John Lennon was murdered 30 years ago today, shot at 10:50 PM on December 8, 1980 and pronounced dead at 11:07. The Ancient Media are playing it like the death of Socrates. It was not.
Lennon was a popular culture figure of otherworldly influence and high talent, to be sure. Those of us who grew up in the 1960s have the Beatles to remember as the soundtrack of youth. They were a very good musical group with many memorable tunes. In fact the Beatles in many ways preceded the era in which music degenerated into rock noise and then punk and then formless, beastly postmodernism.
The Beatles made some extremely melodic recordings like Michelle, Norwegian Wood, Something and of course Paul McCartney’s timeless ballad Yesterday, none of which appears to point them in the direction of being your standard drunken, buzz-guitar bare-chested rock gods, which they were not. They were… the Beatles.
But they also began to make more hard-driving rock-like music like the anti-government Tax Man of 1966, surely a favorite of conservatives (“one for you, nineteen for me, ‘Cause I’m the Tax Man…”) This showed the direction they were heading, not politically of course, but musically.
Lennon was an appropriate front man for the group being both talented and controversial. In a 1987 interview, McCartney said that the other Beatles idolized Lennon: “He was like our own little Elvis … We all looked up to John. He was older and he was very much the leader; he was the quickest wit and the smartest”
But trouble was brewing for the lead man. Lennon got in big difficulty in 1966 for saying, “Christianity will go… It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue with that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first — rock and roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”
The ensuing firestorm threatened to strangle the Beatles, although eventually the furor passed after Lennon apologized. But in that same year, Lennon became a regular user of LSD which he said came close to “erasing” his identity.
So is there a connection between a lost self identity and anti-Christianity?
Answer: Yes, and let’s all think about it long and hard.
In 1967, the Beatles released Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an innovative conglomeration of catchy music, hallucinogenic references and synthetic tonal manipulation reflecting their own journey away from their dowdy hometown of Liverpool and into genuine internationalism. Sergeant Pepper has been called the most innovative single album of the 20th century.
At the same time the Beatles themselves were experimenting more openly with Eastern mysticism under the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and more publicly with drugs and dime-store surrealism. The Pepper song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds sounds like an acid trip and has the letters LSD in the title, yet it is presented as a simple song about love found, lost and found again. A double entendre, rest assured.
The Beatles’ two-LP White Album of 1968 pointed toward the emerging era of late-1960s nihilism, with aggressive bits like Helter Skelter – which provoked killer Charles Manson – and Back in the USSR, which certainly sounded jokey but in fact was part of the subtle and not-so-subtle politicization by the left not only of the Beatles, but of popular culture in general. Still the White Album carried on in the melodic tradition with pleasing and tuneful offerings like Blackbird and Dear Prudence.
Becoming more politically active and releasing in 1969 as a solo artist Give Peace a Chance – which became a hymn of the anti-war movement – Lennon became even more contentious than ever and was hounded in the 1970s over his anti-Vietnam War activities by the Nixon administration which sought to deport him over an old marijuana conviction.
Lennon was an obvious target for many in a still somewhat conservative America – a divisive, outspoken increasingly left-wing British-born musical star choosing to live in the United States, to consort with American radicals and to become a staunch critic of American policy.
During the 1970s he released songs like Working Class Hero and Power to the People, both politicized offerings that showed Lennon increasingly diverging away from music for entertainment’s sake.
After stepping out of the limelight for five years, Lennon emerged in 1980 with an album called Double Fantasy and the harmonious Imagine, perhaps his single most remembered work, which sounds innocent enough but in fact is a world anthem of socialism/atheism with the opening lyrics “Imagine there’s no heaven…” and then further on, “Imagine all the people, living for today…”
Yet genuine progress is not built by people living only for themselves day to day in a faithless morass. That is a socialist concept that ultimately leads to cultural destruction.
Mark David Chapman, who shot Lennon in the back with four hollow-point bullets as Lennon entered his residence at The Dakota in New York City on that fateful night, could not have been more the opposite. Chapman was a nobody, a depressed, suicidal loser who wanted ‘to be somebody’. And he certainly got his wish.
Chapman became obsessed with killing Lennon because he believed that Lennon was a loudmouth charlatan for preaching a faux working-class selflessness and humility while leading a life of indulgence and luxury. (Welcome to the entertainment industry, Mark…)
In the moments just after he murdered Lennon, Chapman calmly pulled out the book Catcher in the Rye – the famous JD Salinger novel – and appeared to be reading it until police arrived and arrested him. Catcher focuses on a young protagonist named Holden Caulfield wandering the streets of New York City and seeing only false people. (Welcome to New York, Holden…)
Interestingly, Lennon was asked early in his career how he expected to die and he commented that some crazy fan probably would “pop me off”.
The media are playing this anniversary of Lennon’s death as if he is a demi-god. In fact he was very talented in a pop-culture sense, but he also became a destructive force. His drug use, nihilist outlook and reactionary persona became a negative role model for millions of young people while his radicalism did not account for political reality.
“I really thought that love would save us all,” Lennon was quoted as saying at one point in his career. But Lennon’s career was not about love at all, but about division and anger and selfishness like the 1960s were in their potemkin way. And it did not have to be that way.
What can account for the evolution of John Lennon from teenaged Liverpool songster to pop star to international political provocateur to world music martyr?
Lennon commented on several occasions about how fame had disrupted him and about the inanity of the music business and of the frenzy around him and the Beatles. But at the same time he parlayed his notoriety and musical prowess into a nexus of demagoguery and spite, preachiness, arrogance and hypocrisy.
If only he’d remained a musician. He probably would still be alive today.
Lennon indeed was a product of his times and of the shallow popular culture of his day. And those times and that culture indeed are the source of John Lennon’s astonishing rise… and his shocking fall. Thirty years ago today.
Please visit my website at www.nikitas3.com for more. You can read excerpts from my book, Right Is Right, which explains why only conservatism can maintain our freedom and prosperity.