Saturday, December 08, 2007

Re-Imagining John Lennon

For me and many others of my generation (I’m a mid-50s Boomer), our childhood was defined by the assassination of President Kennedy; we were radicalized in our teens by the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy (just two months apart!); and as 30 slapped us upside our heads, our hearts and spirits were shattered by the assassination of John Lennon.

Keep in mind that just a month before his death on December 8, 1980, Lennon released his first album in five years (oh joy!) and Ronald Reagan was elected to his first term (oh no!). I found an old movie still of Reagan in full cowboy regalia and put it on my refrigerator captioned: This man is President of the United States. Nothing I had experienced on psychedelic drugs came close to the mind-boggling notion of “President Reagan.” I was speechless with horror and fury.

Then, on a calm December night, a sick young fuck shot John Lennon in the back and everything ended: the 60s, the Beatles magic, the Lennon/Ono romance, the whole-hearted belief that love was all we needed. To paraphrase John, death was a concept by which we measured our pain. The assassinations of the 60s were at least comprehensible as political acts. But the murder of an artist – albeit a political one – defied reason; it was the universe shitting in our mouths. Accordingly, I’ve always felt that the money-loving, glamour-sucking, cocaine-snuffling of the 80s were, at least in part, a nihilistic tantrum in response to Lennon’s death. Meaning didn’t have much meaning anymore.

As time has hurtled forward over the past 27 years with all the majesty, misery and mystery they contained, I’ve often wondered how John Lennon might have grown and changed. He had gone from lofty legend to stay-at-home dad; having just turned 40 and returned to his music, where would he have gone next? What would he have done in response to AIDS, global warming, terrorism? How would he have integrated computers and the Internet into his fine art, music, writing and social outreach? How would he have used his money? What would John Lennon “going green” have looked like? Would the Beatles have reunited just one last time? Would he have recorded with Julian and Sean? Would he have made more movies or ventured into reality TV? Would he have stayed with Yoko, or tossed her over for Angelina Jolie?

I believe that, unlike many of us, he would not have become bitter or jaded or passive, although he would have outgrown his naiveté. He would have been angry, concerned, wounded and wildly imaginative in taking on the key issues of our time. He would have been generous yet guarded, increasingly public yet determinedly private. He would have benefited from anti-depressants, probably have joined PETA, might have designed a clothing line, could have opened a restaurant. He would have evolved. He would have been funny. He would be 67 now, surely a little wrinkled, possibly bald. He would have helped us age and helped us hope. And I think he would have continued to be happy.

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