It’s terrifying to think that it has been over thirty years now since John Lennon’s death. Thirty years, since a woman lost her husband, two young boys lost a father that neither of them truly got to know, and the world lost a hero that its never seen the likes of since.
In a strange sense, the anniversary of his death is also comforting: in those thirty years, Lennon has not become forgotten, forced to live only in the dusty memories of photo negatives and scratchy studio recordings. He is still alive among us, because the memories of him are relived for us by his friends, lovers, bandmates and children. For many, thirty years go by and the only ones still singing your songs are your intimate relations, the people who truly knew you and felt your love. But Lennon succeeded in creating this sense of intimacy with thousands – nay, millions – of people who he never even met. Many of whom, like me, were born years after his death.
I read an article yesterday that wondered what John Lennon would be like today. No doubt he would have continued to be a force in the music industry, pushing forward to create more radical sounds and challenging the norms of what is "good" music.
The article supposes that Lennon's life would have been most akin to the life of his former Beatle-mate George Harrison, who also left the world far too early. Which makes sense. Even though the two men differed in fundamental senses of their ideology – John imagined a world of “no religion,” whereas George searched for most of his life for a higher meaning – they were similar in several ways. Music was not about profit or celebrity, touring or accolades. That all came secondary. Music was their passion, but the celebrity that went along with their careers was just the spoiled bit that they had to swallow in order to do what they loved to do. George wanted to live the world as best he could so that he could reach some higher level of understanding – nirvana, salvation, it really depends on your religion as to how you view George’s quest.
But John wanted to change the world. His nirvana would come from encouraging people to wake up and live their lives the way they wanted to, not the way that people told them to. Whether he was begging for peace or spurring on revolution, touting the merits of artistic self-expression through living only for yourself before proclaiming that “love was all you need,” Lennon was nothing if not a contradiction.
But maybe that’s the source of his widespread appeal, the reason that he has garnered devoted fans worldwide over the last half-century. Through his contradictions, he is relatable to everyone. His emotions run the gamut A through Z. There is a little something there for everyone. Even if you can’t jive with the more political tones of his later work, maybe you have found yourself needing to “hide your love away” or feeling duped by a “Sexy Sadie” all your own. Or maybe it’s the notorious wit that has you, or his dalliance with Lewis Carroll-esque poetry, or his sketches of grotesque little creatures from his college days. Or, maybe you have caught yourself once or twice pulling a facial expression that you saw him do in the train scene of A Hard Day’s Night (you know the one I’m talking about).
In his personal life, he was notoriously hard on himself and on others. But through his own twisted expectations, he relieves his fans of a lot of their own guilt. He seems to be telling them to breathe steady because you’re not the only one. He wants you to love, but he identifies with your hate, he was a proponent of the avant-garde with a taste for the classics, he was tender as well as hard, weak as well as strong. There is something in John Lennon that everyone can identify with, even if what is identifiable for you is his inconsistencies. Whatever your feelings on Lennon’s musical career, his personal life, the way he treated his women and his sons, you can’t deny that he ultimate got what he wanted: he changed the world.