PopMatters presents our eight-day tribute to the revolutionary, the pop smart avant-garde idealist who let his art and his actions do all of the talking (even when he had lots to say personally).
Edited by Bill Gibron and Produced by Sarah Zupko
Had he lived, he would have celebrated his 70th birthday in 2010. In another bout of numerological happenstance, he was murdered 30 years ago, when he was only 40. It's enough to make those who believe in the 'Power of 10' do a double-take. In some strange cosmic design, it makes sense that the one ex-cultural phenomenon whose life was a serious of trials, triumphs, and traumas, would leave this planet in an equally sudden and shocking manner. For many John Lennon was the iconic Beatle, the revolutionary, the pop smart avant-garde idealist who let his art and his actions do all of the talking (even when he had lots to say personally).
After a decade of UK limelight, Lennon moved to America to seek the freedom the nation promised. Unfortunately, the unmannered yanks provided another kind of exile for the cloistered object of adoration to deal with. He was soon an English ex-patriot targeted by the FBI upon moving to New York, such a threat to the sitting Nixon administration that an old drug charge became the basis for a long and drawn-out deportation struggle. Apparently, the US presidency was scared witless over the influence a former mop top with a strong political leaning could have over an already lit social powderkeg.
But in the decades since his death, in the formative part of his now oversized mega-myth, a lot about who and what John Lennon really was has been lost. Few remember his initial "solo" offering -- bizarro world sonic experiments with soon to be wife Yoko Ono pushing the boundaries of his muse (and the patience of his flummoxed fans). Others forget that he disappeared from the public eye for the latter half of the '70s, playing house husband and doting father while former bandmates ruled the airwaves with silly love songs and tales of their times in Crackerbox Palace. Unlike Paul McCartney, George Harrison -- heck, even Ringo Starr -- Lennon was never one to let Billboard and the bemoaning of his public dictate what he did. Even when his inspiration turned inward and angry, the vitriol was almost universally met with a kind of religious adoration that he himself would find repugnant. Still, he carried his legend like a champion, never really letting his fame foil his need to be his own man.
In the end, such openness would cost him his very life -- and it is, perhaps, the reason why he remains so adored by millions... even those who weren't born when Mark David Chapman decided to play a very fatal version of Holden Caufield on the world's working class hero. Hoping to put Lennon in a bit of perspective, trying to make sense of the constant schizophrenic dichotomy that was his fractured and flawed post-Fab Four world, PopMatters offers this tribute. We will take a look at his solo albums, his media presence outside music, his friendships and foibles, impact and misplaced import. The perspective will be both personal and slightly generalized, hoping to avoid the fawning facets of your typical accolade. He was more than a monument. He was less than an all wise and all knowing universal guru. While the famous line from his classic track "Instant Karma" -- "we all shine on" -- may not truly apply to everyone, it definitely fits who and what Lennon is today. Even as the years continue to pass, there is a fire and passion for this man that stays eternal. All these later, he still burns brightly.
-- Bill Gibron