John Lennon’s last days were filled with professional and domestic routines characteristic of both a typical wealthy New Yorker and a legendary rock star and activist: making breakfast and watching Sesame Street with his son Sean, going on epic shopping sprees, spending late nights in the studio, staging demonstrations, arguing with his retinue of servants and hangers-on. After five years in semi-retirement, or “siegelike retreat,” spent raising Sean, John Lennon seemed ready to emerge from seclusion and renew his career. On his final day, December 8, 1980, he was feeling hopeful about his creative future. He had just learned that his album with Yoko, Double Fantasy, had gone gold, and he and Yoko were engaged in promotion, and were looking forward to their next musical endeavor.
That morning, Annie Leibovitz and her assistant came to the Lennon’s apartment building, The Dakota, to shoot those now iconic photographs for Rolling Stone of the Lennons in bed. Meanwhile, a devoted fan named Paul Goresh, and Lennon’s murderer Mark David Chapman, started to hang around outside the building. Less than two hours later, a crew from San Francisco’s RKO radio arrived at The Dakota to interview John and Yoko. Interviewer Dave Sholin remembers meeting Lennon, who was getting dressed after the nude photo shoot: “the door opens and John jumps in with his arms extended, like ‘here I am folks!’ We were meeting John Lennon and we were all maybe a little nervous but that just put us right at ease in probably less than a minute.” “He was a regular guy, very, very sharp and extremely quick witted,” Sholin continued. “And he connected with all of us. He had been out of the public eye for five years and he was open to speaking about anything. He did not hold back.”
You can hear that interview as John and Yoko talk in great detail about Double Fantasy, about parenting, about meeting, falling in love, and working together. Lennon also talks about his social vision and the need for “holistic” solutions to “stop this paranoia of 90-year old men playing macho games with the world and possibly the galaxy.” Notably, he offers his assessment of the cultural shifts from the sixties through the seventies.
The bit about the sixties we were all full of hope and then everybody got depressed and the seventies were terrible – that attitude that everybody has; that the sixties was therefore negated for being naïve and dumb. And the seventies is really where it’s at, which means, you know, putting makeup on and dancing in the disco – which was fine for the seventies – but I don’t negate the sixties. I don’t negate the seventies. The … the seeds that were planted in the sixties – and possibly they were planted generations before – but the seed… whatever happened in the sixties the… the flowering of that is in the feminist, feminization of society. The meditation, the positive learning that people are doing in all walks of life. That is a direct result of the opening up of the sixties. Now, maybe in the sixties we were naïve and like children everybody went back to their room and said, ‘Well, we didn’t get a wonderful world of just flowers and peace and happy chocolate and, and, and it wasn’t just pretty and beautiful all the time’ and that’s what everybody did, ‘we didn’t get everything we wanted’ just like babies and everybody went back to their rooms and sulked. And we’re just gonna play rock and roll and not do anything else . We’re gonna stay in our rooms and the world is a nasty, horrible place ’cause it didn’t give us everything we cried for’, right? Cryin’ for it wasn’t enough. The thing the sixties did was show us the possibility and the responsibility that we all had. It wasn’t the answer. It just gave us a glimpse of the possibility, and the seventies everybody gone ‘Nya, nya, nya, nya’. And possibly in the eighties everybody’ll say, ‘Well, ok, let’s project the positive side of life again’, you know? The world’s been goin’ on a long time, right? It’s probably gonna go on a long time… ”
After the interview, Sholin boarded a plane back to San Francisco, and John and Yoko went back to work, meeting with producer Jack Douglas. When they returned home that night, they found Mark David Chapman still waiting outside The Dakota with his .38. At 11:15 that night, Lennon was pronounced dead at Roosevelt Hospital.