It was 40 years ago today: Appreciating John Lennon
Okay, so it technically wasn’t 40 years ago today, but you can sing that with confidence, Sgt. Pepper style, on December 8th. And then feel bad that you actually sang it.
On that day forty years ago, former Beatle and forever icon, John Lennon was assassinated. His untimely, senseless death sent shockwaves around the world. So much so that to this day, every December 8th you can find scores of people braving the NYC cold, huddled up around the Imagine mosaic in the Strawberry Fields memorial located in Central Park, singing his songs for hours on end. Why, you may ask? Well for starters, he was a Beatle for chrissake, and they were more popular than Jesus (his words, not mine). But after that imploded, for a myriad of reasons still passionately debated today, the boundless output of his, albeit brief, solo career further cemented his legend status.
As arguably one of the greatest songwriters of all time, it’s only natural that his legacy manifested itself out of his lyrics. He certainly had a way with words. Former Beatle and bandmate, Ringo Starr once described it by saying, “His poetry was so great…in one line [for Lennon] it takes most people a whole song to say that same [thing].” This is evident in lines like “All you need is love,” “Give peace a chance,” “War is over! If you want it,” “Imagine all the people living life in peace,” and much more. Well aware of his gift and platform, he decided to use it in response to his frustrations to, in particular, the U.S. government. So when Lennon moved to New York City with wife Yoko Ono in September of 1971, he quickly became a peace activist. A natural revolutionary, he wrote songs condemning gender inequality, racism, police brutality, the prison-industrial complex (sound familiar?), and more. A dreamer, he sang songs of peace and truly imagined “a brotherhood of man.”
“I really thought that love would save us all.”John Lennon
Throughout his career and still today, the effects of his works always seem to sprawl across the universe – from his early mop-top days of Beatlemania to later as a polished musician and cerebral citizen. “Give Peace a Chance” was sung by half a million demonstrators in front of the White House at the Moratorium to end the Vietnam War. “Happy X-Mas War is Over” is sung every year as a yuletide tradition. “Imagine” has become the anthem for world peace. As Yoko Ono once put it, “John loved and prayed for the human race”. And in this way, Mr. Lennon challenged the world.
Having somewhat of a dark and troubled soul, often publicly masked by his innate charm and quick wit, though glaringly revealed through his lyrics, he was admittedly imperfect. He once said, “A mistake is only an error; it becomes a mistake when you fail to correct it.” From “Run For Your Life” to “Woman,” we see evidence of his growth as a person. Lennon was as real as it gets. He never tried to hide who he was––good or bad. We love him for his vision, but we resonate with him for his honesty. We see his childhood traumas in “Julia” and “Mother,” an early life crisis in “Help!,” reflection and appreciation in “In My Life,” existentialism in “A Day in the Life” and (my personal favorite) “Strawberry Fields Forever,” weirding out in “I Am the Walrus,” and experiencing love for the first time in “Oh My Love”––the list goes on.
He was someone who had the courage to be himself and the ability to be free as an artist, especially during tumultuous times when we needed it the most. He was groundbreaking and controversial no matter the consequence, including threats of deportation (eat your heart out, Nixon) and ultimately, his death. His thought-provoking music provided reassurance, promoted action, and brought people together during a time of political and social unrest, much like we’re experiencing now. This may have been 40 years ago, but we could sure still use some Lennon in our lives today.
For someone who once sang, “nothing’s gonna change my world”, his unparalleled musicianship, activism, and legacy certainly changed ours.
So when December 8th rolls around, in honor of the icon, take a moment to appreciate his journey and legacy left behind, and feel free to stay in bed and grow your hair.