Unfortunately, that is all we can do. Wonder what the musical landscape and the world would look like if John Lennon were alive to celebrate his 70th birthday tomorrow. Maybe I overstate his importance, maybe, like any true believer, I imbue him with almost supernatural powers. But as we learned thirty years ago, Lennon was mortal, flesh and bones, not a deity, not a super hero, just a man with a gift that he shared with us for a short time.
I've had a hard time even looking back on Lennon over these now three decades. It's as if the wound is still too raw to touch. So I haven't read the most recent books or watched the most recent movies. I find it easier not to think about him being gone. But on milestones like this one, it's hard to ignore. So, since words fail me when I try and talk about what Lennon meant to me, I'll resort to a bit of a cop out. Here are some of my favorite songs of his.
I know others might list Imagine first and I'm sure they love the message in that uplifting song. But not me. I like the biting Lennon edge in this song much more. Yet, he still conveyed a positive message, no matter how pissed he might have been when he wrote the song.
"Why in the world are we here? Surely not to live in pain and fear."
Yoko Ono has polarized people since she first burst onto the international scene. But she inspired John and he loved her and that's good enough for me. This may seem like a simple song, musically, lyrically, but I think it's one of the most beautiful love songs ever written as much for its simplicity as the unbridled joy.
"My love will turn you on."
Lennon was the everyman, born of humble beginnings, raised not by his parents but by his strict aunt, in a working class neighborhood of Liverpool. He was too smart for his own good, too artsy, too talented. He didn't fit it. But he found others if not like him at least with whom he could share something. A yearning for something more. I don't know of any song that better expresses what it is to be human.
"they hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool"
I'm thrilled to add this video. Lennon looking young, with that twinkle in his eye. His vocals were amazing, gravelly, sexy, yet gentle. I don't know how he managed the duality, the sweet and dangerous, the innocent and the impish. He could have been a movie star, the camera loved him.
"How could she say to me, love will find a way?"
Lennon's love songs have that something extra. They're never sappy or cliche, they're just raw emotion. So even with the cutesy music (is that a clavichord?), it still feels so real.
"i know I'll often stop and think about them"
Of course, there's a flip side to love. And in this song, Lennon touches on the complex feelings that can come up in any relationship. There's a reason this has been covered by so many, it is such an emotional song with a very uncensored admission of wrongdoing. For a gender not known for being open about feelings, Lennon gave them a song to lay it all out there.
"I was swallowing my pain"
This one is really hard to watch. Autobiographical, and sadly ironic, the song expresses Lennon's contentment with his life outside of rock. Whether the picture of the Mr. Mom was accurate or not, the message of someone stepping out of the public eye and enjoying the simpler things rang true. The shocking fact that the minute he stepped back into "the game" he was taken down by an assassin's bullet makes this song so wrenching.
"surely you're not happy now, you're no longer playing the game"
I could go on forever. I hope people take tomorrow's anniversary as an excuse to look back at all his songs both during and post Beatles. There's so much there, it's hard to imagine someone so gifted walked the earth. And it's hard to imagine he never will again. Imagine...