Nelson Mandela wasn’t the only public figure to pass away into the great unknown this week. Legendary singer songwriter activist and artiste extraordinaire John Lennon also made the journey just yesterday in fact when a crazy schizophrenic shot him down right outside his apt on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. Only it was 33 years ago. But that doesn’t make it hurt any less.
All weekend I thought about it. It kept bubbling up in the back of my mind. John died this weekend didn’t he… so the thoughts went. I sure do miss him. I’ll never forget that day. We were just kids that day. Little kids. Too young to even really get it. We had already been into the Beatles. That’s how we all came together actually. Me and Toad and StuGuru an Juliet and the rest of the crew. We were all in the so-called “gifted” program at school, which meant that we never for to see the rest of the student body at except at PE and during lunch. We were basically what would be considered the nerds of the school. Major geeks who enjoyed things like Academic Games, Debate Club and Chorus. (Our chorus went to all state that year. My very first television appearance. Was standing on the top row of the bleachers and in the middle of “the sun will come our tomorrow” my foot started to itch. I went to scratch it with my other foot and my shoe fell off and made a huge thud when it dropped to the floor. On live TV. The first of many awkward moments).
One of the things we all seemed to have in common was our love of the Beatles. They were an old band. Classic rock. Totally not hip or cool when we were growing up. Which only added to the allure of our obsession with being so different than everyone around us. Outliers. We had this quasi-Beatles fan club which consisted of no more than the lot of us spending all of our free time doing nothing but talking about or listening to the Beatles. That and stamp collecting. Like I said, we were nerds. I didn’t actually become “cool” till high school. And frankly the jury is still out on that. But the Beatles and our love for their music and culture and history bonded us in a special way. To the point where we are still friends today.
Of course back then we were just into the early and middle stuff. Hadn’t progressed into the later years. Sounds funny now, but back then, at our age, the music of the later Beatles era felt and sounded “scary” to us. Especially the White Album. On especially courageous evenings during sleepovers we’d turn off all the lights and turn the white album on — only vinyl back then. Cassettes existed but you knew better to not go there. We’d sit in the dark with flashlights and listen to all these epic dark and languishing songs with their stream of consciousness drug-inspired lyrics. It seemed a frightening world to us at such young ages. But an equally appealing one as well.
Less than ten years later three of us would be acting the parts out in real life when me and Toad and The Grey Wolf started the band Shattered (Broken Spectacles) and StuGuru started Lobsters and Walruses. As in all bands we subconsciously sparred for who was Paul and who was John. Both of us wanted to be John. Though I was the more obvious candidate, being slightly more of bad boy than Toad ever could be, coming from a broken home, being in constant trouble at school and with the law, and just never having the beautiful voice that Toad had, just like Paul. It’s funny now. Because Id give anything now to be Paul. Now that I’m older. But the Lennon comparisons still are heard now and then from fans and critics. Have never heard or read a McCartney comparison. And for whatever reason the older I became the more obsessed and in love I became with Paul and his music.
With that said though, it is still John who tends to influence me more as an artist and as a man in the world. As I’m sure he does to lots of other artists around the world. This is an aspect of being an artist that draws a very clear line in the sand between the real and the pretenders. Entertainers have hits. They have gold records. They may even win Grammys. Hell they do every year. Artists may never reach any of those achievements. But they influence. Like Lou Reed. His is an influence which has spanned five decades and spread to every country in the world. For other artists. But most people only know one of his songs — “walk on the wild side” — out of a forty year career. That’s classic. That’s an artist.
John Lennon was the same way. He never did things by the book — at least once he finished with the whole mop top selling out phase of his career. Which no one can blame him for because without that phase he may never have “made it” and we’d never have known his music. He wasn’t around during the indie revolution when everyone and their brother could record an album and pretend they were a receding artist no matter how bad they were, as things are today. You had to sell out if you wanted to actually reach the point of making a record and getting radio airplay.
But after that phase — by Rubber Soul I’d say — john was just off on a tangent doing whatever the hell he wanted to. Not only as an artist but as a person. For a lot of us john’s personal life and his non-musical antics inspired us as much as his music did. The activism, the drug busts, the candid truth telling to a fault, the living in a glass house allowing all of his faults foibles and idiosyncrasies hang out for all the world to see. It would be hard for me to ever try to pretend that John didn’t have a huge influence on me. Deeper more profits and more transparent than even Bowie or Lou or Bolan because I got into him at such a young age that the influence was never conscious. It just became a part of who I was and evolved into. I’m saying this now as it’s occurring to me. Have never thought about it before. But it seems true. I never tried to be like or do anything like John Lennon. It was and perhaps still is more like he was a father figure who just rubbed off on me the same way a father does to a son. Never having a father of my own John and Paul played that role vicariously, simultaneously trading places at warp speed depending on what mood I happened to be in at any given moment. Then BAM! 20 years later and I’m a man myself. People say “you remind me of John Lennon” and it never even occurs to me that it could be true because I never deliberately copped John the way I did admittedly with say Bowie or Lou or Marc.
Now that I’m older it really hits home how much we have missed by John not being around all these years. We can only guess what his musical output would be like now. Or what it would have been like over the last 33 years past. He was just getting started again when he was killed. That first new album in over five years (Double Fantasy) was an amazing in regards to the John songs in it. Even the Yoko songs were good.
As well I often wonder what his social and political ideals would be like. I’m sure he’d be proud of what society has turned into in terms of how popular social and political activism have become. Even with more mainstream types. I wonder if he’d ever turn toward less peaceful more violent means of activism if he knew what we know now about how wicked the powers that be have become. But then again they were pretty bad already In the 60s and 70s. And he resisted those urges back then. Which is one of the reasons why I and probably many people like me still do. No matter how angry or embittered or resentful we feel sometimes. That’s just one of the many many gifts he offered the world simply by being born and being himself and doing his thing. If we’re going to take anything from John and his legacy, it should be that: to remember how utterly profound it can be if we do absolutely nothing other than be ourselves.
It’ll never not be “sad” today. Because we will never not miss him and never not mourn his early passing. But there is plenty there to celebrate as well.
– Posted by The Ambassador using BlogPress on an iPhone
A private little world for me… a private little world for you. The online musings and journals of singer/songwriter recording artist author and activist Ed Hale. The Transcendence Diaries have been posting regularly posting online since 2001. Comments are always welcomed. And so are YOU.