70 Years Out: John Lennon
On Saturday, John Lennon would have been 70 years old. Yoko Ono and John’s record label are not letting the occasion pass quietly, as they are using the date to promote a series of reissues and repackagings of Lennon’s post-Beatles music. I suppose if Lennon were still alive, he would be participating in this promo blitz to some degree – after all, he was an instinctively popular artist.
Of course, John Lennon was much more than just a pop artist. One of rock and roll’s true originals, Lennon was a cultural revolutionary who sought to challenge his audience’s preconceived notions about modern life. Bob Dylan may have pushed the boundaries of rock music and programmed his revolution into jukeboxes, but John Lennon became the face and personification of this particular zeitgeist. Whenever Lennon made a joke – and some of his jokes were truly elaborate – the ultimate punch line was always himself.
As a group, the Beatles were a precision-balanced operation that made music destined to sail to the top of the pop charts and sell a lot of records, and along the way they also changed the culture of their time. After the Beatles finally went their separate ways Lennon tried to be the father figure of the counterculture he helped create, but even he ran out of energy as the years ticked by. As he would so famously sing later: “Life is what happens to you/When you’re busy making other plans.”
John Lennon died still young at age 40, so we never got to witness him age gracefully along with his music. He may not have given us that privilege – after all, he evaded the public eye for five years before his death. What he did give us was the music … and that will live on even as memories of the man himself grow dimmer each year. For that we should be grateful to Yoko Ono and Capitol/EMI, the new Lennon is freshly reinvigorated while retaining John’s original vision for his music.
Was John Lennon a genius? Maybe – and his music makes the best case to proclaim him as one. As a man, though, Lennon was original, creative, passionate, witty, funny and honest while simultaneously insecure, brutal and mean … above all, he was fearless. So let’s celebrate him for all of that, and for reminding us why we like this rock and roll stuff in the first place.
YouTube: “(Just Like) Starting Over (Stripped Down edition)”