Alan Ferguson Presents: Remembering John Lennon
“Gimme Some Truth”
By Alan Ferguson
It’s been thirty years today since John Lennon was murdered by a deranged fan outside his residence at New York City’s Dakota Building.
During his life he was a celebrity and icon, but since then the memory of the man has been replaced by something of a myth in the collective global consciousness. Lennon himself would likely be appalled by the cultural canonization that’s gradually been attached to his name over the past three decades, at least judging by the way he attempted earnestly, and sometimes with harsh sentiments, to tear down the mythology surrounding The Beatles in his lifetime.
Much can be gleaned about Lennon’s character by relating it to the song he’s best remembered for: Imagine. It displays his brilliant ability to capture the public imagination (it’s called Imagine, after all). It showcases a visionary and political idealist. It demonstrates his willingness to challenge religious and political conservatism (no heaven, no countries, no possessions). This is quite a courageous stance when you consider the fact that he received disturbing threats five years earlier in America for stating that The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus”, and here he was again challenging a U.S. administration that would soon be wary of granting him legal status to live in The States. When reminded a number of years later about Imagine, long after he had given up direct involvement in political activism, he stated that “it’s only a bloody song”.
He had a tendency to enthusiastically whip himself and others up, move on to other interests, and then voice frustration at all the fuss he’d garnered for something he’d left behind.
Aside from being a walking contradiction, Lennon was born to express himself in an uncompromising fashion, and he found a compelling vehicle as one of the most talented songwriters the world has ever produced.
All of The Beatles shared the experience of almost surreal recognition as a musical and cultural force; their accomplishments are unmatched on a global and historical level. And arguably, Lennon was the band leader. At very least he was the most natural risk taker. Although Paul McCartney shares in a songwriting and artistic legacy that transformed the popular music culture and garnered an unprecedented 27 number one hits, Lennon was unique in the way that he “let it all hang out”, both through his candid public commentary and in his songwriting.
He was the first popular music artist to write about deeply personal experiences such as emotional desperation (Help, I’m So Tired, I’m A Loser), grief (Julia, Mother), ambiguous feelings (Strawberry Fields Forever), jealousy (Jealous Guy, Run for Your Life), and spiritual dabbling (Tomorrow Never Knows, Across the Universe), and make it acceptable to do so. He was poignant (In My Life), and he was caustic and judgemental (Sexy Sadie, I Found Out, How Do You Sleep?). He was also pretty good at writing unabashedly about peace and love (The Word, All You Need is Love, Give Peace a Chance, Imagine).
Because of his outspokenness, massive popularity, and innate compulsion to play the rebel, some argue that “we need a John Lennon” to advocate against the current political climate. If he were alive today, he may or may not take up that challenge. He tended to follow his artistic agenda above any other.
Of all that can be said about John Lennon, our most significant loss is that of a unique voice which expressed itself consistently with rare talent, unbridled authenticity, and timeless relevance regarding many aspects of the human condition.