Monday, June 15, 2009

Strawberry fields, forever

Last April I visited New York City for the first time and paid my respects to the Strawberry Fields and Imagine mosaic in the Central Park, across the street to the Dakota Building where John Lennon used to live and where he was shot to death too.

I wasn't two years old yet when John Lennon died, so I obviously don't have any memory of him from when he was alive. However he has been, and somehow still is, very important in my life.

The Beatles' music and some of Lennon's own songs, are almost like mystical revelations to me. I live in a pagan and materialistic time when being mystically moved is unusual, but some of that music manages to get me in deep.

Deeper than I ever thought something like that could get.

So I gave John Lennon a serious thought. I worked it out in the back of my mind while I was at any of my jobs, or studying, or biking or strolling around, or simply doing nothing.

Wondering why today, and surely for a long time too, John Lennon is there every time someone focuses on Paul McCartney, the Beatles, or pop music in general. Why people like me, or even younger, are so fond of John Lennon and keep listening to his music and buying posters and T-shirts with his face. I tried to understand it, and I come up with this conclusion: that there are 3 aspects or dimensions of John Lennon.

1. The human dimension. He was born in 1940 and died in 1980. Earned his living as a musician, got married twice, had two sons, loved, hated, wished, militated and tried to raise awareness, and died. He personally met a lot of people, but relatively few compared to all those people he somehow influenced.

2. The artist dimension. I have reasons to believe that the most artistically influential era in Lennon's life was during the Beatles' existence. During the seventies he swayed in political pursuits, withdrew from the public life for a time and didn't produce as much as he had done during the previous decade.

3. The third dimension, the legendary dimension. The John Lennon legend. A huge and inexhaustible interest for all things Lennon, for the twists and turns of his mind, for his music, but also for his concerns, motivations and origins. A gigantic whole that's impossible to cover, what's surprising since it only sources from documents -- John Lennon's been dead for almost three decades now. That same whole that explains that the Liverpool Airport is named John Lennon and it's motto is above us only sky, and the market is big enough to merit the release of a Lennon IPod.

Why so much interest? Why such a legend, unmatched by any of the other Beatles'? In his solo career he wasn't a creative powerhouse and the quality of his work was uneven. His pacifist attempts weren't followed by many and today, nobody would do what he did in order to raise awareness against the war and famine... so I tend to assume it's because they were ineffective. His most emblematic song, Imagine, was a hit when it was released in 1973 but then sled off and it was only after Lennon died and the movie with the same title was released, that the song gained immortality.

I believe there's so much interest because of Yoko Ono, his widow.

"The woman who lead the Beatles to their breakup" was said of her for a long time. And it might as well be true. But it's also true that Yoko authorized, and probably sponsored, the release of every song Lennon ever recorded, to the point that it's unlikely there's any version left officially unreleased. I wasn't aware until recently that there's been a "new" John Lennon album every four or five years, and the owner of those master tapes is Yoko. Yoko granted permission and provided a lot of material for the Anthology documentary, Yoko allows someone or other to publish letters or pictures, Yoko provides funding for the Liverpool airport and proposes it's named after John Lennon, Yoko still lives in the Dakota and gives public talks from time to time, it's Yoko who keeps the interest in John Lennon alive.

Mind you it's no small feat. With an occasional but steady releasing of books, films and lesser known or unfinished songs, over the years the prevailing perception during the sixties that Paul was the group's talented musician and George was the most accomplished performer, with John in a role of the group's leader was contested and overcame. His militancy and political concerns, seen at the time as desperate attempts from somebody starving for attention, now are regarded as thoughtful and courageous. His artistic pursuits and ambitions were seen as afterthoughts, but now are understood as the fruits of a prolific and curious mind. I am sure Yoko Ono was behind it all but never pushing, never imposing. Always shaping, one step ahead everyone else.

I have seen some of Yoko Ono's works in museums and I don't understand them, but I don't doubt for a second she is a true artist and her masterwork is John Lennon.

No comments: