By Tom Degan
When a celebrated person passes on, we may pause and reflect for a moment on his or her life and career, but then we move on. We may watch with appreciation the brilliant performance of a long dead James Dean in the film Giant and think not a thing about his absence from our lives. That’s not the case in this instance.
I sure do miss John Lennon.
From, “The Rant” December 8, 2008
I often wonder what John Lennon would have been like as an old man. Can you even imagine??
No doubt he would have mellowed out a bit by now – just a wee bit, mind you. He once imagined he and Yoko comfortably retired, living in a little cottage on an island off the coast of Ireland, “looking at our scrapbook of madness.” I’m also certain that he would have never lost that caustic, madcap and goon-like humor that made us love him so. The guy was a scream! I always thought that he was the funniest man who ever lived. Had he not picked up the guitar as a vocation, I’m convinced that we would be remembering Doctor Winston O’Boogie today as one of the great comedians of the twentieth century.
He was always somewhat of a late riser. Show biz hours, you know? He would have awoken late on the morning of his seventieth birthday – this morning – and walked over to the laptop that I suspect he would have placed near his bed. Sitting there in one of the colorful Japanese robes he was known to wear about the house, he would have been greeted with messages of peace and love from his friends and admirers all around the world. He would have loved the internet, I think. After a quiet afternoon of low-keyed celebration – drinking coffee, reading the papers, and maybe watching the telly – he would have spent the evening in the comfort of his family and a few close friends at one of Manhattan’s Asian restaurants that he loved so much; probably Mr. Chow’s on West Fifty-Seventh Street, a favorite of his.
I can’t bring myself to say, “But it wasn’t meant to be.” It was meant to be, DAMN IT! Almost thirty years ago, in the late evening of December 8, 1980, a troubled and confused man with access to a gun, decided that John Lennon’s life had to be terminated. Five shots in the back that severed the major arteries leading to his heart. He died almost instantaneously.
It is ironic, and maybe even fitting, that our final vision of him is not as the sweet old curmudgeon we always knew he would turn out to be – but as the Lennon of 1980: Forever young, eternally whimsical, steadfastly defiant, deadly serious, and hopelessly silly – all of the paradoxes that were combined in this one incredible, enigmatic persona.
I’ll say it again. I sure do miss John Lennon.
Love is the answer
And you know that for sure
Love is a flower
You’ve got to let it grow….
John Lennon, Mind Games
God knows he wasn’t perfect. Those who knew him best and loved him most (including Paul, George and Ringo) will tell you that he could be a right bastard when he wanted to. Abandoned by his parents at the age of five and raised by his aunt Mimi, the trauma that was visited upon the little boy was more-than-likely the root of the psychological torment that haunted the grown man. There were periods when he battled with heroin addiction and (more acutely) alcoholism. Incredibly, throughout his life this brilliant, talented, wise and funny man was dogged by depression. and insecurity, Wasn’t he a bit like you and me?
But every now and then I feel so insecure
I know that I just need you like I’ve never done before
Help me if you can, I’m feeling down
In 1966 John Lennon felt empty and unfulfilled. As one quarter of the most successful musical act in history, this was a young man who should have been sitting on top of the world….and yet something was missing. The lyrics of two of his songs during this period, Nowhere Man and I’m Only Sleeping, reveal the depths of his melancholy:
Please don’t wake me
No, don’t shake me
Leave me where I am
I’m only sleeping
As for fame, he told an interviewer, “There’s got to be more to it than this.” Hewas desperately searching for the kind of substance that he mistakenly believed his celebrity might bring him. He wasn’t content merely to be a rich and shallow pop star. John wanted to stand for something meaningful.
ALL WE ARE SAYING IS GIVE PEACE A CHANCE
The next four years would see the gradual evolution of John Lennon from the wittiest and cheekiest of the mop tops, to a man whose mission was to bring peace and love – brother and sisterhood – to the entire planet earth. “Imagine all the people sharing all the world”, he instructed us. He really believed in his heart that he could bring about Heaven on earth; that somehow, through music and laughter, we might giggle our way to peace and harmony. He was accused by the press of being naive. Perhaps he was. If John Lennon was naive then so, too, was Jesus Christ. He was in pretty good company.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
It was only the message he wanted taken seriously, not the messenger. He was more-than-willing to be the world’s clown. “Because”, as he told the British journalist David Wigg in 1969, “all of the serious people – like Martin Luther King and Kennedy and Gandhi – got shot.”
Tired of the abuse and invective hurled at he and his new wife Yoko Ono by the British tabloid press, in 1971 the Lennon’s moved permanently to New York. Now the abuse would come from a different and more powerful source – the administration of Richard Milhaus Nixon. They believed that the man who sang “Imagine no possessions” was a danger to the impressionable minds of America’s youth. It was utter nonsense of course. He was only a danger to the Nixon Gang.
By 1976 Nixon was living in disgraceful exile, and John was issued the Green Card that would allow him to settle in the city he loved more than any other. In New York he wasn’t harassed or mobbed. He could walk its streets anonymously, and the New York press pretty much let him be – even when he briefly left Yoko in 1973 and went on a drunken binge in Los Angeles that lasted almost eighteen months. Back in Manhattan, sober and contrite, he gave up the music business for five years to raise his and Yoko’s new child Sean, born on October 9, 1975 – John’s thirty-fifth birthday!
In the autumn of 1980 when the word got out that John was back in the studio after half-a-decade, I was living in a street-level apartment right on the corner of West 31st and Tenth Avenue. One day in early October, my brother Pete and I drove seventeen blocks up to the Hit Factory studio on West 48th Street where he was recording. We wanted to meet John Lennon, dag nap it! We made our way into the reception area on the fifth floor under the guise of applying for an entry-level job. Just one floor above us, we could hear the grinding rhythm of two or three guitars. It was almost hypnotic. We listened to those glorious, muffled sounds as we (very slowly) filled out our applications. When the new album Double Fantasy was released the following month, I listened for those grinding guitars in vain. They were nowhere to be found. Four years later when Yoko released the posthumous follow up LP Milk and Honey – there they were! The session we had been listening to from one floor below had been for the song Nobody Told Me.
Once back outside on 48th Street, the two of us hung out for quite some time, leaning against our 1973 Oldsmobile Toronado which was parked directly in front of the building. We were hoping he might come outside and we could just say hello, shake his hand, and maybe get an autograph. I brought with me a copy of the Walls and Bridges album for this very purpose. Finally after two hours it was starting to get dark. “Listen”, I said to Pete, “he lives in New York City; we live in New York City – we’ll run into him someday. Let’s get out of here and go back to the apartment for a drink.” We did. Two months later John Lennon was gone forever.
Strange days indeed.
I won’t recap the events of that horrible night almost thirty years ago. It’s too painful a memory. I’ll close by saying that those of us who are old enough to remember are fortunate to have lived during the period that John Lennon thrived. On this, the seventieth anniversary of his birth, it’s best not to dwell on the manner in which he died, or on all that might have been. I think it’s best that we reflect on a wonderful life, nobly lived – and the music – that beautiful, timeless music. Dream. Dream away. Magic’s in the air….
Happy birthday, John.
To listen to and watch the timeless music of John Lennon and the Beatles , please go to the links below:
There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known
I believed it then. I believe it still. ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE!
John Lennon: The Life
by Phillip Norman