John Lennon died today.
Silenced by the gun of a lunatic, one of the world's greatest and most important voices was extinguished 31 years ago. I wasn't around 31 years ago, so I never had the opportunity to hear a new song by John Lennon.
I never got to hear the man speak, or to see him perform in concert.
An entire lifetime's worth of songs, and messages, and creativity, gone.
Because of a man with a gun.
"I'm shot, I'm shot," Lennon muttered as he collapsed on the steps of the Dakota and began the grisly process of bleeding to death.
"Remember love. The only hope for any of us is peace. Violence begets violence. If you want to get peace, you can get it as soon as you like if we all pull together."
I am not a Lennon authority, or a Lennon historian, or an expert, or what have you. I am simply a fan and an admirer; someone who has been touched by a man who died before I was born and who had no connection to my family, other than that his were the songs of my mother and father's generation.
They would pass those songs and the messages within down to me.
I was a Beatles fan at a young age. One Christmas, my parents bought me every single Beatles album, including the then-new Anthology discs. At first, because I was young, I liked certain songs.
"When I was about twelve, I used to think I must be a genius, but nobody's noticed. Either I'm a genius or I'm mad, which is it? "No," I said, "I can't be mad because nobody's put me away; therefore I'm a genius." Genius is a form of madness and we're all that way. But I used to be coy about it, like me guitar playing. But if there's such a thing as genius — I am one. And if there isn't, I don't care."
"Let it Be" was an early favorite.
For the most part, I listened to the same tracks on the same records--mostly Let it Be--over and over again. I left a lot of the catalogue untouched, preferring instead to stick with those favorites.
And then I listened to Revolver.
I remember hearing that album for the first time and deciding shortly thereafter that it was my favorite Beatles album. It was different than the others. There was nothing overtly commercial about it (other than "Yellow Submarine," of course, but that was Ringo's!).
And then I listened to Rubber Soul. And, well, that changed everything for me. An album of staggering brilliance, Rubber Soul gave us "In My Life."
And I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I loved you more
As I got older, I started to read about John Lennon--not John the Beatle, mind you--but John Lennon the artist, John Lennon the man. There is a difference. I started listening to Lennon's solo albums; I started reading interviews conducted in the post-Beatles era.
The more I read, the more I liked. He was smart--much smarter than me--and witty, and funny, and so up on the latest news and politics. He had very strong beliefs, and instead of holding them inside he let those beliefs out. He shared them and he fought for them.
"For our last number, I'd like to ask your help. Would the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands. And the rest of you, if you'll just rattle your jewelry."
There were lots of things that John and Yoko did that seemed...well, they seemed strange. Weird. Avant-garde, even (though Lennon probably hated that term). I think a lot about the peace protests and Lennon's timeless Christmas song. I think about John Sinclair and I think about society today and how Lennon's voice would surely be just as important and vital now as it was back then.
"...part of our policy is not to be taken seriously because I think our opposition, whoever they may be, in all their manifest forms, don't know how to handle humor. You know, and we are humorous, we are, what are they, Laurel and Hardy. That's John and Yoko, and we stand a better chance under that guise because all the serious people, like Martin Luther King and Kennedy and Gandhi got shot."
I know that Lennon wasn't big on hero worship, and if he happened upon this post he'd likely think I have too much time on my hands. He'd probably also be pretty angry that I've posted this on the anniversary of his death, rather than, say, on his birthday.
"It's better to fade away like an old soldier than to burn out. I don't appreciate worship of dead Sid Vicious or of dead James Dean or of dead John Wayne. It's the same thing. Making Sid Vicious a hero, Jim Morrison — it's garbage to me. I worship the people who survive. Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo."
Still, I wanted to say something today of some significance, but I don't want to deify anyone. Lennon was a flawed man, as we all are. His relationship with his first son was in stark opposition to the views expressed in his songs. He drank and he did drugs and, well, let's face it. He was one of the two reasons the Beatles broke up.
But in the end, Lennon left us with music filled with messages of peace and hope. To affect the thoughts and passions and lives of people many generations removed is truly special. His was a beautiful life, and one worth celebrating and worth remembering.
"All we are saying is give peace a chance."