31 years. Hard to believe it’s been that long.
John Lennon was both a true original and a genuine human being. His life was a panorama of triumphs and failures, admirable qualities and inexplicable behavior. One minute he is leading a movement, the next in total withdrawal. His moods, passions and interests, often visible to the whole world, were ever-changing and unpredictable.
John Lennon was the process of becoming, personified. Searching, discovering, searching.
What I admired most about his musical artistry was his unwillingness to settle for the status quo. If he had chosen to do so, the Beatles could have continued releasing an endless stream of pop hits in the same vein as “Eight Days a Week,” raked in millions and retired quite comfortably at thirty. Instead, he kept pushing for something different, something new, something weird. Instead of doing what McCartney called “The Son of Please, Please Me,” he gave us “Tomorrow Never Knows,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” and “I Am the Walrus.” All of those songs stretched the concept of what was possible in modern rock. Not content with that, he pushed the limits further with “Revolution #9,” the track most people skip but in fact the defining track of the White Album. He was always pressing George Martin to make his voice sound different despite having one of the greatest voices in rock history.
Searching, discovering, searching: the core pattern of John Lennon.
He could have had any woman in the world and then some. He chose a Japanese artist with poor public relations skills. His fans hated her. He loved her, and that was that.
Dropping out of the public eye to be a stay-at-home father would be unthinkable for those mega-stars of today whose egos demand that they hang on long past their prime. The world expected new John Lennon music; he realized he was more than his music and had no obligation to live up to our expectations.
Searching, discovering, searching again.
He was a person who tried to turn fame into a positive force for change and was killed because of that fame, because of the madness that permeates a world that confuses fame with identity.
We miss him because no one has followed his example. The people we call stars today, even those who engage in apparent charity work, do nothing to challenge our thinking, our assumptions, our beliefs. They stay within their comfort zones and manage their images very carefully. They complain about the trap they find themselves in, the trap they created for themselves.
Unlike Lennon, they are exceedingly boring, and Lennon was never that.
Although “Imagine” would not make my top 10 list of Lennon songs, I deeply appreciate the message contained in “imagine there’s no countries . . . and no religion, too”. Lennon identified the two most destructive and unnecessary forces in the world today and encouraged us to believe we can live without them. Of course, those who draw power or identify from religion and politics would beg to differ, but Lennon has more credibility because he had no vested interest in the outcome.
I wish that instead of holding vigils at Strawberry Fields, people would commit to a lifetime of discovery, to search, discover and search again. Making us aware of that possibility is John Lennon’s greatest legacy.