As mentioned yesterday, today is/would’ve been John Lennon’s 70th birthday.
I keep seeing little shrines to and admirations of the man all over the internet too. That’s amazing to me. Amazing that we stop and think about that still, this musical and pop artist from decades and decades ago, that he’s still affecting us with his music and ideas and persona even now. I mean, I can understand why people like my mother are still thinking about Lennon but it shocks me whenever I notice people younger than me talking about or listening to the Beatles or the various members’ solo material.
It shocks me but it pleases me as well. It’s natural to dislike the music of the younger generations because most of it is, at best, loud raw bullshit. My generation had the 90s and the glorious music of that time (that’s what our memories keeping assuring us) but the kids these days have… what? Paramore? Justin Bieber. It’s a shame.
But it’s also natural, I think to dislike when the younger generation starts coming up on you, encroaching on your scene, professing admiration of the music you hold so dear, that has become a part of your genetic make up, and yet they don’t know the singer’s name or don’t know the title of track 3 on that band or artist’s second album or don’t know all the lyrics like you. It’s like when you would hear Avril Lavigne tell you that Nirvana was the greatest band in the world. She didn’t know what she was talking about and it made the things you like feel cheaper because of it, because she hadn’t earned it.
And yet we forget about the act of discovery that comes with music, both with hearing an artist for the first time on the radio, if that kind of thing still happens, or playing over that sad scene with lots of crying in your favorite network drama. Or discovering an older artist, someone before your time, quite by accident. It’s amazing to you. It shows you that this great big world that you finally felt like you had a handle on perhaps has a little more depth, a little more beauty and gorgeous weirdness in it than you could’ve guessed. And it’s time to explore all of that.
And yet, Lennon’s music should come with a history lesson attached. He wasn’t just an artist with a discography, his story was a fucking saga. There’s so many facets to his tale and his life that you feel like a fucking Star Trek nerd just for taking all those details in and holding onto them. Or, at least, I do.
Growing up I was that weird little kid who adored his parent’s Beatles records and would spend long afternoons and late nights just sitting by the turntables, which that thing spin around and being mesmerized by their music. I read all the books I could on the Beatles, delved into all the ridiculous anecdotes and bizarre peripheral characters in their tale.
I’ve always been an oddity at the party (though the attendees at most parties are all oddities, or should be, I know). While everyone else knows everything about what’s going on with some bullshit famous NYC hipster or what’s happening on the latest episode of Real Housewives Of Wherever, I was always the guy who had far too many factoids about the heroes of classic rock. Amongst many others, that was always just one of my things.
To their fans, either those who grew up as the band was growing up or those who discovered the much later, they felt like your favorite characters in a story that was happening in and around you. There were ups and downs and turmoil and laughs and joy and you escape into one of their albums and it’d become a part of your life. John Lennon died months before I was even born and I still took their break up hard almost 30 years after it happened.
But as for the band themselves, I always took the question “who’s your favorite Beatle?” to be a kind of basic personality test. It wasn’t just a matter of “the one with the pointy nose” or “the shy one” or “the cute one” or “Jesus, Ringo is fucking weird looking,” it was about who you identified. Who personified all your weirdness and abstract traits. Who managed to be as much like you, but better.
I guess for us John fans, it was the romantic idea of the intellectual rebel. That’s why we liked him. It felt like he was against something, but nobly. Through him our character flaws and quirks and all the ways we didn’t fit with others, all of that became just a part of our affectation.
He’s more of a symbol, an artistic flourish, than a real person who once existed. Or… is he?
John came off as an asshole perfectionist, not too different from Paul in that regard, but there was something more off putting about John. It felt like he’d rather offend you than make you laugh along with him. He wasn’t a chameleon like Bob Dylan, constantly discovering himself by changing identities and styles, but John seemed more interested in dealing with his issues by shaving away all the human parts of himself and becoming sharper, crueler. He found his issues and rather than making peace with them, he just become them, he inserted himself deeper into them. He could be charming, he could be disarming, he could be cruel, but it felt like he would never surrender to the working class sadness the world had seemed to be laying out for him. His personality was the perfect prototype for someone like Kanye West (or, to a lesser extent, someone like Billy Corgan maybe). His past was not a particularly great one, nor was he always satisfied with the present it seemed, so he kept pushing forward, never resting, never giving up the rhythm. He was a poet and a genius, and seemed to take the world about as half as seriously as it had ever taken him, and in that regard, I think he saw the world more clearer than most insulated, influenced musicians ever do. That’s why I think his songs can seem absurd sometimes, or like the work of a bored artist, but at times they cut deep, slicing into a vein that feels all too familiar.
But I think John was, in the classic style of British musicians, pretty good at selling you a lot of bullshit when he felt like it. And while I don’t think you could question or belittle his impact or his talent, I think I just gave you about 900 words of bullshit as well. Enjoy.
Do you think you’re a genius?
Yes, if there is such a thing as one, I am one. When did you realize that what you were doing transcended — People like me are aware of their so-called genius at ten, eight, nine. . . . I always wondered, “Why has nobody discovered me?” In school, didn’t they see that I’m cleverer than anybody in this school? That the teachers are stupid, too? That all they had was information that I didn’t need? I got fuckin’ lost in being at high school. I used to say to me auntie, “You throw my fuckin’ poetry out, and you’ll regret it when I’m famous, ” and she threw the bastard stuff out. I never forgave her for not treating me like a fuckin’ genius or whatever I was, when I was a child. It was obvious to me. Why didn’t they put me in art school? Why didn’t they train me? Why would they keep forcing me to be a fuckin’ cowboy like the rest of them? I was different, I was always different. Why didn’t anybody notice me? A couple of teachers would notice me, encourage me to be something or other, to draw or to paint – express myself. But most of the time they were trying to beat me into being a fuckin’ dentist or a teacher. And then the fuckin’ fans tried to beat me into being a fuckin’ Beatle or an Engelbert Humperdinck, and the critics tried to beat me into being Paul McCartney.
That’s from Lennon’s 1971 interview with Rolling Stone.
This is me talking about May Pang and Lennon’s brief “lost weekend” phase. This is me talking about Lennon entering the world of comics as godhead/musical deity. This is me talking about mind games, of course.
…the sadly underrated “Look At Me.” I point these kinds of songs out whenever I see them but if ever there was a song about bloggers, that’s definitely one of them.
And we all shine on.