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Friday, December 09, 2005

GUY OR ICON? 

Commenter Rock On takes issue with my Lennon post, ultimately arguing that I "had to be there." OK, maybe I had to be there. But Lester Bangs was there--he was born in 1948, which I think establishes his Boomer credentials beyond dispute-- so there's at least one dissenter. Plus, he's not really that much of a dissenter. It's a matter of emphasis and attitude more than anything else. At the risk of bumping the allotment of fame that Rock On gave him up to 20 minutes (and of exceeding the limits of fair use under copyright law), here's more from Bangs' essay:
So in this time of gut-curdling sanctimonies about ultimate icons, I hope you will bear with my own pontifications long enough to let me say that the Beatles were certainly far more than a group of four talented musicians who might even have been the best of their generation. The Beatles were most of all of a moment. But their generation was not the only generation in history, and to keep turning the gutted lantern of those dreams this way and that in hopes the flame will somehow flicker up again in the eighties is as futile a pursuit as trying to turn Lennon's lyrics into poetry. It is for that moment--not for John Lennon the man--that you are mourning, if you are mourning. Ultimately you are mourning for yourself.
I think it's clear from this that Bangs understands the singularity of the Beatles, and of Lennon in particular, perfectly well. What's distinctive about his take, though--and what struck me when I first read it about 20 years ago and has stayed with me ever since--is his reluctance to take the next step, his suspicion of turning real flesh-and-blood people, however talented or important or charismatic or unique, into "ultimate icons." And I think his reluctance and suspicion is rooted in his fundamentally forward-looking perspective. (Ironically, for all his dyspepsia, Lester Bangs was really more of an optimist than a pessimist.) He's interested in today and tomorrow, not yesterday, and he can't see how the icon-ification of Lennon helps matters. Indeed, it's much more likely to hurt them:
Remember that other guy, the old friend of theirs, who once said "Don't follow leaders"? Well, he was right. But the very people who took those words and made them into banners were violating the slogan they carried. And they're still doing it today. The Beatles did lead but they led with a wink. They may have been more popular than Jesus, but I don't think they wanted to be the world's religion. That would have cheapened and rendered tawdry what was special and wonderful about them.
"The Beatles did lead but they led with a wink." I'll take the wink--and the music--over the icon any day. Sure, I wasn't there. But none of us are there any more. We're all here.

2 Comments:

The next time you are in your car or in an elevator and a Beatles song comes on, please don't be annoyed that some people will feel more strongly about the music and the musicians than you do. Just enjoy the three or four minutes of harmony, poetry, and talent and "Let it Be." Beatles music is timeless and will continue to be enjoyed by millions worldwide for many generations to come. The sentiments are positive and the songs are good for the heart and soul.

As time goes by each of the Beatles will pass on, but their legacies will be everlasting. Their music and personalities influenced people in all walks of life and corners of the world and it is only fitting that we remember them fondly on the dates of their demise. Television, radio, and newspapers took a small part of the day on Dec. 8 to remember the life of a very popular fellow. John Lennon's fans did not genuflect to his memory, we just took a few moments to remember him as a working class, non-educated guy who has made the world a happier place by simply creating and playing great music with three of his friends. A few moments of remembrance for a 'friend we never met' is both proper and respectful. It need not be a cause for criticism and dissection.

Please note that there can be no todays and tomorrows without "Yesterday". With due respect to your feelings, I ask that you don't get upset with people who feel more attachment to "just a guy" than you do.

PS And you better not say anything bad about Santa!!

By Anonymous Here Today, at 12:40 PM  

I'm not upset, just puzzled. And with due respect to your feelings, I ask that you don't get upset with people who love the Beatles and (qualifiedly) admire John Lennon but feel less attachment to him than you do and who are reluctant to declare his legacy off limits for "criticism and dissection." You would seem to be in the majority, after all; Bangs entitled his essay "Thinking the Unthinkable About John Lennon," and it seems that his perspective is as unthinkable to most people today as it was 25 years ago.

As for Santa, as long as he keeps bringing my kids presents, I'm cool with him. Could stand to lose a few pounds, though.

By Blogger THE WARRIOR MONK, at 1:32 PM  

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