“God is a concept by which we measure our pain?” WTF?

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.

55 thoughts on ““God is a concept by which we measure our pain?” WTF?

    1. Interesting question … we were all raised inside a propaganda model, and Vietnam opened eyes, and people left that model. But propaganda is life blood, and without it people are lost, and so went looking for another and started carrying pictures of Chairman Mao. I wonder if the drugs and chaos was simply the absence of organized thought models, leaving people dizzy and disorganized. Eventually most came back in the fold, turned off their brains, became stock brokers and insurance sales people, and the “New Left” died.

      Lennon died around that time. Maybe it had to be that way.

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  1. I have always considered the worship of people whose only accomplishments is making organized noise, or pretending to be fictional characters on film …

    ..as utterly bizarre behavior.

    Bizarre people who fawn over other people’s bizarre behavior.

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  2. There is Lennon, a drug addict, philander, and philosopher of no merit. But he sings and plays a guitar reasonably.

    And you cry over his death.

    Then there is Norman Borlaug, whom you probably do not even know.

    His mere contribution – he probably saved more lives than any man in all history – around 2 billion.

    Not a whimper.

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    1. The comparison is pompous and inappropriate. 1) Lennon was a musician. Music speaks to the emotions. It goes through, bypassing all filters. Subversive messages in music, as with movies, are detested by ruling classes. 2) I was 30 years old, and grew up with the Beatles. 3) He was shot and killed at a young age, and did not live his life to the fullest.

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      1. Mark,

        I agree.

        And isn’t that a terrible statement?

        So many are so far from their intellectual center that mere sounds influences them more than reason.

        Ruling classes do not detest this. The more irrational behavior can be invoked upon the masses the better and easier it is to control them.

        The Universe IS rational. The further away the People are from rational behavior, the more controllable they become – because the Universe enforces itself -automatically- on them. The elite simply redirect that enforcement.

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        1. The masses were not exactly under control in the 60’s. True, all that ruckus did nothing to stop the war, but it did create awareness that opened the door for environmental and feminist rights. Civil Rights made it on its own.

          The whole push since that time has been to get everyone calmed down and back in the box again. The schools are doing their part, and media always marginalized dissent, except Tea Parties, which somehow pass the censor.

          Enuf.

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          1. The masses were absolutely under control by the evil of the Progressive Movement.

            Environmentalism, Feminism and Civil “Rights” are all brutal assaults ON human rights.

            The furtherance of the belief that the best solution to human problems is the expansion of government has been the core basis of all political movements.

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      2. Mark,

        “…he did not live his life to the fullest…”

        Err… by what expectation?

        I too grew up in that era and my interest rested solely on the observation of how easy it is to infect a large number of people with irrational dribble.

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        1. Yeah, much of it was irrational – Port Huron and Revolution and all of that. So true. The pint I tried to make somewhere else is that when we break free of one propaganda system, we are so used to propaganda that we need to find another to replace it. So kids in the 60’s, educated in the fifties and breaking free reflexively went to propaganda of the other side, and started carrying pictures of Chairman Mao.

          The answer is to break free of all propaganda – we need to think systematically to have any sanity at all, but capitalism, socialism, anarchy, communism, objectivism … all are boxes that constrain possibilities. Your capitalism especially eliminates the possibility of the widest possible enjoyment of democratic rule and material abundance. It creates huge disparities of wealth which automatically shut down representative government.

          Enuf.

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          1. Mark

            “Enjoyment of Democratic rule”…. egads!

            Certainly I would imagine thieves and murderers enjoy their gains too…..

            Capitalism does NOT create huge disparity of wealth – it shrinks them. Political force creates huge disparity of wealth – one merely needs to see the difference between pre-capitalism; the feudal era and current – where the existence of a “middle class” exists.

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                1. No, my “paradigm” is fine.

                  Your economic theory is flawed.

                  Your concept of “worth” has no fundamental meaning in a broad sense – ie: over society.

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            1. See, this is what I mean by religious adherence to beliefs that do not bear out in the real world. Middle classes only come about in times of labor power – either a shortage of labor, as after the Black Plague, or unionization, as from the 1930’s through the 1960’s. Power does not give up wealth voluntarily. After you create it, you have to hang on to it.

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              1. That is true, but until Capitalism, there was no such thing as a middle class, including the era’s you present such as post-plague.

                2% of the population was prosperous or “wealthy”, 98% floated near starvation.

                Unionization as a consequence is among the greatest destroyers of class mobility. It’s primary purpose is to protect tenure of workers against the competition of the new one’s entering their market.

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                1. That is a side-effect to be sure, though hardly as serious in consequence as you make it out to be. New workers entering the market usually do so for less pay, and older workers cost more to insure. So employers want to get rid of them.

                  Unions give workers power they do not otherwise have. Period.

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                  1. Mark,

                    You understand the consequences correctly.

                    Unionization can only occur in fields where time provides no measurable improvement of productivity.

                    That is, a new worker and an “old” worker essentially produce the same output.

                    Thus, new workers – eager for earning a living – are willing to sell their services at a more competitive rate than the established product.

                    The same effect with computers – the newer, better performers are cheaper then the old, expensive performers.

                    This is how economics must work.

                    Thus, older workers must produce MORE and/or BETTER to maintain their position.

                    Unionization destroys this, and as such, is economically destructive and unsustainable.

                    It entrenches the poor performers at the expense of the more productive.

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                    1. Efficiency is of no great concern to me. People are more important. A firm that has to pay more for an older employee than a younger one does not maximize profit. I don’t care. It only means that the profit is shared differently.

                      It may be in your eyes destructive, but unsustainable is a far far reach.

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                    2. Mark,

                      it is NOT a matter of Efficiency.

                      It is a matter of existence.

                      It is NOT economically sustainable.

                      As being demonstrated profoundly all around you, the business fails.

                      They ALL lose their jobs.

                      ….

                      Further, your “care” of humanity is bizarre.

                      You do not care about “humanity”.

                      You care about “some” humanity at the expense of others.

                      You care about the tenured workers.

                      You do not care about the young workers.

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            2. Representative government is probably our best hope for progress. It is flawed.

              Anyway, I like me some gubbmint if for no other reason than putting telemarketers back in their cage. See how it works? Unrestricted freedom infringes on all our rights, and government steps in and rectifies it. It worked marvelously.

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                1. That is a subject widely debated … the effect of public opinion – not voting so much as the prevailing attitudes int eh majority of the mass of people. FDR pissed a lot of people off because he talked in frank terms about class issues, and it made sense to people. Good things followed.

                  Yes, BF< I could disconnect my phone. Good grief. Don't want to interfere with anyone's freedom to annoy.

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    2. when you say he saved lives you mean the bodys or the souls? John Lennon means too much for too many, and that deserves a high place in recent human history. Norman Borlaug deserves it too

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  3. Mark

    “Good things followed”.

    Yeah, like World War Two…. Geesh…

    What good things? Every action FDR took entrenched the pain and suffering of the People.

    By his pogrom, the Depression went on (and would have went on) for decades.

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    1. Idle speculation. World War II was a colonial battle for resources. I doubt very much that anything FDR migth have done could have stopped it.

      And I’m not going to argue with you that programs that we have and enjoy and that have benefited us and that are under attack are harmful to us. People are not so dumb as you seem to think.

      The depression argument is pointless as we don’t know what would have happened under different scenarios and can only speculate. We know what did happen during the 1930’s, and we know that the wartime economy put most everyone to work. We also know that we have been in a permanent war economy since the 1950’s. Beyond that, feel free to speculate.

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      1. Mark,

        It is not “idle speculation” – it is a fact. World War Two ended the Great Depression.

        It did so because the US government was able to enact wage and price controls (remember “ration coupons”), and therefore extract the wealth (remember War Bonds) and labor from the People, while subjecting them to massive (but controlled) deprivations of goods and services.

        With 99% income tax rates, and ration coupons – the economic reorganization was subjected on the backs of the People in a manner they would have completely refused – …. except if it was layered as a “Patriotic duty” for the war effort.

        I am not saying WW2 was created as a rescue FROM the Depression – but when it came, WW2 was used to END the Depression – a providential tool.

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  4. Mark,

    not to argue with you that programs that we have and enjoy and that have benefited us and that are under attack are harmful to us

    They are harmful – you are suffering their economic conclusion right now.

    You are blinded by time-displacement. Effect and consequences rarely occur in a time and place where most people can link them.

    Often, the effect and its consequences can be displaced by generations.

    You are suffering the economic distortions that go back to WW1 – the People STILL haven’t reckoned that economic disaster, let alone FDR’s pogroms, WW2, Korea, Vietnam, War on Poverty, War on Drugs, War on Terror, etc.

    The economic reckoning is underway – and thanks to Obama and team, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet…..

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  5. You are so incorrect – factually incorrect. Listen to the last interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, which was made approx 2 days before his death. Lennon had been off drugs and alcohol for 5 years at the time of his death. He talks about that in the last interview. He was the happiest he’d been in his entire life.
    Lennon gave up drugs in order to conceive a child with Yoko. That resulted in Sean.
    Lennon WAS tortured – WAS. Not at the time of death. That is what his final album is about, his happiness NOW, at what he had. Eg, “Watching the Wheels” – people asking him why he gave up being a pop-star, and why he stopped partying-on etc.
    Lennon was a great example of living through his demons, facing them through therapy, and also facing his addictions and giving them up, only to be rewarded by the conception and birth of his first child with Yoko. He gave up the pop-music world to be closer to his child and his wife. You are so wrong about his leaving Yoko – they were solid at the time of his death – look at and listen to “Double Fantasy” and you will see a long-term married couple still in-love with each other, “It’ll be Just Like Starting Over.”

    Lennon had been an arsehole in life – he does admit this – but he’s an example of a person who looked hard at himself, didn’t like what he saw, sought change and did. He changed for the better. It indeed would have been interesting had he lived – He would have been extremely vocal about the wars and conflicts in the world today.

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    1. John tended to contradict himself on occasion (to put it politely). I don’t remember the interview shortly before his death very well. But in his 1980 Playboy interview John states that he still smokes marijuana once in a while (though essentially saying only if it was offered to him and that he would not buy it). He also said he might do peyote or mushrooms about twice a year. However, he apparently wasn’t doing drugs like he had done in the past. His only real vice at the time of his death was his heavy cigarette use.

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  6. The drean is over, what can I say!

    Truth is no mans domain. We are all flotsam and jetsam in a sea of uncertainty.
    So much for the cliches!

    There are people like Lennon that come along once in a generation that spark the imagine of generations to come. I was one born as The Beatles broke up.

    This man was human, flawed and yet I believe more honest than most. If you cannot see your own self in him then look harder, He is everyman, born in humility, in touch with the people, full of angst but blessed with an ability to express himself.

    We were poorer the day he died. Look around.

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  7. Hi, I love the God Song by Lennon: I see it as a great atheist anthem (although that may not have been what Lennon intended). I see this line to mean that during the midst of pain (grief, physical pain etc) people reach out & cling to ANYTHING in their moments of irrationality. As the lyrics say, god is a “concept” and a concept only. Lennon wrote this song after much psychiatric therapy, and the God Song is about throwing off the old concepts including his role of a Beatle and rock star. He is saying basically that NOW he wishes to live in reality, and not continue to be befuddled by concepts and labels that restrict: he wants to live in the real world, to be his real SELF, and not cling to things that either do not exist, or exist only in one’s mind.

    That has always been my take on this song – although it took many years to come to this conclusion: I too, like Mark Tokarski, was confused by the line “god is a concept by which we measure our pain.”

    To clarify however, Lennon never grew tired of Yoko: during his “long weekend” (15 months of separation from Yoko) he was a mess. It was Yoko that called a halt to the relationship, and it was she that told May Pang to be Lennon’s lover whilst they were separated. Look at “Double Fantasy,” the album released just prior to Lennon’s death: the cover and the songs display the great and ever deepening love he had for his wife: I’ve heard many women say “Oh imagine having a song like “Woman” written for you, like John did for Yoko! How romantic!”

    Yes, Lennon WAS tortured, but NOT at the time of his death. Listen to his very last interview, barely 2 days before his death – those are the words of a very happy & contented man.

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    1. Thanks for your words – you added something here. I was not aware of his sobriety or dedication to Yoko at his death. It is pontless to speculate on anything after that, but I did.

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      1. Hi again, I’m glad you are interested to know about Lennon. Looking at his works out of context paints one kind of view of him, but if we look at them sequentially then we see more. Not many musical artists are as honest in their work as was John Lennon. His and Yoko’s last album together explains so much about their lives at that particular time, and the tragedy is that Lennon had finally stopped being a tortured, angry and even nasty person at times, and with much personal work on himself coupled with a deep insight, he was finally living a truly happy and balanced life. He had worked so hard to make his life into what he actually wanted, and then had that happiness ripped away. (Did you see my first comments 2/12/11 as well? I didn’t realise that I’d already posted when I posted the 2nd comment, but like you said I provided a little more info in the 2nd. Thank you for being tolerant with that!) If you need further info re: John Lennon or Yoko Ono, I’m happy to discuss with you more. I learned heaps about Lennon in my formative years; his story is a very complex and interesting one. He was in no way a saint at all – but he was brave in a way that many men were not back in the 60s and 70s. For example, his relationship with Yoko was confronting and many were not ready to accept his lifestyle as it flew in the face of that time’s societal norms.

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        1. I was deeply influenced by him growing up, as his angst and psychic pain reached me. The Beatles were a group of very talented musicians, and would have had musical fame and perhaps become world famous for that, but it was the edginess of Lennon, the words he spoke and the music he wrote that went beyond music and into the psychic arena. It was the post-JFK assassination time, Americans were slaughtering Vietnamese like livestock, and parts of the country were waking up. That was the Lennon connection, psychic trauma of youth coming to grips with an ugly world.

          I’m projecting, I know, but the man was important. Mark David Chapman waited for him that night, and pumped five bullets into him from a military crouch, sat down and waited to be arrested. That was not a murder. It was an assassination. We who had seen Kennedy gunned down had to relive it all again. Kennedy was just a man, not important in the bigger picture, but Lennon had a message, meaning and soul. When he died, something was taken from us that could not be replaced. It was gone forever, and that is the deep sadness I feel to this day. There was not before nor since has there been anyone like him.

          I am glad to read your words and see that he had some happiness in his final days. I’ve never been impressed with Yoko, never seen much substance there, and so wonder what he saw in her. But that’s the thunderbolt that happens to us men – we see a woman, and that woman becomes our objective, and takes control of our being. I have to beleive that some day that bubble would pop. But maybe there is more to Ono than I give her credit for. McCartney said in his Howard Stern interview that the night that Lennon and Ono met, she was actually looking for his room, and got John’s by mistake.

          I do appreciate your words, as you appear to understand the depth of the man and his significance as I do.

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  8. Oh yes, there is MUCH more to Yoko than the media portrayed. In Yoko John found a meeting of the minds. He found an equal. SHE was the reason for his peace activism, SHE was reason that “Imagine” was written (Lennon admitted that in an interview, that he was still too macho and controlling to admit to Yoko’s input to that song: it was her idea, which is obvious once you know more about her art), it was YOKO that enabled him to confront his tortured side and move on (Yoko herself was hospitalised for some time after a suicide attempt in the early 1960s, prior to meeting Lennon). Yoko made John HAPPY. Yoko was the one that made John see that women weren’t just sex objects, or the weaker sex that were simply housewives, girlfriends, mindless screamers at Beatle concerts. [By the way, Yoko was a respected artist in her own right for some time before meeting John, and she was brought up in a wealthy family. She didn’t need his fame or money; in fact I think her path as an artist suffered by her association with Lennon.]

    I too was very influenced by the Beatles & John Lennon. I was 12 when he was assassinated, and that event contributed to shaping my life. I thought I was over the sadness and anger about Lennon’s death, until recently when I watched a little of a few interviews with Chapman, and attempted to watch “Chapter 27.” I couldn’t watch that movie. I couldn’t watch the interviews to the end. I just got so ANGRY. Chapman has admitted that a large part of why he murdered Lennon was to achieve fame: and I couldn’t watch “Chapter 27” as it fed into that desire, and when I saw some interviews with him (despite them being old and he may be different now) I saw that he appeared sort of proud and seemed to enjoy the attention he was receiving. Check out the links; see if you agree with me:

    INTERVIEW http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aJUyHrc9Gc

    “CHAPTER 27” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chapter_27

    PAROLE HEARING 2010 http://i.cdn.turner.com/dr/teg/tsg/release/sites/default/files/assets/mark-david-chapman-2010.pdf

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  9. P.S. – Lennon was completely dependant on Yoko: he would NEVER have ended that relationship. He couldn’t! That evidence is to be found on “Double Fantasy.”

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    1. I was not aware of all of that stuff. I knew she was an artist, and drew my impressins of her when she was “sideboard” with him during interviews, hardly able to complete a comprehensible thought. In the meantime, John was going on as he did, trying to parse or meaning from a string of barely thought out sentences. At at time I thought that the man is a genius, but that his mode of communication was music. At that he was amazing.

      In his Rolling Stone interview he took shots at Paul, mentioned that he thought Linda Eastman was Jewish, as if that was something to hide – really bad form. I wonder if Paul, in his way, got even by mentioning that Yoko was after him that night, and not John. That would have set Yoko back a notch.

      good stuff you bring here. I am unaware of most of what you write about, and like it. I don’t idolize people. We’re all flawed. But as people go. Lennon was amazing.

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      1. As you correctly state “We’re all flawed.” John had somewhat of a history of making remarks that could be construed as anti-Semetic (or, at the very least, extremely insensitive). I point this out for historical purposes only, as many people mistakenly considered John “anti-this” or “anti-that.”

        There was the 1966 press conference when John was taken by surprise (as can be seen on youtube) when one reporter unearthed a comment attributed to one of the Beatles, i.e., “show business is an extension of the Jewish religion.” During this tour of the U.S., John must have only expected questions about his “Jesus” comments from earlier that year (March?).

        John was dumbfounded and didn’t have much to say in his defense (though he did admit he was the Beatle whom had made the remark); there was also his “Jewish schmaltz” remark in the 1980 Playboy interview in regards to Sid Bernstein taking out a full-page ad urging the Beatles to reunite on behalf of the “Boat People.” And there was the alleged “Queer Jew” comment he made years earlier to Brian Epstein (when Brian solicited John’s advice as to what he might call his new Beatle book).

        John also seemed to take great delight when he discovered that Paul’s father-in-law’s real name was Leopold Espstein. He is reported to have used this to his advantage at business meetings in 1969. There are other examples I could cite but don’t want to take out of context.

        But John, in my opinion, was in no way anti-Semetic or anti-Christian. John didn’t always think before he spoke. And on occasion, he liked to press peoples buttons.

        On the other hand, while Paul might have come across to some as passive-aggressive in his dealings with John, I think he could dish it out to John as well.

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  10. Hi again, I know what you mean about Yoko in interviews – but it was more that Lennon would rail-road her. Also she was shy, and with good reason: so many people HATED Yoko until John was murdered. In her first interview after his death (Rolling Stone) she talked about it, that people were FINALLY treating her nicely now that her husband was dead. She said she’d much prefer to remain hated and still have John alive and by her side.

    When John & Yoko got together, he was accused of being a traitor (ie, Japan during WWII), that Yoko broke up the Beatles, that Yoko brain-washed John, and other nonsense. I imagine that it would be very difficult to speak on camera knowing that the vast majority of viewers were watching and saying things like “bitch,” “witch,” “ugly,” “creepy.”

    To TRULY understand John Lennon, one MUST view him as half of a whole. That is what he WANTED. To know Lennon and his work post-Beatles one can only understand him and get a true picture of his life by accepting that Yoko was intrinsically part of who he was. One CANNOT study Lennon’s life WITHOUT Yoko. John’s greatest wish was that the media, the public and his fans would accept Yoko, understand her and accept that she was totally and completely HIS VERY LIFE. And THAT is also what the “God Song” was about. “The dream is over..”; “dear friends you’ll just have to carry on [without me]” and “I just believe in me – in Yoko and me – and that’s reality.” HIS reality, not everyone else’s – the Everyone that wished that Yoko wasn’t around and that the Beatles would get back together. That was EVERYONE ELSE’S dream, but not Lennon’s dream.

    So yes,during interviews Lennon would explain Yoko’s ideas as 1-so many of his ideas came from discussions with her, and from her direct influence and 2- he had so much more experience with the media than she did. Also keep in mind that interviewers generally only wanted to interview Lennon but he would often insist that Yoko be with him, as he was no longer “John the Beatle” but “John and Yoko.”

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  11. His death did not come at the right time. He was murdered. Ban guns in America and the killings may subside.
    RIP John, British Hero

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  12. I’ve been listening to John Lennon’s song “God” because it speaks to me right down to my very core. The line “God is a concept by which we measure our pain” is the very line that I comprehend deeply and to me it means that what we perceive as a God and how we connect to whatever supernatural being we believe in derives from the pain, the anguish that we experience in life. How many of us have experienced suffering beyond our control that the only way for us to do is look up and say “HELP ME!” How many of us have experienced unspeakable loss, that the only recourse is to believe in a Heaven so we can say, my loved one STILL EXISTS and I will see them once again in the afterlife. Pain, and to me, FEAR as well, defines how we grasp the concept of a GOD. Our helplessness, our mortality, the things that are beyond our control — all of these led us righteously or not to a God whom we think will be the very reprieve of our pain.

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  13. Here’s the origin of the ‘God is a concept by which we measure our pain’ line

    “He rented a house in Bel Air, which is a very ritzy area here, and we talked about things. He said: ‘What about God?’ and I would go on and on about [how] people who have deep pain generally tend to believe in God with a fervency. And he said: ‘Oh, you mean God is a concept by which we measure our pain.’ Just bang. I would go all around it and he was there, just like that. And that was John. John could take very profound philosophical concepts and make it simple.”
    Dr Arthur Janov
    Classic Albums: Plastic Ono Band

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