Today, at around 3 PM CDT, it will have been seventy years ago that John Lennon was born. I have probably written more about John Lennon in this blog than any other famous person. The reason for this is quite simply that, outside of those people I grew up with and knew personally (family, friends, neighbours), John Lennon had a far greater impact on me than any other individual in history.
John Lennon doodle for their logo. Fans have began gathering last night in Strawberry Field, that portion of Central Park in New York City, honouring John. Today in Liverpool Julian Lennon and his first wife Cynthia unveiled a new monument in his honour. In Reyjavik, Iceland today at 3:00 PM CDT, 8 PM GMT Yoko Ono will light the Imagine Peace Tower, the monument in honour of John and his vision.
It is very clear that for many, perhaps most people, John Lennon has become something greater than a mere rock star. Indeed, he has become something more than a legend. He could certainly be described as an icon, but it seems to me that John's status has surpassed even that of other icons. Even such legendary icons as Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis Presley seem to pale in comparison to the reverence in which John Lennon is held. He occupies a position shared only by prime ministers, presidents, and religious figures (indeed, in 1980 his murder was not described merely as a murder, but an assassination), but even then he seems to somehow be something much larger. I think it would be courting blasphemy to call John Lennon a god (I am not sure that many do not pray to him, however), but his position in our society seems to be something close to it. I think the only thing equivalent to John's place in our society today is that Christian saints occupied during the Middle Ages. He is certainly not a god, but he is something more than a mere man.
I do think it would be correct to describe John Lennon as a hero. In Norse myths and the Icelandic sagas it was believed that when a hero was born, the wolves would howl and the eagles would cry in acknowledgement. I am not sure any wolves howled in Liverpool that night 70 years ago and I do not believe eagles are even to be found in England, but John Lennon was certainly born to sound and fury. John Lennon was born in Liverpool Maternity Hospital on Oxford Street to Julia and Alfred Lennon just as the city was being bombed by the Germans. Many accounts have noted how his Aunt Mimi Smith was able to see her way through the darkened Liverpool streets by the light of the bomb blasts. John received his first name from his paternal grandfather, John "Jack" Lennon. He was given his middle name, Winston, in honour of then prime minister Winston Churchill.
Always opinionated and a bit of a thinker, it was while John Lennon was with The Beatles that he began to change and evolve, to form his own vision. He began to address this vision in his songs. He did it earliest in songs co-written with Paul McCartney: "The Word" and "We Can Work It Out." He later addressed it in songs he wrote alone for The Beatles: his masterwork "All You Need is Love" and "Revolution." Encouraged by his wife Yoko Ono, John Lennon would continue to shape his vision. After The Beatles he wrote such songs as "Give Peace a Chance," "Happy Xmas (War is Over)," and, what some consider his signature song, "Imagine." He and Yoko held a Bed In for Peace. In connection with his single "Happy Xmas (War is Over)," he and Yoko bought billboards in eleven major cities reading, "WAR IS OVER! (If You Want It) Happy Christmas from John and Yoko." Much of John Lennon's poltical activism seemed over the top at the time, what we would now call "guerilla marketing," but it got his message across. John's message was simple, summed up in a few words, "Give peace a chance," "All you need is love," and the now current "Imagine Peace."
Of course, as much as we revere John Lennon, it is important to realise he was not perfect. He was not always a good husband to either of his wives. He was not always the best father to Julian. He could be difficult with his friends, even his fellow Beatles (particularly Paul and George). He became addicted to heroin. But for all John's faults, which were many, what showed through the most in him was that he genuinely cared about his friends, even those he was sometimes hardest upon. Indeed, John even cared about his fans. For all his status as an icon, John Lennon was always approachable. He was known to talk to fans, to express concern for them, and to sign autographs for them. It was this openness that made us love him even more. And, sadly, it would be this openness which would lead to his death.
Like many fans, it was John's songs that first drew me to him, but, again like most fans, it was his vision that made him more than a rock star for us, more than a legend, more than an icon. John's vision was of a more perfect world, where mankind could exist in peace and harmony without regard to ethnicity, nationality, or creed. He expressed this vision in song after song. "The Word." "We Can Work It Out." "Revolution." "Give Peace a Chance." "Happy Xmas (War is Over)." For many his vision is best summed up by the song "Imagine," which has become omnipresent on the telly and the radio of late. But for me it is another song which I consider his piece de resistance, the song which best summed up his vision. It was a song which he performed with The Beatles as Britain's entry on Our World, the first globally televised television programme. The song's title summed up John's vision succinctly and precisely: "All you need is love." It is the strongest, most powerful message John ever espoused. After all, if one has love, peace is sure to follow.
Terence Towles Canote
9 October 2010