Thursday, December 08, 2005


Twnety-five years have now passed since John Lennon died, but it's still hard to top what Lester Bangs wrote about him only three days later:
I can't mourn John Lennon. I didn't know the guy. But I do know that when all is said and done, that's all he was--a guy. The refusal of his fans to ever let him just be that was finally almost as lethal as his "assassin" (and please, let's have no more talk of this being a "political" killing, and don't call him a "rock 'n' roll martyr"). Did you watch the TV specials on Tuesday night? Did you see all those people standing in the street in front of the Dakota apartment where Lennon lived singing "Hey Jude"? What do you think the real--cynical, sneeringly sarcastic, witheringly witty and iconoclastic--John Lennon would have said about that?

John Lennon at his best despised cheap sentiment and had to learn the hard way that once you've made your mark on history those who can't will be so grateful they'll turn it into a cage for you. Those who choose to falsify their memories--to pine for a neverland 1960s that never really happened
that way in the first place--insult the retroactive Eden they enshrine.
Bangs performs a little sleight of hand here--was Lennon "at his best" truly the "real" Lennon? Maybe, maybe not. At his worst, he was pretty bad, but at his best, he was a genius. He wrote some fantastic songs ("She Said She Said" from the Revolver album is my personal fave)--and some lousy ones (why oh why do people love "Imagine" so?). He was extremely charismatic--and he could be a complete shit.

In the end, though, Bangs nails the crucial point: he was just a guy. If you feel like remembering him today, put on a Beatles album. Better yet, pull out a guitar or pull up to a piano and dope out the chords to a Beatles song. Even better yet, make up your own stuff. Just don't genuflect. He doesn't deserve it, and neither do you.


Sorry W. Monk, he wasn't "just a guy" anymore than Elvis was "just a guy", or MLK was "just a preacher".
Some people have a destiny that is larger than the rest of us, and larger than who they normally are in their flawed individual private lives. They make an indelible mark on the world and rise to the iconic.
Lennon was one of those, as are the rest of the Beatles collectively and individually. Sometimes a perfect confluence of the times, talents, and personalities occurs and the result is magic.
The Beatles were/are magicians, and they worked their particular magic on the entire planet, changing the world forever in a positive way.
Lester Bangs is just a guy who had his 15 minutes. Lennon, the Beatles, their melodies and words are timeless.

By Anonymous Rock On, at 4:21 PM  

I agree that Lennon, the Beatles, and their music are timeless. But to me, that's enough--more than enough, really. You could spend a lifetime analyzing, learning, appreciating, and just plain enjoying the Beatles' music. But I've always found the jump from recognizing artistic genius to declaring the artist an icon deserving of some sort of veneration to be mystifying, and even a little creepy. Lennon was (like all of us) a flawed human being and (like almost none of us) a great musician. Why can't it just stop there?

By Blogger THE WARRIOR MONK, at 5:20 PM  

Because it was more than artistic genius, talent, or hero worship. You had to be there, WM. And if you were, you know the difference. Pre-Beatles and post-Beatles worlds are as different as BC and AD. I repeat, some people have a
destiny which sets them apart and because they appear on the scene, we are all changed.

By Anonymous Rock On, at 6:13 PM  

Quoted you here because I've been trying to phrase it the way I wanted all day, and you beat me to it. Thanks.

By Anonymous Grifyn, at 12:25 AM  

Rock On: My response got too long, so I turned it into a post.

Grifyn: Thanks. I think you put things very well yourself. There were two main strands to Lennon's (public) persona: the witty, acerbic bomb-thrower that you deftly describe, and the airy-fairy, love-is-all-you-need peacenik. One of the fascinating things about him is how these two seemingly incompatible strands were united in one person. Maybe the source of the difference between people like me, Lester Bangs, and (if I'm reading you correctly) you on the one hand and Lennon-mythologizers like Rock On on the other is which strand of his personality we find more attractive. Lennon was my favorite Beatle, after all, hands down. Without him they probably would have been insufferable.

By Blogger THE WARRIOR MONK, at 10:23 AM  

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