Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"John Lennon, In My Life"

While recently going through some Beatles-related content on the Internet, I came across this earnest tribute to John Lennon. It was penned by a young-adult fiction writer named Julia Karr for PopMatters (a website, incidentally, that I once wrote for). Here's an excerpt:

As much as I loved George, I began identifying more and more with the songs John was writing. His wit, his grittiness and his candor were reflections, not just of my own life, but of life in the world. As I was going through changes, so was John, and he was much more eloquent in his expression.

And Ms. Karr concludes:

If only I could, I would tell him, “Even though you didn’t know it, John, you shared so much of yourself with me. You took me from adolescent schoolgirl crushes to the recognition of the importance of being true to yourself, your creative expression, and your life at large. Your lyrics and life journey were the concrete demonstration that peace and love really are all one needs. Your music and your vision live on today. Thank you, John Lennon ... in my life I love you more.”

Now before I make a few critical comments about the piece, I should state that I don't at all doubt the sincerity of Ms. Karr's connection to John. On both an artistic and human level, he's powerfully compelling. Nearly 30 years after his death, the force of his personality and the brilliance of his songwriting still affect fans in ways that foster very deep attachments. Ms. Karr is just one of many who share these feelings. The issue I have with her piece is that it presents such an incomplete and sanitized picture of John. It's hagiographic to the core and makes no attempt to come to terms with or even address John's many failings as a father, a husband, and a Beatle. The same guy who became a spokesman for world peace and unity was also someone who, at various times in his life, was cruel and abusive to women, heartbreakingly callous to his first son Julian (the "whiskey bottle on a Saturday night" comment comes to mind), and destructively vain when dealing with his fellow Beatles. To put it crudely, for a considerable part of his adult life, John Lennon was all too capable of being a mammoth asshole. And because this is indisputable, I tend to feel that remembrances of John which neglect to mention his deep flaws are blinkered to the point of naivete. It's just too easy to drape his memory in the idealism that marked some of his life's activities and paint a convenient, comforting portrait. He was so much more complex, and that's what Karr's swooning paean doesn't remark on even in passing. John Lennon wasn't a saint; he was all too human.

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