Okay. First of all let me start off by saying that I have been a musician (piano and more recently guitar – and the spoons) since I was a youngster. And very few bands influenced me more than the Fab Four. And of said mop-tops from Liverpool, Paul was my favorite but I always thought John Lennon was a little cooler in his edginess and willingness to explore musically…sometimes brilliantly (“She Said, She Said”) other times embarrassingly (“number 9?…number 9?…number 9?)
It was with great sadness this thirteen year old heard the news from Howard Cosell, thirty years ago today in fact, on Monday Night Football, that he’d been murdered by that scumbag Mark David Chapman. Actually, if I may borrow from Dennis Miller, I take that back for that would be an insult to bags of scum.
Fact: John Lennon changed the music scene for the better and enriched rock-and-roll and all off-shoots from the Sixties onward in a profound way that only a truly gifted artist could. Still, like his partner Paul, John’s music was never quite so there after the Beatles broke up, showing that a unique synergy did exist, even if by the end they were writing by themselves and for themselves.
That last observation is just a hint of honesty that I think is necessary to remember him properly. To eulogize Lennon the man rather than just the music takes some frank talk. And no Lennon song so instills in me the urge to have an adult discussion with the legions of fans who see not just a musician but rather a mystically enlightened figure than his anthem of the hippy pacifist culture: “Imagine.” It is a beautiful piece, elegant in its simplicity of melody. But the lyrics, quite frankly, irk me.
“Imagine no possessions. I wonder if you can.” What I wonder more is whether those who sing this modern-day kumbaya, an homage to an equalitarian society that Orwell would scoff at, are aware that the man who penned these words was worth an estimated $150 million when he died – much if it in real estate, including five apartments claimed in the Dakota co-op on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Three units just for storage–for all those possessions he couldn’t imagine … I guess. It sort of deflates the message, does it not? At least it reveals that, for all his talent, Lennon was at his core a textbook limousine liberal who bounced from four-star hotels, to luxury private jets, to castles in the country and posh penthouses in the glitziest of cities to pontificate his world without class, borders, countries, God or, of course, possessions.
Still, the faux sanctimony of his political and social views do not in my mind diminish by one iota the beauty and sheer musical genius I hear in that incredible whirlwind of creativity and almost vertical artistic development that would bring us from Rubber Soul to the amazing Abbey Road in an astonishingly short span of five years. (Yeah, yeah, I know. They were roughly 1962-70, but the Soul to Road period is when they went ballistic!)
So for me, John Lennon has always been what he truly was. An artist. And that is how he should be remembered. Like other members of the creative class who find so much fault with how the rest of us unenlightened trolls live our lives while never getting a whiff of the aroma of their own hypocrisy, Lennon may have been so lost inside himself that he never bothered to peer through his signature horn-rimmed glasses far enough see the world as it was, and his role as a willing participant in that same world he would have denied others.
All this being said, one’s shortage of political clarity should not lessen our appreciation for him as an extraordinary artist and, more important, a decent chap.
Lennon was both.
And so I plan on going home tonight, chilling out, and maybe, just maybe, allow myself to “turn off my mind, relax and float downstream.”
Thank you, John. You are missed.