9th October,1940. A genius was born, in Liverpool.
I wasn’t even sure how I should begin this post- how in the world do you write something to a person who died before you were born, but one who’s been part of your life ever since you were a little child?
And by a ‘part’ of my life, I mean most of it. I still remember coming home to empty rooms after school as a little girl, both my parents at work, and I’d do the one thing I’d been asked to avoid – tinker around with the music system. I’d seen my mother press a button, and three CDs would come spinning out, which I found infinitely fascinating.
My first memory was of this boxed set of discs with four cute men in pajamas staring down a balcony, and I decided to investigate.
I wondered why the CDs had apples on them for a minute – then into the player they went.
And there they remain, to this day - the discs, every cassette, every lyric book, even the music system I played it all on.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Every single room that I’ve had or lived in, ever since I was a child, I’ve had a picture, photograph, drawing or poster of, and other pictures of the Four of them together, being Fab. For three years, all I had was the Blue Album and Yellow Submarine, both of which I wore out in a very, very short span of time, trying to figure out which voice was John, which was Paul, which was George, and which Ringo.
I had every lyric committed to memory in a few years, but I was hungry for more, and a raid of the old cassettes that we had, the ones that were pretty much the primary source of music, even in the early 90s, yielded a compilation of hits.
Pretty much every spare moment I had after school and homework, before homework, during homework — and my favourite – INSTEAD of homework–was spent listening to The Beatles, dancing and prancing around the room, and jumping on the bed as I sang along, or banging out notes on my little mini Casio keyboard.
Then, my tenth birthday happened. The Beatles 1 album had just been released two months earlier, and I’d begged my parents to buy it ever since, but no go.
As I began to open my presents, I saw a thin, hard one on top of the pile, from a friend at school.
I attempted to get the paper off delicately, but the moment I saw a little flash of the bright red cover, I knew what it was. I still remember jumping around, putting it into the CD player, and getting infinitely excited when a song I’d already heard came on. I practically screamed out the words with John, Paul, Ringo and George in my excitement.
Growing older, which has been fun in parts, but not really all that fun, led to Revolver and Rubber Soul entering my life. Money from odd jobs, birthday presents, or just from visiting relatives – it was all stashed away, as I worked towards saving up the price of another Beatles CD. The White Album, Revolver and Rubber Soul slowly came into my life, as did the discovery of Let it Be and the Past Masters volumes in the corners of my own house. I can attest to the fact that they helped me through some of the most difficult years of my life – being bullied, abused and discriminated against at school, and then being physically, verbally and mentally abused at home, and looking to harming myself to deal with all the pain and resentment I felt.
I discovered Lennon Legend: The Very Best of John Lennon at a supermarket, while my mum was doing groceries, and bought it right there and then.
I think I’d already begun my journey discovering John Lennon as a child, but listening to this helped me discover the genius behind the glasses, the man behind the moptop, as it were.
It was amazing to watch the metamorphosis of a person I’d never personally known, who’d lived and died before my time, from a moptopped, adorable teenage heartthrob, to a long-haired, bespectacled, hippie heartthrob (to me, anyway.) The music had begun to evolve long before, as the simple, beautiful love songs became, first beautiful, imaginative, (though drug-fuelled) colourful ‘trips’, (a process that had already begun during Rubber Soul), as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band yielded the epic Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, the subject of which has been much-debated, to the transcendental-meditation-influenced White Album. Their music afterward began to become progressively more a compilation of their solo work, and less of a ‘band thing’ – it was amazing work, every last bit, but that of four talented entitites playing on an album, not working together.
The Beatles had famously refused to play in front of a segregated audience at the Cow Palace in Daly City, California, in 1965, at a time when revolutionaries like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., were spearheading movements against racism, although they had very different methods; Malcolm X believed in black separatism, while the widely known Civil Rights Movement headed by Martin Luther King, Jr, focused on what the Beatles believed in – integration.
Sadly, both Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr., would go on to be assassinated within the next 3 years, perhaps a foreshadowing of what, years later, was to happen to Lennon himself.
Beautiful harmonies about love and dancing and the simple, fun, beautiful bits of life, became anti-war anthems, telling people War was Over if they wanted it, if only they would Give Peace a Chance.
Perhaps I’m deifying Lennon too much.
There were several things he did that I found abhorrent, to say the least – the fact that he was, by his own admission, physically violent’ “…..I was a hitter. I couldn’t express myself and I hit…” , or that he left a wife and 5 year old son for a random artist he met at an art gallery in London (I will be the first to admit I am not a fan of Yoko Ono.).
Part of me understands where he’s coming from – the utter frustration of things not going your way, in any aspect of your life, baggage from the past, general pent-up anger that only gets worse, festering, bubbling, coming to a boil, and exploding. I’ve never been physically violent with others, but I have been, and still am, sometimes, violent with myself – sometimes it seems there is no other way to deal with all that pain and anger but to feel it, physically.
While this does not mean I condone violence, in any form, on any level, I admire that he came to terms with his own failings – here is his statement, in its entirety: “”I used to be cruel to my woman, and physically—any woman. I was a hitter. I couldn’t express myself and I hit. I fought men and I hit women. That is why I am always on about peace”- and proceeded to do something about them. I still haven’t been able to, not completely.
Goodness knows, in today’s world, where everyone is judged by the way they look and dress, immediately stereotyped and compartmentalised, we could use something to the effect of Bagism. Total communication, and only hearing what another says, not what they look like, or how they dress, whether they fit our perception of ‘ugly’ or ‘beautiful’ (words that not only matter too much in today’s world, but that are no longer subjective) – something I have had to personally suffer through, throughout my childhood, school, college, and continue to do so.
He was also an active feminist, writing the very inflammatorily titled Woman is the Nigger of the World, inspired by James Connolly, who said “the female is the slave of the slave.” Eight years later, he wrote the beautiful Woman - “to Yoko, and to all women”, describing them as ‘the other half of the sky’.
It continues to be one of my favourite songs.
Sadly, 30 years later, we seem to have regressed into treating women as a different species of being altogether, one incapable of making rational decisions, or engaging in ratiocinative thought at all.
Music and lyrics seem to have gone down the proverbial toilet – as of 2011, popular song lyrics include “I’m trying to find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful, damn she’s a sexy b*tch/” ( he tells the woman she is nothing, compared to his neighbourhood whore ?!!?! ) , and other lyrics, even by female ‘musicians’ (the term is very loosely used nowadays), who seem to think women want nothing but to look like princesses and be ‘rescued’, or ones that find it amazing when their boyfriends tell them to “sit back down where you belong. In the corner of my bar with your high heels on”.. And it’s not just the ‘older’ audiences that are being targeted, but girls as young as 8 and 9 years old. Impressionable, unsure, just beginning to form opinions..of others, and, more importantly, of themselves.
He was, back in the 70s, the first ‘househusband’ – breaking what had been, and possibly continues to be a major stereotype – the man is the breadwinner, and his primary job is to ‘bring home the bacon’ – everything else was secondary; all the woman must do is sit at home, take care of the child, and tend to household chores.
While the ideal of women solely tending to children and household chores may be slowly disappearing from most of the world, living in India, I can safely say that except for a certain section of the socio-economically advanced, this ideal still holds true (and certainly, for some of the ‘upper class’ as well.) Most rural AND urban masses seem to believe in it, no matter how educated they, or their children are.
Although not a soul would find it awkward for a man to work as his wife stays at home to tend to the ‘chores’ and ‘children’, a househusband would still be frowned upon in today’s society – instead of looking at him as a person who has taken over the duties of tending to the household, society would judge him ‘incapable’, among other things – I suppose men are victims, too.
A quote by Lennon on the birth of his second son, Sean, warmed my cold heart immensely : “He didn’t come out of my belly but, by God, I made his bones, because I’ve attended to every meal, and to how he sleeps, and to the fact that he swims like a fish.”
He had been attempting to get back in touch with his older son, Julian, during his relationship with May Pang, which he called his ‘Lost Weekend’, and had, for the most part, retired from the public eye, choosing, instead, to focus on his family.
The tragic ending to the entire saga, however, is known to all. He was, tragically, fatally shot, on the 8th of December, 1980, while returning to his own home, by a man who had asked him for an autograph hours earlier- a man who I like to think is part of the group I call the scum of the Earth, a man named Mark David Chapman.
And that day, with no disrespect to Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly, J.P Richardson, or a certain Mr. Don McLean, is what I consider one of the ‘Days the Music Died’, and with it, an icon – of music, of peace, love, integration, feminism and so much of what is beautiful in the world.
To a man who changed my life more than a decade after he was gone and continues to change it, every day, who has been a part of it for 20 years and counting, who shall continue to be so till the day I die , and inspires me in every possible way, to one half of the most beautiful songwriting team that shall ever be, to one of my two favourite musicians-and people- in the world, with a certain Paul McCartney, after whom he was my favourite Beatle – to Mr. John Winston Ono Lennon, who once said something that is applicable to anything in life, anything at all.
“When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing the system’s game. The establishment will irritate you – pull your beard, flick your face, to make you fight.
Because once they’ve got you violent, then they know how to handle you. The only thing they don’t know how to handle is non-violence and humour.”
I hope, someday, that the world will, truly, live as one.