Sunday, October 10, 2010

John Lennon

If John Lennon were still alive he would've been 70 yesterday; he died in 1980 when he was 40 years old. I watched The U.S. vs. John Lennon, which seemed as good a way as any to celebrate his birth. The radio station played “Nowhere Man”, a song Lennon wrote about himself, and no review of his life would be complete without mentioning the song “Imagine”. Lennon believed in peaceful revolution and advocated for human rights, especially where he saw their abuse. It's all there in his song, here's the message, paraphrased: Imagine no religion, no countries, nothing to kill or die for; no possessions, greed or hunger. Imagine sharing all the world, living for today, in peace. I wonder what Lennon would've said had he lived? His song is probably the most widely recognized in the world, a dream countless people still aspire to.

But Lennon's life was not a fairy tale.  He didn't really know his parents.  He seems to have been very abusive of people close to him in his earlier years.  His affair with Yoko Ono (who herself faced hardship in early life) led to leaving his first wife and son, whose existence was kept secret to protect his career.  While with Ono she and John became burned out from drugs, quacks, emotional breakdowns and media attention.  His relationship with Ono was inconstant: she had relationships with gigolos, and at her suggestion he had an affair with their personal assistant May Pang for several years.  Mark Chapman, who shot him in 1980, was obsessed by Salinger's book The Catcher in the Rye.  Salinger himself was interested in a litany of spiritual, medical, and nutritional belief systems.  All told, it makes for a pretty messy story.  But out of all this there was produced moments of beauty, and many people found inspiration. 


Aratina Cage said...

It's amazing how much turmoil is sitting there behind many of these celebrities. I was just going through all the Culture Club hits the other day, all lovely music with a positive and lightly humorous message; I also admire how "out" Boy George was even though he denied being gay through it all. The contrast with the Culture Club's public face and the Wikipedia entry on Boy George's life are at odds all the way. It sounds like you can find the same sordid story with Lennon.

One thing that always gets me about Lennon's birthday is the amount of Yoko-hate out there. Although one person may be negatively influential in another's life, it does require the other person to go along for the ride in consensual cases, and I do believe theirs was a mutually consensual relationship. In short, much of the blame, if one really must play the blame game, lies with Lennon, not Yoko. (Speaking of Yoko, have you seen her duet with Lady Gaga? It's very interesting.)

I am just glad that I can separate the music from the musician in most cases, which stems from my ability to find my own meaning apart from the artist's intention in the lyrics. If I could not do that, it would be difficult to find anything worth listening to, I think.

Keir said...

Yoko Ono is a really cool person. I didn't state that in the entry, but it is true. People tend to see Lennon (and sometimes Ono too) as some Jesus-like persona. My intention in the entry was to balance this perception by telling the rest of the story. Fairy tales typically don't include details like abuse, marital affairs, emotional breakdowns, break ups, and drug use. The fact that Yoko Ono was a part of all that is just that, a fact. I'm not saying it was right or wrong, but I do think it is important because it shows that Lennon and Ono were humans, like all of us. And that is good! (I am sure Yoko functions better than most people.) She is who she is, and as an artist she succeeds in making people think about the world they live in. Thankfully she is still alive and does this today. I think she is a very inspirational person (and I know I am not alone in this). Thanks for giving me the opportunity to correct my oversight and lend more balance- in the other direction- to the complicated and very interesting story of their relationship.

Aratina Cage said...

By the way, did you see the snobbish hoopla on PZ's blog when he made a memorial post for John Lennon? It was a scary sight to say the least.

Keir said...

People didn't like the artistic merit of the song or the simple message, and they accused Lennon of hipocrisy. But if we are categorizing music (let alone people) as allies or enemies in the struggle for social justice, do we really want to put the song Imagine in the enemy catagory?