Sadly, my first memory of John Lennon was his death. It’s a terrible, inauspicious introduction to a man’s life, but I was very young, born long after The Beatles had come and gone. Only three years old, that I remember at all is rather strange. Faint images of sadness and confusion linger in the darker corners of my memory. Reporters spoke about it on the news in their bland, works-for-all-time-zones voices. I knew a wife and child were very sad that cold, December night.
Years later, I learned that Mr. Lennon was shot five times, killed by lunatic that couldn’t decide if his motives were religious, political, or pathological. History taught me that John Lennon was an important man, not just for his music, but for the message he brought to the world. Learning about this man and his dream only served to resurrect the sadness, this time with clear definition and subsequent confusion.
Why? In my eyes, Mr. Lennon was a man who cared very deeply about a world that didn’t care for itself. Unfortunately, history has also taught me that too many men with similar ideals have suffered similar fates.
But that day came and went. Later experiences with Lennon’s music painted a much brighter picture. Thankfully, I had many people in my life, namely my brother-in-law, whose musical catalogs reserved a special place for The Beatles and John Lennon. Admittedly, I enjoyed The Beatles popular music most. A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, Love Me Do… All these songs painted a clear picture of the generation that The Beatles fostered. It was a time of transition, change, acceptance. Frontiers were explored, boundaries broken. Teenagers broke through the catatonic molds that many endured in previous generations. They were people, with ideas and feelings; not robots to be educated, married, and pushed into work (or home keeping).
Then, at a peak of popularity that no other artist(s) had enjoyed, the Beatles abandoned the style that defined their career and changed their approach, forgoing the usual write-record-tour pattern to spend much of their time in the studio, creating new sounds, exploring new ideas and philosophies.
It was an adventurous time in music history, and I understood very clearly that all music since has owed something to John and Paul’s brilliance. Then, it all ended. As with many bands prior, the Beatles disbanded, leaving its members to pursue different destinies, none of which would bring them together again. History has placed blame in strange places, namely on Lennon’s and McCartney’s spouses. I’ve never given credence to those ideas. One only need listen to Watching the Wheels to understand John’s decision: “I just had to let it go.” Fame takes its toll, and history recalls that celebrity was not something with which Lennon was comfortable; fame made his music less personal, invading his privacy, his life, and the components that drove him creatively. Once detached from the umbilical that was the Beatles’ machine, Lennon’s career became one of self-exploration, a musical journey through a man’s perspective that didn’t understand the hate and nonsense that plagued our world. With chart hits and fame out of the equation, he would write music for himself and his family. As heard in his masterpiece Imagine, we were invited “to join [them]” along the path towards something better.
In later years, people thought him eccentric and crazy. Some Beatles fans never forgave him for his decision to leave the band. Many others didn’t understand his solo music. But the respect for his personality, intelligence, and charm–unspoken as sometimes it may have been–continued. The music from John Lennon–solo auteur and family man–was witty and satirical; thoughtful and imaginative; an invitation.
It is true. We lost an important man that December evening. Yet, moreso than the regret many feel in losing him, we celebrate the man who truly lived, enjoying the roller coaster, indulging passion, pursuing a utopian ideal that, for never, seemed felt out of reach.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Lennon. We still imagine. We still dream,.
Thank you for reading my article. In closing, I’ve chosen my favorite Beatles song, written by Lennon, one I feel suits the day perfectly.