Friday, October 8, 2010

Imagine John Lennon at 70

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...


  1. I truly understand and thank you for saying so clearly what I also feel.

    Debbie+John 4ever.
    "Don't 'nore me, Mimi."


  2. There's never gonna be another John Lennon. It's sad to realize the musical greats pass on too early (Hendrix, Jeff Buckley, Joplin...) but Lennon died tragically, which is heart-wrenching for a long Beatle fan as myself. I would've never known good music if not for them.

    Shari you wonder what if Lennon is still alive today? My guess is he'll prolly spew at what the music has been over the years. Gaga, Bieber, Spears? Ahhh it burrnnns!

  3. Yes, Drew, I do think you're correct that Mr. Lennon would not be enamoured with the Brittany Spears of this world, but there is still good music being made - Amos Lee, Black Keys, to name a couple. It's just that good music is pushed aside on radio, TV and instead pap like Lady Gaga is heralded as the new second coming.

    We, the viewing, buying public are complicit in this because we sit and watch it instead of rising up and saying... "what the hell is this? We want MUSIC not CRAP." We don't support good artists by buying their songs... we download them illegally thinking we're getting a deal. We don't teach our children what good music is so they end up thinking Bieber is fantastic.

    I think Mr. Lennon would nail us, the public, as well as the music industry.

  4. music is very personal,i love music from the 70's&80's would never buy or listen to Bieber,GaGa or Spears.absolutely love Lennon,Seeger,SRV,Clapton,Heart,R.Charles,Edgar & Johnny winter,casey James has such a feel for all of these musical talents.

  5. Well, I myself a a lover of the Beatles, and a lover of John Lennon. to say that when he was killed I was shaken to my core is an understatement, I loved him deeply. I don't know how many albums I have left, but I was just looking at them the other day and thinking, now why did I give any of them away and why did I give my John and Yoko away. Well, because I am getting older and want my kids and friends to enjoy them while I am alive so we can chat about them. John and Yoko, or Yoko or John ( my memory fails me) wrote a song about one of the boys, and I loved it so much, it was called BEAUTIFUL BOY, and when I think of that song, I think of Casey James, and what an amazing talent he is. I love so many artists, because I have been blessed in my life to have attended some mighty fine concerts, so when , like John, we lose them, it truly breaks my heart. And I will miss John Lennon the rest of my life, just like I miss Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash,SRV, Waylon Jennings, and Elvis Aron Presley, too many to name. They all did their on thing and left their mark in this world.I really don't think the singers of today like the Beibers, and Spears, and GAGAs, will be remembered 30 + years after they are gone, or better yet, while they are still here, they
    don't have the staying power. but we still have some good ones left as has been pointed out, me, I am already worrying about what I'm going to do when Willie and Merle are gone, I have spent my whole life with them. Just makes me sad,I really miss John, thanks again for all the " fawning " you do girl, we need you in our corner!! Great job as usual!

  6. Thanks for this Shari. I wept reading it and watching the videos. John Lennon's death plunged a knife into the heart of the collective. That kind of wound doesn't heal. We'll all carry it to our graves. At the request of Yoko a couple days ago, videos are being posted in memory of John's 70th.
    Here's her message to us today and the pages full of responses. Jeff Bridges said it well: "I'm the Walrus".

  7. Thanks for everyone sharing their feelings about John. I remember thirty years ago today my friend Maggie and I celebrated John's 40th birthday not knowing it would be his last. Sharing his music and what he meant to us is a good way to spend this birthday!

  8. Rest in peace. He/The Beatles was my first love. I am happy to say, my kids have been listening to the Beatles since they were born and have a distaste for the pop crap that is out now. Just like anything...gotta expose them to the good stuff! If they grow up on McDonald's and never have real food, that is what they will prefer! Same goes for music... Thanks for writing this :)

  9. I remember hearing that John Lennon had died and going home with tears streaming down my face. My parents asked me why I was so strongly affected. They loved his music too, but it wasn't personal to them. While they thought it was terribly sad, they didn't understand why I could so take to heart the death of a man who was a stranger to me.
    I stood there and had to articulate what he really meant to me, and why I could be so personally affected by the loss of someone simply because their music touched me profoundly. So many of those reasons were touched on in this article. Simply put, he started out as an intelligent and feeling voice who sung out at a time when a catchy tune about love was more important than the depth of emotion behind the true meaning of that four-letter word. And that was only the beginning of what he expressed and the way he made us ponder the world.

  10. This is an amazing tribute, Shari, and I daresay as only a woman could write. It's touching and sad and joyful all at once. You chose beautiful music and videos. I was out of town when you posted this, so i'm just not getting around to it, but I'm so glad I did! Thank you.

  11. @CJFan_Audrey (Twitter)October 13, 2010 at 8:30 PM

    Thanks for this tribute :) I am in a different generation from Lennon, but somehow his music brings all together. He had a gift for articulating such profound feelings and thoughts, simply. He truly was wise beyond his years and he has left behind him wisdom we can learn from in his music. I love him :)