Keeping John Lennon in perspective
By Michael M. Bates
It has already started. With the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's death approaching, the adoration of the rocker has begun anew.
I was a Beatles fan like just about everyone else. Bought all their albums and have many of their tunes on CD today. I preferred their earlier stuff and didn't think Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, while an innovative concept album, was as good as what they'd been doing.
The release of the White Album, which included barkers like "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey, "Savoy Truffle" and "Revolution 9," made it evident the magic was fading.
I thought it was interesting that John, who was often viewed as the "smart Beatle" and the musical driving force behind the group, had a rather mediocre solo career. Maybe it was changes in his personal life or drugs or boredom or something, but the quality of most of John's work after the Beatles' breakup was unexceptional.
Lennon became active in the antiwar movement. His liberal views conferred on him an intellectual patina as well as a widespread sense that he spoke for most, if not all, young people. Even after all these years, that assumption remains. A recent NBC Dateline episode centered on Mark Chapman, who killed Lennon. The program's web site referred to "that fateful day when a generation's voice was silenced."
I can't speak for all Baby Boomers obviously, but Lennon certainly wasn't my voice. As an example, he's quoted: "Get out there and get peace, think peace, live peace, and breathe peace, and you'll get it as soon as you like." That's naïve as long as there are people – and there will always be people – who want to control almost every aspect of other people's lives.
Lennon and the antiwar movement's emphasis on peace at any price meant, to many of us, acquiescence and surrender to Communism. I'm not alone in believing the antiwar crowd gave aid and comfort to enemies while they killed our soldiers. People displaying peace signs encouraged Communist North Vietnam to hang in there until it prevailed. So, no, I don't see how Dateline can accurately characterize Lennon as a generation's voice.
Nor can I fathom how John's death was "one of the most heinous crimes of the century." That's how Dateline's Hoda Kotb characterized it. John Lennon's murder, like most murders, was tragic. Classifying it as "one of the most heinous crimes of the century," though, is over the top.
Millions of people were killed were killed by Mao. Millions of people were killed by Stalin. Millions of people were killed by Hitler. More than a million people died in Pol Pot's Cambodian killing fields. Hundreds of thousands died at the hands of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. Hundreds of thousands died in the Rwanda civil war. Saddam Hussein is responsible for murdering hundreds of thousands.
And what of the more than 900 who died in 1978 at the hands of Leftist "Reverend" Jim Jones in Guyana? In this century there were Leopold and Loeb, Susan Smith, Charles Manson, Andrew Cunanan, Timothy McVeigh, Dennis Rader, Charles Whitman, Richard Speck, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer and Charles Starkweather. There were Columbine, Heaven's Gate, the Zebra Killers, the Tylenol murders, the Birmingham church bombing and the Atlanta youth murders. The list could go on and on.
So how in the world can John Lennon's murder possibly be considered one of the most heinous crimes of the century? It can't.
John Lennon, contrary to what we'll be hearing and reading for the next couple of weeks, isn't worthy of idolatry. Like the rest of us, he was a struggling mortal trying to make sense of this world. He was a man of contradictions. What else could a guy who wrote of imagining a world with no possessions while being chauffeured in a Rolls Royce limousine be?
He died too young and I wish he were alive. I think he was intellectually honest enough that he'd have recognized some of his own mistakes. Let's appreciate him for what he was: A talented guy who, with the other Beatles, gave us a lot of enjoyable music that we're still listening to. But I wish the mainstream media would put away the incense.
John himself would be the first to keep his life and times in perspective.
Mike Bates is the author of Right Angles and Other Obstinate Truths. This essay originally appeared in the November 24, 2005 Oak Lawn (IL) Reporter.
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