If I didn’t make at least a humble attempt at a tribute to John Lennon tonight, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at all.
As I am sure you know by now, John would have been 70 today, had he lived so long. That to me is impossible to imagine. To me he will always be the young teddy-boy rebel that I remember him to be. That’s the first reason I took to him. Not even his music. Not yet. Not when I was 12 or so. It was the look in his eye that captured my young heart. When I was that tender age, in the US, adults took some sort of perverse pleasure in assuring every child that no matter what their background, they could attain all they wanted in life. Abraham Lincoln was trotted out constantly as a reminder of this fable. I’m sure they meant well by imparting this clap-trap, maybe even hoping that it would inspire. But it wasn’t really true. We all knew it, really. Then came John.
If ever there was a kid that shouldn’t have made it big in this big ugly world…it was him. Not that his boyhood was that rough. His father missing, his mother dead…but hey, a lot have it tougher. It was that he was “one of us”… so to speak. He made no bones about it. Working class hero? Nah, I don’t think he saw himself that way.
But that was a time when many barriers were coming down, and he helped to start it. Barriers between rich and poor. Educated and ignorant. Politically acceptable and rebels. Even though he and the other three Beatles rank among the most packaged acts in the history of music…he remained just John. I never heard him speak anything for someone else. He always spoke his mind. In his music and elsewhere. He wasn’t perfect. He wasn’t always right. But he never failed us. That is a tough thing to accomplish. He NEVER failed us…his public.
This summer I stood in his Aunt Mimi’s house in Liverpool and absorbed that middle-class atmosphere in which John grew to be a man. I was even interviewed by the BBC for a special radio 4 tribute that aired this week(you have to guess which one is me). It was a thrill for me obviously. But it was more than that…the “celebrity” of it all. It was for me, an affirmation of his commonness. A kid we all knew and loved and he never really changed. That’s big for me. Not changing.
Of course growing up “with” him…we got to know him. I learned that he had no love for the jewish money-mill that promoted the Beatles and later screwed with his solo career and personal life. Well, that made sense to me. And of course made me love him all the more for his common sense and the backbone to express it.
I haven’t even touched on his music. But that is for another time. For now, I am just remembering a kid from Liverpool that made it big. Big in the heart of the world. He will never grow old.
Happy Birthday, John.