MMM 6 — Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans

I didn’t cry when I heard John Lennon was dead. I’m embarrassed to say, I didn’t know enough about him then to appreciate what a loss the world had suffered. That was still before I had developed a renewed interest in the Beatles, so all I really knew of John on Dec. 8, 1980 was that he had a song called Starting Over. I even liked it.

But I had no idea of the type of impact this man had had on the world. To quote the man himself: “I found out.”

I learned most of it a year and a half later, when I was on my Beatles binge. As a result, I started listening more carefully to songs on the radio. I think I already knew that he’d written Imagine, but I can’t say that with 100 percent certainty. Certainly, when Nobody Told Me was released during my senior year of high school, I perked up my ears upon hearing his name associated with it. Perked them up for the song itself, too — it was a fun, rollicking tune, and it inspired me to go out and buy the posthumous Milk and Honey album.

I found three songs on it to be enjoyable. The others were strictly B Side material, or recorded by Yoko. I wrote a pretty scathing review of the album for my school newspaper, only to receive my first piece of hate mail.

The guy who sent that letter to the editor wasn’t the least bit happy with my insistence that the album contained “none of that old Beatles magic.” I think those were my exact words; may the journalism gods forgive me. I know the student in question sure didn’t. For the rest of that year, every time I saw him in the hallways, Steve glared at me.

I didn’t think about John Lennon’s solo work again until the summer of 1987, when Rolling Stone released its list of the top 100 albums from the previous 20 years. At number four was one I’d never heard of — John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. I thought I should find it and give it a listen.

An old high school friend happened to mention that he had it, so I went to his house to spin a little. He let me borrow the CD, then told me he also had Imagine. That was on Rolling Stone’s list, too, so I borrowed both. Within a week, I had every song memorized, and I was shocked that Rolling Stone had obviously reversed the rankings of the two. You’d think they’d have been more careful proofreading their list.

Plastic Ono Band was a great album, but I still think Imagine was his best. Jealous Guy, Crippled Inside, and of course the title track — all brilliant stuff. Imagine ranks up there with Let It Be for me — it’s almost religious. That rolling lullaby tone of the piano still gives me goosebumps; it’s hypnotic.

And the subject matter doesn’t bother me. I don’t believe he was knocking religion, patriotism or capitalism, as many people think. He was simply saying, Imagine what the world would be like without the things that can come between us. He was an idealist, and that’s what idealists do. Sadly, they also tend to get killed. That’s what the rest of us do.

John would have been 72 today — had that jerk let him live, I can only wonder what sort of extraordinary things he would have done during the past 32 years.

I know this sounds like hero worship, and I get creeped out whenever I hear anyone indulge in that, so let me back down and acknowledge a couple of things: John Lennon was arrogant, surly, sexist, and by some accounts, a bit of a deadbeat dad on his first attempt. I’m not a fan of any of those things, and I don’t consider him a hero. That’s not a word to be bandied about.

I do, however, have a lasting admiration for his positive traits — his musical genius, his wit, his integrity and his advocacy. Plus, he was a fascinating individual. The world stands to learn much from him, whether from his mistakes or from his triumphs.

In October 1988, Imagine: John Lennon opened, and of course I went to see it immediately. Two scenes still stand out in my memory. In the first, John confronts a vagrant who’s been sleeping on the grounds of Tittenhurst, John’s estate in England. The guy seems to think some of John’s songs were about him, so John does his best to straighten the guy’s mind. But rather than dismiss the guy out of hand, John instead asks if he’s hungry, then invites this guy — a complete stranger who could qualify as a stalker, and who is probably strung out — into his house to eat.

The second stand-out was near the end of the movie, following a clip of Yoko reliving the night John was shot. As she finishes her story, the movie shows John in a limo, pulling up to the Dakota. The background music is that frenetic, winding blur of strings from the end of A Day in the Life. The limo stops, and John gets out. We see the famous glasses falling in slow-motion, hitting the pavement as the Beatles slam multiple pianos to create that explosive chord from the end of the song. The glasses shatter, and John is lost to us for good. The movie cuts to mourners standing vigil as All You Need Is Love plays. And that — nearly eight years later — that was the point at which I finally cried for John Lennon.

Can you imagine?

Lyrics:

Imagine there’s no heaven;
It’s easy if you try.
No hell below us;
Above us, only sky.
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

Imagine there’s no countries;
It isn’t hard to do.
Nothing to kill or die for,
And no religion, too.
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace; you…

You may say I’m a dreamer,
But I’m not the only one.
I hope someday you’ll join us,
And the world will be as one.

Imagine no possessions;
I wonder if you can.
No need for greed or hunger;
A brotherhood of man.
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world; you…

You may say I’m a dreamer,
But I’m not the only one.
I hope someday you’ll join us,
And the world will live as one.

—–

Also-rans:

  • Instant Karma! (We All Shine On) (Single)
  • Happy Xmas (War is Over) (Single)
  • Mother, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
  • Working Class Hero, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
  • Love, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
  • God, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
  • Crippled Inside, Imagine
  • Jealous Guy, Imagine
  • Gimme Some Truth, Imagine
  • How Do You Sleep?, Imagine
  • Oh Yoko!, Imagine
  • John Sinclair, Some Time in New York City
  • Mind Games, Mind Games
  • Whatever Gets You thru the Night, Walls and Bridges
  • #9 Dream, Walls and Bridges
  • Stand By Me, Rock ‘n’ Roll
  • (Just Like) Starting Over, Double Fantasy
  • Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy), Double Fantasy
  • Watching the Wheels, Double Fantasy
  • Woman, Double Fantasy
  • I’m Stepping Out, Milk and Honey
  • I Don’t Want to Face It, Milk and Honey
  • Nobody Told Me, Milk and Honey

—–

Spinning the wheels.

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About Dan Bain

Dan is an award-winning humorist, features writer, emcee and entertainer from Raleigh, NC. His collection of humor essays, A Nay for Effort, has earned him fans from one end of his couch to the other. Why not join them and buy one? (You won't have to sit on his couch.) Dan will donate 10 percent of the book's proceeds to education. You can check it out at www.danbain.net; thanks!
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