I’m sitting here at my friend’s kitchen table in New York, listening to ‘Starting Over’ and contemplating whether or not to go down to Strawberry Fields in Central Park tonight. Each year on John Lennon’s birthday (as well as the anniversary of his death) people gather. They just come together by the mosaic, which was laid down in his memory, and sing. The last time I went was in college – after we sang ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ I made a joke that we sing the German version, and enough people knew it that we actually did. I thought, “these are my people.” As I looked around and saw an inordinate number of burnt out hippies, seemingly lonely men and women, and a handful of people who looked like they needed a protest like I need socks in winter, I thought about what I was doing in this crowd.
There were also college kids, families, old couples, young couples, straight couples and gay couples. Word was Yoko had set out a meal at the Dakota for anyone who wanted to be fed. We all showed up because we had connected to this man, John Lennon, and one or all of the various things he accomplished in his life. At this point, the Beatles’ music is what so many of us have grown up with. John Lennon’s use of his public image to further causes he felt strongly about, such as ending the Vietnam War, is immensely inspiring (especially his continuance of it despite the government trying to deport him for years – the man worked his mojo). I’m still waiting for Bono to show up at an Occupy Wall Street protest, because John would have been down there. Probably with a pithy protest sign and a live rendition of Power to the People.
When I was seven years old and discovered the Beatles, I instantly pegged John as my favorite (I have since grown up and no longer want to pick favorites – they’re Beatles, not ice cream flavors, though just as tasty). At the time I found him amusing and adorable, “the funny one” and all that. When I hit puberty and discovered my inner anti-authoritarian sassafras, loving John Lennon took on a whole new meaning. He was an inspiration and kind of an indirect mentor of the kind of person I aspired to be. Also his solo work is really frikkin’ good.
When the Beatles Anthology came out, I read it cover to cover, and amongst a bevy of other great things, I was moved by something he and George said about LSD: they realized, by looking around them, that it wasn’t expanding their minds like they thought, just leaving them strung out. So they stopped using it. Later in life John would quit heroin cold turkey (and write a crazy intense song about it). I was impressed not just by the sheer strength and willpower that must have taken, but by how he had pursued drugs as a way to understand the world around him in a sincere way, and not just using that ideology to have fun and go nuts. He examined his process, found it to be a destructive one, and extracted himself from it. That’s intelligence. And that’s strength.
At the age of 24 I was getting ready to leave New York and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had always been sure of my goals, had always been independent, and was always the one to advise others. I never needed anybody’s help in any way. The song ‘Help!’ came on my iTunes shuffle and since I’m a huge nerd, I knew John had written it in ’64 – when he was also 24. I realized that he had felt exactly what I was feeling when he was my age, despite the Beatles’ success, a marriage and a kid. Suddenly I felt better. Maybe this wasn’t a life crisis, maybe I was just 24. That’s what rings out to me so much in John’s music – I know that throughout my life I will continue to find new meaning in his work as I grow older with it. I can’t wait.
I’ll leave you with the Help video because 1. It’s relevant 2. John is just so hot. Is that inappropriate today? Whatever. You know he is.
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