Its a landmark event for Beatledom. John Lennon, dead these 30 years, would have turned 70-years-old today.
For many 60’s survivors who grew up in thrall to the Fab Four, the idea that such an important symbol of the youth culture had arrived at the threshold of old age (if such a category still exists in our teen obsessed culture) must be profoundly unsettling.
It is as if that entire generation had finally found itself washed up at the very doorstep of senility.
There can be no doubt Lennon, in his partnership with the brilliant tunesmith Paul McCartney, did craft some of the most memorable pop tunes of the 20th Century. That might be reason enough to celebrate his life. Yet the failure to complete his life’s journey has frozen his memory in perpetual mid-life. There he presides as the guru of peace and love, an unfazed and unrepentant hippie whose vision for world peace remains unfettered by reality or subsequent historical events.
Forgotten, or perhaps conveniently overlooked, is that Lennon’s solo work in his ten post-Beatles years was far inferior to anything he did as a member of the group and was weak even by comparison to the output of his fellow Beatles ( and yes, I include Ringo Starr in that assessment). His coda, the cloying and maudlin Double Fantasy (1980) was an embarrassment for such a great talent, and evidence that perhaps his muse had permanently fled.
Part of this can be attributed to Lennon’s early 70s determination to make political statements rather than music. Moving permanently to New York City in 1970, he and his wife Yoko Ono became lightening rods for radicals and far left causes. Feminists, Black Panthers, Yippies and peace movement activists, all pitched their tents under the Lennon/ Ono carapace to propagate their liberation politics. The recorded product of this eclectic jamboree, Sometime In New York City (1972), is a rather tuneless and bleak attempt to capture the radical zeitgeist. It bombed and is regarded universally as one of the worst post break up efforts by any of the Beatles.
While Lennon’s post-Beatles recordings, save for the very early ones, can be largely dismissed, what can’t be dismissed is his cultural influence. Lennon stands today as the most revered icon in the pantheon of the peace movement – a figure of such sainted majesty that he has been practically beatified by secular humanists. This reputation balances precariously on the foundation of just one song – the anthemic Imagine.
Imagine dredged up some half baked Romantic notions and presented a vision of a world free of conflict. Attached to an ethereal melody it seem to float in a sea of mysticism, painting a picture of a utopia that most Communist leaders in the 1970s would have recognized.
“Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…”
Would Lennon have matured intellectually as he aged – ultimately recognizing that this formula for world peace, written in a swishy mansion in the English countryside, far from the Communist despots and authoritarians who at that time imprisoned nearly half of humanity, could not work? Would he have understood that there was something a little skewed about attempting to denude the world of religion, governments, sovereignty and wealth?
Would he have finally understood that his adopted home, the United States, actually stood as the last best chance for humanity to preserve the liberty that had allowed him to pen such masterpieces such as Across the Universe and A Day In the Life….?
Probably not. Naivete is one of the great privileges of the rich and famous. Insulated from the hard realities of life, our pop icons are safe and free to make ignorant guesses about the world and pose solutions that suggest more, not less, misery for its human population. Once having made such a statement of principle, it is highly unlikely that Lennon would ever have retired his Imagine philosophy. Unlike McCartney, who has revealed himself to be comparatively sensible on a number of important security issues, Lennon, socially alienated as a child and conditioned to reject convention, would have continued to find some gratification in oppositional politics and ideologies. It is doubtful he could ever have written a song such as Freedom, which McCartney penned in outrage following the attacks of 9/11.
But his legacy remains and his Imagine vision continues to inspire the contemporary anti-war movement, a fact of which he would doubtless have been proud. Yet as the threat of a nuclear Iran grows and Islamic terrorism sets Western society in a state of constant alert, the notion that we can embrace those sworn to our destruction in a ‘brotherhood of man’ is a chimera reflecting nothing more than an irresponsible failure of imagination.
This article first appeared in The American Thinker.