Somehow I missed the 29th anniversary of John Lennon’s death yesterday. Other distractions and inattention I guess. Anyway, in observance of that tragic event, a day late, I offer up a video made up film clips from his last few years from family archives, over top of the the beautiful song of his, “Watching the Wheels.” The song was one of the numbers he was working on earlier in the evening he was killed and released early in 1981.
I also am posting an original observance of his death that I wrote on the day after he was gunned down. It’s not well written, but it was heartfelt. Maybe it’s interesting in that it shows a glimpse of a small space in time when this event was not just still raw, but a time in which we could not yet know how much we would miss his genius.
John Lennon died last night. He was 40 years old. In the last 17 years he changed the world in more ways than most politicians, generals, rulers, and revolutionaries. He changed the world one person at a time. He changed the world by being himself and by showing others that they too could be themselves.
Lennon was gunned down by a reputed “fan,” though that terminology seems strange and inaccurate in describing someone who could have orchestrated such a deed. Clearly, he was the target of a deranged individual. Clearly, the world will never be the same due to the act of a single man bent on this sort of mayhem.
Lennon, of course, rose to prominence as a member of the Beatles, the all-time top selling music act, ever. The Beatles did more than sell record, however. They helped to define a generation, influencing the way this generation talked, thought, dressed, and more. They influenced philosophy, the social order, the anti-war movement, gender equity, racial equality, and so much more.
At the forefront of those changes, John Lennon stood, advocating for change and peace and acceptance of new and fresh ideas. He changed art, fashion, and social conscienceness, and of course, music.
Lennon had been in a self-imposed exile of a sort for the past five or six years, choosing to be a house-husband and care-giver to his five year old son, Sean. During that time he recorded and performed very little, and released nothing new, commercially. In October, when he turned forty, he released his newest album, “Double Fantasy.” Songs from that album have been well received, as has the album itself. Everyone who was a fan was excited that Lennon was back. He was already in the studio recording songs for another album. The world will now never know what music, what causes, what insights, might have been forthcoming from the prolific Liverpudlian.
Our son turned one year old a few days after Lennon celebrated his forthieth birthday. A few days after the release of the latest Lennon album. He will now never know Lennon as anything other than a historical figure. He will never grasp how much the world changed after John Lennon entered the public stage when compared to the world before that event. He’ll be able to wear his hair whatever length he chooses, sport a beard, dress in colorful, nontraditional clothes, bluejeans, army jackets, or whatever other choices of personal grooming or accoutrements are important to him without thinking about it. John Lennon made those things possible by breaking down the barriers.
I grew up in the button down fifties, came to age in the era of permanent press. I wore white shirts, skinny single color ties, and earth-tone slacks. We all did. Then the Beatles showed us a new way. Tie dye, paisley, bright colors, bagging bell bottom jeans, anything we cared or dared to wear.
I grew up in an era of boys wearing closely cropped hair, and facial hair was thought to signify decadence or rebellion. The Beatles changed that. They wore their hair in what was described as a mop-top style, long and well groomed. They later wore it even longer and more freeform. They also wore beards, showing the world that there was nothing wrong with expressing oneself through a sense of individuality.
This is the legacy that my son inherits. These are the choices that he has, that he was born with, that I only came to in my twenties, and only because of The Beatles and John Lennon. He will be able to express his opinions about war and peace, the environment, social justice, and all other aspects of the human condition and the political realm without fear of reprisal or being made to feel that he has no right to do so. It’s a legacy of a man who died last night, who my son will never get to know. It’s a legacy that did not die with the man, but one which will live in the hearts and minds of those of us who knew him, or felt we did, through his music and art and individualism. It’s a legacy that will live on into the future of even those who never knew John Lennon, and maybe will not even know about him and his influence. It’s a legacy that did not die on the streets of New York last night. It’s a legacy that will not die as long as one Lennon song is still played, as long as one person speaks up without fear of reprisal, as long as one person feels a sense of their own individuality and expresses it for the world to see.