John Lennon was an acerbic, arrogant, intolerant character with a chip on his shoulder. His short sightedness and the loss of his mother at an early age created a spiky personality. He had a quick wit and would deploy with full force to target anyone he saw as weak.
On the other hand he was determined, rebellious, humorous and idealistic with a love of Rock ‘n’ Roll and a musical brilliance that was to drive him and the rest of his band to the top. Behind the defensive façade he felt everything, loved and lived to the maximum.
John was the leader of the Beatles. He provided the drive and belief. He set the direction. Most of my favourite Beatles songs were Lennon’s.
In the early days his desire was simple; he merely wanted to emulate his Rock idols, play Rock ‘n’ Roll, and become a Rock star with all the wealth and fame that goes with that.
In order to get there they were hard working and ruthless. They were also brilliant. Epstein saw that in them and knew that if he could get them to compromise, toe the line and act the part he could get them to the top. John resisted but went along with it.
Sure enough it got them to the top and he had all the wealth, fame, girls, cars, and accoutrements that stardom could bring. What it did not bring was the fulfilment that he imagined it would. Being the biggest act on the planet gave them licence and John used that to the full. He gave full vent to his own likes and choices. The Beatles jackets and mop-tops went out the window as he assumed a more extreme appearance. The music became more sophisticated, complex and lyrically challenging. All pretence as compromise was gone – and still the brilliance shone through. The creativity reached new heights. The success was maintained. The standards continued to improve.
But even the music and the recognition of its worth did not bring that promised happiness. There was something missing.
Lennon looked for spiritual answers and, like many others, looked to the East for guidance. The mysticism of the Maharishi seemed to offer some greater depth but after a brief foray he decided that it was phoney and took a stance against it; even going as far as ridiculing George for his continuing adherence to Hindu philosophy. For John there was no answer to be found in religion.
John had developed a new idealism and was in tune with the times. The anti-war sentiments, civil rights and opposition to capitalist exploitation were clearly evident in his lyrics and also his actions. He gave money to political causes, donated an island to a commune, and set up Apple as a political gesture. It was to be run on more egalitarian grounds, support all types of creativity and provide a more community based approach that was in contrast to the rip-off of the Music Biz.
It didn’t work out. They ended up getting ripped off instead.
Undeterred John continued in the same vein. After the Beatles began to split up he poured his energy into the Plastic Ono Band and Yoko Ono. He wanted love and uncompromising music. Those first couple of albums and singles were stark, as honest as you could get, and works of sheer genius. This wasn’t the Beatles, all perfectly produced with the rough edges knocked off. This was Lennon, barbed with vitriol and barking, unadorned with production. It was as if he had been let off the leash and all that pent-up fury and energy was pouring out.
Along with the music John had decided to put his time, energy, huge imagination and fame where his mouth was; he set about using his notoriety to draw attention to the causes he believed in. The first and most important of these was to put an end to the Vietnam War. He and Yoko set about creating a publicity machine to draw attention to the situation. He wanted to raise its profile, state his opposition, say there was another way and bring people and world leaders to the conclusion that the war should be halted. He set out to use his popularity to achieve a political objective. He had learnt that publicity was the way to raise awareness and he had the means. He was a high-profile news magnet.
He and Yoko used everything he could to draw attention to the war and to call for its end. He used his wedding in Gibraltar, Bed-ins, Bag-ins, his singles ‘Give Peace a Chance’ and ‘Happy Christmas (War is Over)’, interviews, sending acorns to World Leaders, and generally drumming up as much attention as he could.
He received derision, hate and misunderstanding. The establishment, press and general public could not understand what the hell he was doing taking to his bed or sitting in a bag. They did not get it.
I got it. I don’t know if it was at all effective but at least he was speaking out and putting his ideals into his actions. I respect that. He wasn’t sitting back on his gold and being the nice pleasant mop-top; he was being true to his heart and his head.
He was castigated. According to the prevailing media construction Yoko had bewitched him. She had changed him, unhinged him and caused the break-up of the Beatles. He stuck by her and stuck to what he believed. That takes guts and that acerbic, arrogant determination was deployed to positive effect. John was nothing if not stubborn. He dug his heels in and pressed on regardless.
The war did not end and other causes came and went. He and Yoko split and he had his year of drunken madness. He got back with Yoko and had Sean. Then it was all down to domestic life and time away out of the lime-light enjoying all those things he had missed out on. Perhaps he found some of that fulfilment he had been looking for?
In 1980 Lennon was emerging out of his sojourn. His first album was, like the last few in the 1970s, rather lack-lustre. I was wondering whether the passion and political/social dynamism was going to be evident in his work. There were some signs. The interview he gave was full of intelligence. Then Mark Chapman ended all the speculation and possibility. John would never have the opportunity to parade that musical genius, lyrical astuteness or social concern. John Lennon was viciously gunned down. He was dead. The Beatles would never get to reform.
Those dreams were over.
I heard that news on the way to work and went into shock. I could not believe it. It was, as described in the press, the end of an era.
John was a flawed man but he was a passionate idealist and a human being who had reached out to us, been a guiding light, and been part of the soundtrack to my life. I felt that I’d been on that journey with him. He had impacted on my ideals.
John was not just a musician, the leader of the best band there has ever been; he was a symbol of the ethics of the sixties philosophy that I subscribe to. He was prepared to speak his mind and try to make a positive difference. He tried to make the world a better place. You can’t have a better epitaph than that.