To anyone fortunate enough to be born and raised during the Beatle Era, the death of John Lennon thirty-one years ago feels like only yesterday. Compounded by the violent passing of other icons of the heart and mind – JFK, RFK, MLK – the senseless murder of a beloved artist and musician was not just salt in the collective wound, it seemed like the end of all hope for sanity, balance and compassion – qualities that Lennon possessed in varying degrees, but which we all held out hope would come to rule over chaos and despair.
All violent death is senseless, but it somehow seems easier to comprehend why deranged minds would slay a politician or social prophet, intending that their actions might achieve some practical or ideological purpose. Musicians and artists – as much as they'd like to believe they are capable of changing the world – are by comparison mere paper tigers, telling idiot tales full of sound and fury, but usually signifying nothing. Sorry, Mr. Shakespeare, for stretching your poetic trope to its limit.
Bob Dylan, hailed by so many as the prophet and spokesman of his generation, wanted no part of such self-glorification. "Don't follow leaders," he sang famously. John Lennon, on the other hand, loved the limelight and crackle of quasi-political action, and may have truly believed that by hanging out in bed with Yoko in the name of sowing the seeds of peace and love that he would change the world. Go ahead and call him a dreamer — he'd take it as a compliment.
Truth be told, I loved the soapbox-less Lennon more than the crusader myself. The Beatles may have gone all precious and artsy and psychedelic by the end, but in the beginning they were the real rock and roll deal, emulating and imitating black r&b icons slavishly, with youthful passion and meticulous attention to detail. As that synergistic songwriting tsunami called Lennon & McCartney picked up a head of steam, they graduated from minstrelsy to individual expression, composing songs that stuck to the cerebellum like mnemonic Velcro. Try going a week or three without thinking of a Beatle song – I dare you!
Without getting too mawkishly sentimental about Lennon's tragic demise, I would assert that his death was the beginning of a dangerous era of celebrity worship, poisonous envy and the end of privacy. Every night I am amazed at the drivel that passes for information on shows like Entertainment Tonight and Extra! Who rightly cares what in heaven's good name is going on with Jennifer Lopez's marriages, Jennifer Aniston's romantic life or Kim Kardashian's empty-headed lifestyle? I suppose one could argue that one lives by the same sword one dies by, and that celebrities get what they ask for in terms of public adulation and curiosity, which I needn't remind you, is fatal to humans as well as cats.
Here's to John's memory, and to all of us who naively believed that good intentions and open hearts would carry the day forevermore. The world is a poorer place in his absence, and very few worthy challengers have stepped up to fill his pointy boots.