Don’t Remember John Lennon Today (Re-posted)

Because the circumstances of his death have no meaning.

Because any attempt to ascribe meaning or logic to his killer’s actions only satisfies the internal demons that compelled him to project Lennon into his own psychotic narrative.

Because a psychotic is neither a hero nor a villain, but a puppet of distorted brain chemistry and a victim of society’s inability to confront its own weaknesses.

Which in this case amounts to a fear/absence of empathy for the mentally ill. And also a need to shore up its own self-perceived weaknesses with rage, violence and barely-regulated weapons.

All of which fueled the passion and poetry in Lennon’s work, I know. Which argues against my proposing we all ignore the anniversary of his death.


But to my ears, Lennon’s life and work were about life and possibility, particularly in the face of death and destruction.

Think of those early shots of the Beatles, so young and full of promise, and yet posed in the shattered ruins of Liverpool’s World War II bomb sites.

Consider how John and Paul were joined by a passion for music that sprang directly from terrible losses: the death of Paul’s mother; John’s abandonment by his parents. And then, just as he was reconnecting with his mother, her sudden, violent death.

Lennon flirted with, and sometimes tumbled into, the abyss of existential meaninglessness. “I read the news today, oh boy…” But he still couldn’t resist the allure of beauty, hope and life. I hope one day you join us/And the world can live as one.

The man had his flaws. He could be angry, hostile and occasional brutal. His widow’s non-stop propaganda campaign, in attempts to sustain and heighten his secular sainthood, does him, her and us no favors.

And that’s the stuff of death. The sound of the gunfire. The chill wind in the leafless branches.

Today I’m thinking about the gunfire at the start of the Beatles’ 1964 album track “Any Time at All.” Which isn’t a gun at all, but the crack of Ringo’s drumstick against his snare. Bam! Then it’s Lennon’s unadorned voice at full, urgent, stop-you-in-your-tracks volume: Any time at all!

Because all you gotta do is call. Spin the CD, click ‘play’ on your iTunes. Listen to the perfect balance of voices, the sweet insistence that the entire meaning of life comes down to a glance, a wave, a kiss. And if the words don’t convince you just listen to the drums, bass, guitars and piano.

Any time at all/All you gotta do is call/And I’ll be there!

And he is. Not just on this gloomy day, either. The promise was, and remains, a 24/7 kind of commitment. The very sound of life, love and meaning, available to you 365 days a year.

That’s what we need to remember about John Lennon.

originally published Dec 8, 2010

WaPo to the Beatles: You suck!


The argument: The Beatles are old news; they’re overrated — the Doors were just as good; popular culture has stagnated; the Beatles are sort of to blame.

And it’s right there in the opinion section of the Washington Post — or it was a month ago, only I think I was on vacation that week and didn’t hear anything about it til today. No matter, the piece retains its power to astonish and angrify. The latter because it’s just right enough (regarding the stagnation of pop culture) to not dismiss and absolutely wrong enough (regarding the ongoing significance of the Beatles) to take seriously.

But then you sort of have to take it seriously because there it is (or was) in a major metro daily, written by a guy, Justin Moyer, who seems really interesting (b. 1977; plays in indie bands, sometimes in Bowie-esque makeup; worked as a private detective). Though of course he also  knows how to get attention and has the intricately detailed  Wikipedia page (already updated to include news of how his Beatles piece “drew fire from Fab Four fans.”) Also interesting: Moyers closing in on 40, which kind of tears at his own au courancy. Assuming you measure hipness chronologically. Which he seems to do.

I get Moyer’s impatience. I think he’s correct that mainstream culture is far, far too wrapped up in what was cool as opposed to what IS cool and especially what WILL be cool in the not-distant future. My city’s pop radio dial is so archeological that even the alternative rock station plays 30-year-old songs. On heavy rotation. Some of which I love (The Clash!) but most of which is the Red Hot Chili Peppers who I really, really don’t.

But Moyer misses a lot. He divides the Beatles’ catalogue into songs about love and songs about drugs, which is so dimwitted it’s pointless to argue. (And indicates no knowledge of, say, “Eleanor Rigby” and “A Day in the Life,” which contains one oblique mention of being ‘turned on’, but if that’s all you hear in that tune, well, listen again, perhaps). He constructs an entire tribe of straw men by cherry-picking ludicrous quotes from observers (the Beatles helped topple Communism! The only communicator with the same power was Hitler!).

He also seems aggrieved that 21st century media (fragmented) and music industry changes (no publicity/distribution/reliable revenue streams for less-than-enormous acts) all but requires aspiring indie artists to keep day jobs. Of which writing for the Washington Post would seem a particularly excellent one. And apparently doesn’t require you to acknowledge that the thing that’s really bringing you down is a culture that evolved beyond your own expectations.

Or so says a 50-year-old Beatle fan. Consider the source.