Thursday, December 9, 2010

Who was the "real" John Lennon?

It's a perplexing question, as John underwent multiple transformations and had a tendency to renounce past statements and actions. He even turned on most of his musical output with The Beatles. In death, he certainly remains a mystery.

Below are two articles that attempt to undo the work of overawed fans and hagiographers, and arrive at something close to the authentic John Lennon. I particularly recommend the second one.

1) "I remember the real John Lennon, not the one airbrushed by history"

Yet as he lay dying, and his killer hung around waiting for the police to arrest him and thereby anoint him with the celebrity he craved, something new was beginning.

It was the notion of John Lennon the myth, Lennon the martyr, Lennon the super genius, Lennon the real talent behind the Beatles, Lennon the man who saw through everything, Lennon the avant garde artist and Lennon the gentle, peace loving guy who prayed for the world.

Well, I knew John Lennon, and I liked him a lot. He was very kind and generous to me. I was about to fly out to New York and interview him when I got the call in the middle of the night, UK time, to tell me he’d been shot, so I wept many a tear that day.

But for the past three decades the man I’ve been reading about has grown less and less like the John Lennon I knew and, generally, more and more like some character out of Butler’s Lives Of The Saints.

2) "Stop Imagining"

This was not the ’60s revolutionary who hung out with Yippies and Black Panthers. Not only did Lennon dismiss his earlier efforts, he rejected the entire idea of social change through political action. “I have never voted for anybody, anytime, ever,” he said. “Even at my most so-called political. I have never registered and I never will. It’s going to make a lot of people upset, but that’s too bad.”

“I dabbled in so-called politics in the late Sixties and Seventies more out of guilt than anything,” he revealed. “Guilt for being rich, and guilt thinking that perhaps love and peace isn’t enough and you have to go and get shot or something, or get punched in the face, to prove I’m one of the people. I was doing it against my instincts.”

For Lennon, the political gave way to the personal and what he saw as a much more important, difficult battle. “The hardest thing is facing yourself,” he told Rolling Stone. “It’s easier to shout ‘Revolution’ and ‘Power to the people’ than it is to look at yourself and try to find out what’s real inside you and what isn’t, when you’re pulling the wool over your own eyes. That’s the hardest one.”

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