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Remembering John Lennon

John Lennon - 1966
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I was just a little kid when John Lennon was taken from us.

My much older brother was a huge Beatles fan. A good artist, he’d do sketches, lithographs, paintings. He did a whole series of ink drawings of the characters in “Yellow Submarine”, a few of which I actually discovered in our old room when I was home on Thanksgiving.

I didn’t become a real Beatles fan until an 8th grade term paper on the subject.  I got an “A”.

John was my favorite.

The books I’d read about them all said John was the smart one. The rebel. The angry one. The most talented one. The bad-ass of the outfit. The sharp-tongue, who — according to Paul — “didn’t suffer fools lightly”.

I think it’s fair to say Beatles fans can, at least sometimes, be divided into two sects: the “Grey-Suits- Happy- Mop -Tops” and the “Long -Haired- Peace Loving-Experimenters”.  I am a member of the former.

I find “Sgt. Pepper” overrated, actually (Stones’ “Let it Bleed” wins best album of the 60′s, from my viewpoint).  But the simple, raw joy and energy of “A Hard Day’s Night” cannot be denied. It just captures the moment, the insanity, the excitement so perfectly. That movie is a comedy classic, incidentally. And John Winston Lennon owns it.

If you want to get a further sense of what I’m talking about, see “Backbeat”, a 1994 indie flick that chronicles the Beatles’ early days performing in Hamburg, Germany. I own it on DVD. A fellow named Ian Hart portrays John, and he is downright eerie.

Yes, like most Beatles fan, I loathed/didn’t get the whole Yoko thing.  It’s frustrating that those eight years were all we were meant to get.  I wish he’d been just a little more prolific solo.  History generally paints him as the one who, in the end, wanted out – “I ain’t no f—ing Beatle” - one book I read quoted him saying.

My perception? Ringo was more important than is generally acknowledged. George – as the quietest, youngest and least confrontational – sat back and slowly and patiently grew up, remaining placid as his talent eventually became every bit equal to “the other two”. John was generally considered “the leader”. But I think he lead by default, i.e. either we do it my way, or I quit. Paul was the real leader, at least the one who wanted success the most desperately. The one who would tolerate the endless hoop-jumping that comes with insane success. The one who would take it upon himself to convince and ply the others to jump as well. The one who would offer the smile and nod to whomever while on the other side of the door, John would be screaming and swearing. Paul understood John was needed.  He had to be tolerated.

And yet, there’s this –  a clip I saw years ago.  Some documentary about his life post-Beatles.  It was known he delighted in trashing Beatles lore.  Shining the negative light on things.  Kind of a “I hated it.  I sold out.  Really sick of everyone fawning over it” – attitude.  But in this clip, here was the angry, bitter genius, standing on the doorstep to one of his homes with Yoko. There with them was what you would assume to be Lennon’s ultimate bane:  a haggard, seemingly vacant, stuttering, backpack-wearing Beatles malcontent.

Malcontent: “So…when…you wrote…”I am the Walrus”…you weren’t…thinking about me?”

Lennon’s calm, grossly matter-of-fact reply? “No. How could I have been?”

That was followed by, “Are you hungry? Do you want something to eat?”

Give me one, just one, freakishly-worshiped superstar who WOULDN’T use that as a reality moment to mug for the camera. To try and turn it into a comedic moment in their favor. To try and use it to plug a web site, book, album or whatever.

Not John.

That’s why he was the most interesting. Aren’t they always?  The ones who you think if you so much as make eye-contact with them they’ll tear you apart. But in the end they’re not only kind, but normal?

Sucks he’s gone.

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