John Lennon’s 70th birthday is on October 9th, 2010. Or should that be would have been? Nearly 30 years since Mark Chapman brutally snuffed out Lennon’s life on December 8th, 1980, in New York City, it still seems strange to talk about the most gifted Beatle in the past tense.
Lennon Loved Words as Much as Music
My own personal memories of John Lennon’s death remain as clear as day. I was listening to the radio late at night in England, and a woman’s voice coldly announced that John Lennon had been shot. My horror turned to relief because there was no mention that he had died or was dying. I carried on listening, but, my early optimism faded, as I heard that one of the major musical figures of the 20th Century had died of his injuries. John Lennon was 40. I was just turned 21. Like a multitude of others, I listened to Beatles music all day, and oh yeah, the tears flowed throughout.
With Paul McCartney, and on his own, John Lennon wrote some of the greatest songs ever, including A Day in the Life, Strawberry Fields Forever, In My Life and Imagine, as well as the anthemic Give Peace a Chance. Lennon could write the traditional pop song such as Help! and A Hard Day’s Night, but he loved words as much as he did music, and he was a fan of the nonsense poetry of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll, which seemed to influence Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and I Am the Walrus – or was that the drugs?!
A Genius, but Complex
John Lennon was a genius and a man of peace, but he was a complex character. He could be spiteful and cruel, but Lennon was often breathtakingly honest, or even hard, on himself and the other Beatles. Though known as nice guys in the music industry, John Lennon did refer to himself and the other Beatles in a famous 1971 Rolling Stone interview as “bastards”. It was an interview which really summed up the contradictions within Lennon himself, as he attacked his fellow Beatles, but said that he loved them all the same.
As part of Britain’s greatest post-World War Two songwriting team with Paul McCartney, Lennon was more than just a brilliant songwriter. He was one of the voices of a very vocal ’60s generation, which included Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Timothy Leary, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Peter Coyote, Vanessa Redgrave, Allen Ginsberg and Pete Townshend. Though Yoko Ono was often derided at the time, and still is by some, her influence did seem to push John Lennon into a new direction of not only speaking his mind, as he always had, but in using his voice for causes such as anti-war protests and social justice.
A Life of Dramatic Highs and Lows
Lennon’s was an eventful life, which was laced with dramatic highs and lows, but there nearly always seems to be a trade-off for the gifted, and John Lennon was no different to Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Holly in having his life cut short. Lennon had already experienced tragedy, as a teenager, when his mother Julia was killed by a police car, which possibly fanned the flames of Lennon’s anti-establishment views. Millions wanted to be in John Lennon’s shoes, but being a Beatle often seemed like torture for Lennon.
Born in the middle of a German air raid on Liverpool in 1940, John Lennon’s life ended where it had begun, under the shroud of the violence he himself despised. Lennon’s legacy seems to know no bounds, and even the guy who didn’t rate Strawberry Fields Forever must be impressed by that.
The Rolling Stone Interview: John Lennon (text and podcast) | IMAGINE PEACE (contains strong language)