32 years ago tonight,outside of the Dakota apartments in New York, John Lennon was shot to death by a man named Mark David Chapman who only a short time earlier had presented himself as a fan asking easy for an autograph and a job. For his part John Lennon had been many things. Founder of the Beatles,who along with the likes of Bob Dylan and James Brown in music helped to initiate a crucial cultural and political shift the world over during the 1960’s. During the following decade he managed to continue on with that legacy by using his enormous public clout to hold concerts in his adopted home of New York City by registering young voters at his often politically themed concerts. All this occurring amid great turmoil of a complicated marriage with Yoko Ono and John’s struggle to stay in America even as they were trying their hardest to deny him his green card. Somehow this troubled,rebellious and somewhat self absorbed teenager from the streets of Liverpool had come to represent someone who was giving their life and art completely to the cause of world peace. It must have seemed impossible that a person who’d undergone such a hero’s journey could have been murdered. For years his widow Yoko couldn’t speak his name aloud. His occasional musical collaborator and drinking buddy,the late Harry Nilsson,himself devoted one of the final decades of his life campaigning for gun control. As he was in life,in his death John Lennon was and is continuing to have a vital influence on the world.
Although I was only a little over seven months old,I continue to hear stories today about how John Lennon’s assassination effected people. There are many tales of people who were part of the generation Lennon influenced unable to keep their minds on work,or work at all the day after his death was officially announced. It did seem like one of those times when the world stopped. Hearing all of this,and learning more and more over the years about who John Lennon was as a man,I’ve come to develop some of the same puzzling feelings about John’s murder than people of my parents age group had after it happened. One of the things that deeply concerns me is the fact that John and Yoko somehow felt completely safe walking the streets of NYC,even at night. Though strength in pairs is a truism,and they likely viewed their celebrity status as a protective mechanism New York City was still a very unsafe place during the early 1980’s. Added to that the fact that John Lennon had just re-emerged as a recording entity during this time after years of retirement and being a stay at home father to his son Sean. Needless to say,there might very well have been some out there who still thought of the possibility of Lennon re-emerging as a political figure as well and didn’t take too kindly to that idea. In a very sad way,it might just be that Lennon’s evolution into a man of peace may have shielded him from the reality that his politics might have acquired him some powerful enemies.
While it’s true that John Lennon’s murder raised some disturbing questions as to the price of socio-political nonconformity and issues of fire arms control,it’s also important that Lennon’s contributions to society during his lifetime continue to have value as time marches on. In 1971 he released a song called “Imagine”,which many consider an ideal candidate for a re-imagined national anthem for America. Or even an anthem for the world. As co-founder of Apple Records with Paul McCartney he was an important champion of artists rights,with many of the concepts he helped to introduce reverberating into contemporary life as well. And most importantly in this respect is his important musical evolution. In his youth,the only way John Lennon was convinced the issues that meant anything to him would ever be heard is by expressing them in a musically loud and aggressive way. As he matured Lennon began to understand and embrace the importance of implicitness in his music,and how to tug at ones ears a little more gently with one’s message. This was reflected not only in Beatle standards such as “In My Life” but also later in dry eyed yet anguished songs such as “Mother”. He had learned how to express personal pain in a manner that could be helpful and therapeutic to others who might’ve had the same experience. I view the general legacy of John Lennon is that of a high ego turned from within to willingly nurture the lives of those without. And although,even at age 40 he still passed on far too young the ultimate legacy of John Lennon life cycle is that of avowed social and creative selflessness. So many of us could all stand to learn the lessons and positively influence people,despite our own tragedies,similarly to what he did before our time comes.