“The idol of today pushes the hero of yesterday out of our recollection; and will, in turn, be supplanted by his successor tomorrow.” - --Washington Irving, The Sketch Book
“Yet, if he would, man cannot live all to this world. If not religious, he will be superstitious. If he worship not the true God, he will have his idols.” - --Theodore Parker
“If there were no God, it would be necessary to invent him.” - --Voltare
“…God is a concept…” – John Lennon
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” - --Albert Einstein
“Imagination disposes of everything; it creates beauty, justice, and happiness, which is everything in this world.” - --Pascal
“Imagine… s’easy if you try…” –John Lennon
I’ve now struggled through three essays on this subject – the thin line between music and apparent worship and what it means, as (music-)-listeners, to draw so much from another human, another human’s works, acts and words… his songs.
John Lennon may be the definitive idol. The. The most influential member of the most influential group, (a rock group, rock being, ostensibly, a new religion onto itself). A man and an artist whose popularity and provocations were balanced, intertwined; a man and an artist who balanced depth in talent, in universal accessibility, and in idealism.
A pop star who marched with people, megaphone in hand. An idol who turned a press conference into a globally transmitted show of protest. A dreamer who encouraged you to imagine. You’ve heard it all before.
But I wanted to know what it means now, to mark a day (forthcoming in December) of 30 years without John. (And, I remark on how commonplace it is for us, when speaking/writing of him, to simply say, “John…”). What is sadder about these 30 vacant years? The lost potential – how much more he could have done, how much more he could have said, shown us? Would we all have been stronger for it? Would we all have been closer together for it?
Is it sadder, in a way, that he has not yet been, for lack of a better word, replaced, …or, perhaps better, had his torch sufficiently revived and carried on? There’s got to be more to it than these disconcerting kinds of hullabaloo-parading-as-commemoration (namely, the aptly timed re-issues of his albums in stores, which, is just unavoidable in these big-rolling machine days of Best Buy and Amazon music sales).
But where is his torch? Was it extinguished in front of the Dakota in NY 30 years ago? Maybe it just seems that way because I slide ashamedly too easily into cynicism because I dwell too readily upon a bemusing musical landscape dotted by Gaga’s and Kanye’s and Swift’s and Dancing-with-Stars, or upon a stomach churning political landscape of vitriolic division and ever simmering international tension.
But there’s a soothing thrill knowing that you have a universal connection to what must be at least 90% of any gathered group of people inside any room you probably walk into in your daily life – that his voice has moved us all. Maybe the torch starts spreading like some divine epidemic, a transmutable inspiration fever, spreading out from the moment the world stood silent for 10 minutes, candles flickering in the early December chill of ‘80, masses huddled together and sharing grief (but also sharing reminiscences of joy) and it gets passed down to each following generation, each new listener who puts on headphones and plays back the immortal records.
John isn’t dead. He did all he did. He said all he said. And it’s forever a reference to draw back upon, a song to replay. I still get goosebumps at the replaying of “Imagine”…for whatever 300-some-odd time I’ve heard it.
I’ve been dancing around the possibility that we indulge in a religious sort of worship for our favorite musicians – but show me a religion that risks incurring the untamable muse of imagination – that, to me, is the power of John. For any pop star, any idol, any insanely admired figure, to, in a way, reflect the power, give it to you – (that war is over if YOU want it… that imagining no religion, no possessions, no countries, is easy…if YOU try). That, that sort of service of inspiration is topped upon his already noted musical talent, his sensibility for writing not only a pleasing pop song but wrapping it in such a rich style, a sense for blues as much as baroque, in a language we not only understood, but seemingly worded in a way that felt already imprinted upon our brains and already long-pumping through our hearts.
further reading - John Lennon/Yoko Ono - 1980 Interview with Playboy Magazine
Go forward. You’ve been inspired. Well… it’s easy if you try. Go forward.
John, unlike the pop stars that would follow and continue to fail in supplanting him, remains an idol we can commemorate simply by remembering his profound words, songs, actions – We don’t have to drop $75 to see him at Madison Square Gardens and hope to hear some spurring between song banter as we might unavoidably have to do with our modern glitzy Gagas; no, we don’t even necessarily have to go back out to Best Buy to buy these re-issues coming out on his birthday.
We can just remember. We can just listen (because, let’s face it, most of us probably already own these albums). We can talk to those who lived while he was alive (if you don’t have these albums, your parents probably do), talk about what he meant to them, talk about what he meant to strangers.
Is such religious-esque fever misguided? Not when it is such an indisputably humanistic, secular, altruistic message. Not when the message is something like: All you need is love.
Imagine. John’s words don’t have to be the final word. A testament. He’s inspired you. So. What’s the next word?