I usually write about John Lennon on the day he was killed. Every December 8, I tend to write some post about how much he has meant to me in terms of my own understanding of human nature and how I, as a teenager, often used Lennon in particular and The Beatles in general as a way to relate to my father and as a framework for my own world view. That may sound odd, or a little misguided, and it probably was. However, I still, many years later, think that there are some good lessons to be had in his story and a certainly valuable message in his music. Perhaps, these lessons and messages are more needed now than ever, or perhaps it just feels like it. Whatever the reason, I feel that it is important to think about them today.
There are several lessons to be gleaned from Lennon’s life story. Chief among them may be that no one is perfect and that it is foolish to expect perfection from ourselves and others. I know that we all have a tendency to deify Lennon as a holy martyr and I think that this is a natural tendency. The man was murdered at the height of his apparent enlightenment and we seem to have frozen him in our memories as forever being the person he was on that cold night in New York City. However, there is something greater to be gained by understanding that John Lennon, as a person, did some pretty horrible things. In his early career, he drank, fought and cheated. He also left his first wife and son without much support while publicly worshipping his second wife and second son later on in his life. It is uncomfortable to think about Lennon this way, so we often don’t. This is a mistake. You see, by understanding his imperfections, we can begin to understand our own. No one is perfect, not even rock’s greatest deity, and that means that we should cast a forgiving and understanding eye on those who seem exceptionally flawed, including ourselves. I firmly believe that Lennon himself was greatly aware of his own shortcomings and had to reconcile them within himself before he was able to effectively move on.
In addition to the understanding of our own nature which can be gained from looking at his life, Lennon’s music can offer us some valuable and powerful reminders in a time when the negative static which surrounds us is at a fever pitch. We are constantly inundated with messages about what we should be doing and the heights to which we should aspire. Often, these messages take the form of telling us to aspire toward success defined as financial gain. We are constantly being urged to earn more, buy more, save more, spend more and consume more. We are, we are told, intrinsically defined by what we have. It determines our social status, our ability to thrive and our own value. Of course, it would be a misnomer to declare that there is not a need to earn enough money to have what we need, and a greater misnomer to look at Lennon as an example of an ascetic lifestyle, but there is something to be said for his message that the material trappings by which we define ourselves are not as important as we think they are. Perhaps, by renouncing the value of our possessions in Imagine and urging us to re-imagine our definitions of success in Watching The Wheels, Lennon gives us a springboard from which we can reexamine what we need and how we are to get it. It is easy to forget that our basic needs are pretty simple and to become caught in a frame of mind which dictates that we need more and that our own individual needs are more important than those of others. The bottom line is that our needs are simply to have food, clean water and love. We do not need the trappings of modern consumerism. We want them and that is OK, but we ought to try to remember the difference as we go through the world.
Finally, I think that Lennon’s message is one of self definition. Through both action and words, he tells us that it is, ultimately, our job to define and redefine ourselves as we would like to be defined and that no externality can form this definition. We cannot successfully define ourselves by that which we possess or that to which we belong. It is tempting to use labels and syllogisms as definitions for ourselves, but that sort of external identity often fails to address our individual needs and actions. Sure, we can all carry signs and rally against our similarly identified enemy, but at the end of the day, that just adds to the aforementioned static and leaves us with the same sense of loneliness and disenfranchisement that led us to seek out the external identity in the first place. Through songs like Revolution, Lennon reminds us that we all do, in some way, want to change our world, but that change does not come through hatred or vitriol, no matter how tempting it may be. Instead, if we follow ever evolving message behind the music, it might be more fruitful to look for an internal revolution wherein we redefine our identities to include the fact that, as that great man once said, “we all shine on, like the moon and stars and the sun”, and we do this not by turning a hateful eye toward that which threatens our ideologies, but by reminding ourselves to simply love. We need to, as we move forward, love ourselves, love others and love our world. This is not easy or simple or even totally attainable, but every little step we take could be the one which moves us closer to what John Lennon once asked us to imagine.
-Shannon (Who is well acquainted with the touch of a velvet hand like a lizard on a window pane)