it was much more practical.

“Should I go into work?” I asked the much more experienced sports editor.

“I wouldn’t leave it to the night desk.”

So I jumped into the car, parked it on the street in front of the paper and took the venerable old elevator up to the ancient FP newsroom where the night and sports desks were busily assembling the next day’s news.

“I’ll take the Lennon story,” I told the night desk and ripped up the entertainment front we had so carefully crafted in the afternoon and started looking through the wires for good copy. That was fine with the night news editor because he didn’t want to remake the whole front section. There were lots of superb stories. Lennon’s death had touched a nerve.

The best piece (in my-not-especially humble opinion, story selection is a beauty contest) was by a young unknown entertainment reporter from the Chicago Sun-Times named Roger Ebert. He went on to become the foremost film critic of our generation. Might have made a good pick on that one.

So I found some photos and designed and edited the page, filled it out with other Lennon stories, wrote some headlines and cutlines and husbanded it through the composing room and off to the presses. It turned out fine, I think, and I waited for the first edition of the morning paper to proof it and correct mistakes. I would replate it with corrections for the second main press run.

In the middle of the night, I tiredly walked back to my car to go home. It was cold, windy, dark, lonely and empty like only downtown Winnipeg can be in early December in the not-so-wee-hours of the morning. Empty was good because the north side of Portage Avenue was a bit of a dicey place. The normal residents were a tad … earthy.

My radio was on in the car. The station was playing John Lennon songs. I swept through the AM dial. Every station was playing John Lennon. Even country music stations had Lennon on heavy rotation.

You had a feeling the world had changed. That your young days of rushing to buy Sgt. Pepper’s or Revolver or Magical Mystery Tour and listening to it with your friends in your parent’s rec room were over. The Beatles were gone and one of them was killed, violently. It was one of the first signs that the cultural and news centre had begun to split. That we were no longer a monoculture where we all knew and heard the same things. This was the pop environment losing its leader and the night and the cold reflected that realization. Society was fragmenting until we see the cultural and information chaos of today.

The Beatles were gone and Lennon was gone and society began to split into a million pieces with each little group echoing in its own little chamber. Now people can live on the same street but in widely different worlds. The centre has collapsed and today we have left only information chaos. Our touchstones are disappearing. The once-young Ebert is gone. Cosell is gone. Even the wise old sports editor is gone. The night news editor is gone. So too the assistant city editor that night … one of my best friends. For that matter, the city editor is gone. I feel like the last guy standing from those long, lost, exciting days. I feel like the only guy who remembers. The only guy who cares. What was vital then is just a footnote in my memory. It was once a shared memory. Now it’s just mine.

But for me then, well I was an adult at 26. I’d just told a million people in Manitoba, eastern Saskatchewan, northwestern Ontario and northern North Dakota that an icon had passed. I wasn’t a kid listening to Beatles albums anymore. I did something that mattered. I grew up. I didn’t know it then but I see it now.

Yoko Ono is still alive at 91. She is one of the few remnants of our youth and as long as she lives, the faint memories of a generation might still flicker. Imagine.

Ken Gray


John Lennon shot 12-8-80 Howard Cosell tells the world twice John Lennon was dead.

Howard Cosell announcing John Lennon’s death.


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4 Responses

  1. Theresa says:

    Ken, Thanks for sharing this. Yes, John Lennon’s death was quite a blow to many of us. We are fortunate that during his short life he was able to leave us with so many fond memories — Beatlemania, great music and inspiring lyrics.

  2. Jake Morrison says:

    Thank you, Ken, that was beautiful.

  3. Ken Gray says:

    Thank you, Jake. k

  4. Robert Roberts says:

    The days of the lone gunman, The Manchurian Candidate. JFK, RFK, MLK.

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