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Tom Petty discusses the day John Lennon was killed


Anyone with enough winters under their belt will tell you they remember exactly where they were when John Lennon was killed. The former Beatle was fatally wounded when Mark Chapman fired five hollow-point bullets into Lennon’s back. Within a few hours, he was dead. The world united in mourning for the musician, a man who had helped characterise the jubilant and explorative mood of the 1960s.

For Tom Petty, Lennon had been an important influence. He would go on to work with The Beatles and even befriend John. On the day of Lennon’s death, Petty was working on ‘A Woman In Love’. He was still in the studio when he received the call. “We just thought it was nonsense,” he recalls in Conversations with Tom Petty. “And then a call came right back in about 15 minutes that said that John’s dead”.

Two years later, Lennon’s death was still felt fresh. Talking to Playboy, the singer opened up about his emotions in the aftermath. “His death hurt real bad, still hurts,” Petty began. “Each time I see his picture or hear him sing, I immediately get pissed off that some fucking jerk could just blow him away. In fact, the only two people I have ever looked up to, idolised — Lennon and Elvis — are both dead. And I’m not someone into idols.

Petty added: “I was in the studio when Lennon died. My producer, Jimmy Iovine, had worked on a few of John’s albums, and Ringo was recording just down the hall from me. The day before John died, we heard that he was planning to come out and so something with Ringo, and I thought, Great! He’ll be right next door. When he got shot, Jimmy got a call with the news. We went on working for a while, then stopped. The spark was gone. It hurt for so long, it fucked me up.”

Lennon’s death came at a bad time for Petty: “My mom died the same year,” he continued. “It was a black year. But I don’t worry about it much now. I saw the Stones recently on cable TV, and there was some guy who ran onstage and went for Keith. Keith jabbed him in the head with his Telecaster. I stood up and cheered. Fucking A, no one’s gonna shoot Keith. It’s the attitude you have to take.”

Petty would go on to leave a secret message for John Lennon on Hard Promises, the album he’d been working on when he heard about the shooting: “If you ever see a vinyl copy of Hard Promises,” Petty mentions in Conversations, “Etched in the run-out groove, you’ll see, ‘We love you, J.L.’ We etched it in the groove at the mastering plant.” A fitting tribute indeed.

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