I was sitting in a chair in the middle of our family room, half watching a football game, half listening to a conversation between my then-wife and mother-in-law when the words came out of the TV …”Dead on arrival.” John Lennon had been shot. Shocked, unable to control my emotions, I broke into tears, and mother-in-law was unable to comprehend. Why does that man matter?
In the many years since his death I have been able to put Lennon in his place. He was an incredibly gifted man who best spoke through music and words in music. The songs he wrote were not derivative or cute, not always even melodic. The word “shoot” interspersed between the lines of “Come Together” … who else would have even imagined such music? I think of my current wife when I hear the words “She’s not a girl who misses much…”.
Then last week I accidentally played “God” on the ITouch, and cannot get the words out of my mind … “God is a concept by which we measure our pain.” Context is everything. What the hell was he thinking?
I don’t know. Good song though. I’ve heard and read his interviews after the breakup of the Beatles. He wasn’t really very good outside of music. He was actually kind of muddle-headed, trying to explain how music speaks to our emotion by using the example of a chair, Yoko sideboard muttering incomprehensible half-sentences. Maybe it was the drugs. He was clear about that. He said that he and the other Beatles did a lot of drugs, but that he went way beyond them. They would stop. He could not.
So I have wondered what the future held for him had he not died? Would he have continued to be a cultural icon? Would his music still cut the edge while at the same time offering up sweetness and angst and base emotion? Would he even be interesting?
Yes, I think he would be interesting. He would have dumped Yoko, no doubt, formally. He had already tired of her, and moved on to May Pang who he would have dumped for who knows. His entanglements were legend. He would have continued to speak out on public issues. He would have joined marches, cut his hair, appeared on (Late Night) Letterman and SNL and Stern but never Leno. He never would have endorsed a product, might have written a catchy tune mocking Apple, the corporation and the label.
But the drugs, the cigarettes, the angst … the man was tortured. God forbid, he might have taken Prozac, calmed down a bit, became introspective in a too-serious kind of way, and become boring. And slap me for saying this, but I would rather remember him as the dream weaver, the Walrus, and not just John.
So perhaps his death came at the right time, before the anti-psychotic medicines took hold. Nature does not care about pain, and pain gave us John Lennon as he was, brilliant and flawed at once. Better that death took him from us than Zoloft.