Friday, October 8, 2010

Happy Birthday John Lennon

The picture of John Lennon from the White Album that adorned the bedroom walls of a lot of my old friends a long time ago.

He would have been 70 tomorrow October 9.

I've always had mixed feelings about him. Like everyone else born between 1940 and 1960, his music and his image were a big part of my growing up. Us precious few and lonely counter-culturals in 1960s and 70s Texas cherished Lennon's every note and every Liverpuddlian speech peculiarity. Lennon unwittingly promised us a better more congenial world waiting for us somewhere beyond the Red River. He encouraged us to have courage and grace while we were still stuck with the rattlesnakes.
That combination of perceived depth and provocative affectlessness seemed so brave to us, and we tried it out ourselves. To a certain extent, it worked, not to improve things around us, but to protect ourselves from all the malice we attracted for standing out (I had a friend of mine in high school days who was regularly stopped and interrogated by cops from the Dallas PD for his hair length; perhaps it was my budding gayness, but it was certainly my hair length that caused clerks to occasionally address me as "Ma'am;" I knew others who were refused service and forcibly ejected from some stores.)

I'll leave it to greater musical minds than mine to comment upon the relative merits of his music.

I think he did his best work (like all the other Beatles) when the band was together. His later work sometimes takes on a preachy or solipsistic tone to my mind.

At his worst, John Lennon could be vain, spoiled, and self-absorbed. At his best, he could be fearless while remaining self-possessed. He could be a real visionary ("Imagine" was never one of my favorite songs, though its antinomian vision always appealed to this antinomian) He was like all the rest of us, perhaps more than we care to admit.

And now that his 70th birthday is passing with him long ago snatched away too soon by violence, I feel old and sad. I can't decide if I really miss him or if I miss what he stood for (or the hope and expectation that we all projected on to him at the time). Both he and that are long dead and buried. Strawberry Fields is now a memorial in Central Park.

Here's my all time favorite Lennon number. Keep Imagine, I'll take this one.


Göran Koch-Swahne said...

At the Musicological Institution 30 years ago they said that of the 20th century only Sjostakovich and Lennon would stand the test of time. And they especially mentioned Sargent Pepper's Heart Club Band as and epoch making record.

I was a bit proud to have it...

Counterlight said...

I remember when Sargent Pepper came out in 1967. I was in 3rd grade at the time, and everyone's parents forbade them to buy it. I knew only one kid who had it, and he was suddenly very popular.