Posted by Andrew Roman on December 9, 2009
Yesterday was the twenty-ninth anniversary of John Lennon’s murder here in New York City. Indeed, I remember that evening as vividly as anything in my life. I was a thirteen year old Beatle freak (a generation removed, but no less fervent), much more liberally minded, somewhat rebellious, with a dream of either being a professional musician or a radio personality, sitting in front of my television (when I probably should have been in bed asleep) watching Monday Night Football when Howard Cosell made the announcement on the air, somewhere around 11PM, that Lennon was dead.
As a young teenager who had only recently become a bona-fide Beatlemaniac, his death was a tremendous blow. To the tens of millions of people he touched with his music, his senseless killing was, to me, as devastating a loss as there could have been outside of losing a loved one.
I so adored the music of the Beatles that – at the risk of sounding painfully maudlin – I felt (at the time) like a little piece of me died that night.
Much has come and gone in nearly three decades, including my own set of “right turns.” I am, as ever, a steadfast conservative, a proud American – pro life, pro-military, a proponent of tax-cuts and limited government, a strict-constructionist, a firm believer in God, happily married for eighteen years, father of two.
John Lennon, by contrast, was a liberal’s liberal – a genuine leftist who coined and popularized the insipid phrase “Give Peace A Chance” and asked us to imagine a world without a heaven or religion. His childlike – some would say childish – visions of a planet without borders and possessions (always an odd thing, I thought, coming from a man who loved his money and his toys) was beyond simple idealism. It was pure fantasy, void of all critical thought (as all hippie drivel was), without a scintilla of reality tied to it. He and his widow, Yoko Ono, were more than dreamers. They were, frankly, fools, given credence because of Lennon’s enormous celebrity.
Lennon was no hero. I don’t really know of any entertainers who are – or who should be. Heroes defend nations, save lives, protect neighborhoods and raise families. And as important as music is in every one of our lives – Dennis Prager calls it “God’s drug” – I can hardly equate genuine heroism with a killer sounding rhythm guitar track (as in Lennon’s performance on the Beatles’ “All My Loving”). As a musician, I admire Lennon’s songwriting ability (particularly with the Beatles) and his capabilities as a rhythm guitarist.
Lennon – the peace-loving, dope-smoking, anti-establishment, power-to-the-people leftist variation – is inexorably woven into the popular culture. Speaking purely as a musician, it is a genuine shame that when the name John Lennon is mentioned, the images that are conjured up are almost always of his hippie-dippie, anti-war activist, bed-in era self, ever-epoxied to the side of Ono.
The fact is … that Jesus-Christ looking pop culture icon wouldn’t have attracted a fire engine had he been on fire if it were not for what he and his three mates from Merseyside accomplished during the years 1963-1968.
It is John Lennon, the songwriter, the Beatle, the man who helped transform popular music forever (with his equally genius partner, Paul McCartney) that I acknowledge here.
Simply put, John Lennon either wrote or co-wrote some of the most memorable music in the history of human civilization. His sense of melody, timing (odd as it could be at times) and his ability to create an unforgettable “hook” has rarely been duplicated – save for his partner of many years, Sir Paul McCartney. During the early Beatle years, so many of the songs that are now considered pop music standards and classics came from John Lennon.
Long before there was the experimental, socially conscious, primal scream version of John Lennon with wire-rims and scraggly center-parted hippie hair, there was the brilliant mop-topped songsmith John Lennon – the one that will forever have his name uttered by human lips long after almost every other human being that has ever existed on this planet is forever forgotten. The music and melodies he and Paul wrote were as influential on the artists that succeeded them as any that have ever existed. John, Paul, George and Ringo – to this day – are the benchmarks by which others are measured.
From the Beatles first number one song in Great Britain, “Please Please Me,” to the far-ahead-of-its-time guitar signatures on the infectous “I Feel Fine,” to the unforgettably heavy “Ticket To Ride,” to the classic melody and harmonies of “Help!”, not to mention one of the most recognizable guitar riffs ever in “Day Tripper,” Lennon’s genius, coupled with his prolific output, is something to marvel at.
On the album “A Hard Day’s Night,” the first and only Beatles LP to contain nothing but Lennon-McCartney songs, 10 of the 13 songs were either composed partly by Lennon, or completely by him – including the instantly recognizable and beautiful “If I Fell,” the harmonica driven “I Should Have Known Better,” the Wilson Picket inspired “You Can’t Do That” and the rockin’ “Tell Me Why” – all radio staples.
Let’s not forget that he co-wrote, with Paul, some of the biggest hit singles in music history, including “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “From Me To You,” “She Loves You” and “A Hard Day’s Night.”
1965 may have been his most amazing year of output. Along with “Ticket To Ride,” “Help!” and “Day Tripper,” he composed such timeless classics as “Norwegain Wood,” “In My Life,” “Nowhere Man,” “Girl,” “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” and “You’re Going To Lose That Girl.”
Equally extraordinary is his work on the “Revolver” LP from 1966, which was by that time becoming more complex and experimental – but no less memorable. “I’m Only Sleeping” is one of my favorite songs of all – lethargic, melodic, dreamy – and one of the most beautifully haunting melodies he ever composed. It is also, by the way, one of the first recordings ever (if not ever) to employ a completely backwards guitar solo. And yes, I admittedly love the hypnotic “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
Two of his contributions to the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” LP are not only among his best ever, but are two of his most recognizable Beatle songs – “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and “A Day In The Life” – both considered among the greatest classic rock tracks of all-time.
Indeed, I may not have believed for a second that all we needed was love, as he sang in the summer of 1967, but I still loved the song – particularly the line, “There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be.”
“I Am The Walrus” is one of my favorite recordings of all time, incidentally.
I just wanted to take a moment – as a musician of twenty-five years myself – to say, from a musical perspective, thanks to Beatle John Lennon – a wonderful musician cut short in the prime of his life. He was a thoroughly flawed (as we all are), politically imbecillic human being whose public importance beyond his contributions with the Beatles is exponentially exaggerated by mindless leftists.
He was no savior. He was no hero. He was sometimes the walrus.
He was a hell of a songwriter.