It's probably not important to remember where you were, what you were doing, when John Lennon was murdered on that cold New York street in 1980. John would have scoffed at that sort of thing anyway. In fact, John scoffed at a lot of things: men in suits, "thick" Christians, the Maharishi, and other worthy targets of scorn. Eventually he even scoffed at Paul McCartney; you'd almost think he'd had enough of silly love songs.

He'd certainly had enough of what he had been. "We gave everything for ten years," he had said, in the process of declining to appear in Paul's benefit concerts for Kampuchean refugees — George and Ringo had already signed on — early in 1980. "We gave ourselves. If we played now, anyway, we'd just be four rusty old men."

The three remaining rusty old men continue, mostly separately but sometimes in aggregate; somehow it's not the same without John. Never as strong a melodist as Paul, never as adept a guitarist as George, never as cheerful a bloke as Ringo, he was still John, wordsmith and cutup and searing social critic, the one Beatle you could always count on to be in somebody's face, the idealist in spite of himself, the definitive Sixties archetype. Even if you believe, as cultural historian