John Lennon Has Never Been Dead
I never met John Lennon, but for seven years I was alive while he was alive. That's always meant something to me. In fact, the first time I ever understood the concept of mortality was when I was walking by one of my professor's offices, and taped to his door was a newspaper clipping entitled "The Reality of a Student Today." It contained all sorts of historical statements of fact for the school's most recently admitted students. On the list was: "John Lennon Has Always Been Dead." I couldn't understand how that could be a reality for anyone, and I felt sorry for anyone for whom that was true.
I have spent countless hours thinking about this man. Hours of my one-and-only life on this planet, hours that I'll never get back, have been spent wondering about this person whom I'll never know. I am not alone in this activity. To love The Beatles is to feel that you know them, personally. (I've heard people say the same of Charles Dickens, and other artists whose person is inseparable from their art). Gene Simmons of Kiss is among those who spends hours laying on his couch, thinking about the Beatles, their relationship, the things they did, what they were like, the whole of it, daydreaming it all. It never feels like time wasted.
I spent most of the time of my first trip to Manhattan visiting any physical location to which John had ever been. Certainly one of those places contained a secret portal, on the other side of which was 1977 New York, John waiting just for me. The closest I got to this was Cafe La Fortuna, just around the corner from The Dakota, the cafe where John sipped cappuccinos and read the paper. I just sat there for an hour, willing myself back in time, searching for some molecule that had bumped against him. As I left, I asked the cashier if she had ever met John. She paused and gave me a cold look and said: "I wasn't even born when he died."
In Superman II, there is a sequence wherein Superman purposefully renounces his powers and becomes a mere mortal (and all for a girl, of course). Upon doing so, his ass is kicked almost immediately; draw parallels to John's ultimate fate if you'd like. I believe this is what happened to The Beatles when John broke up the band. They lost their super-powers and each become a mere mortal. But the most "mortal" and human was John. In his final years he seemed to explore each day of New York as if he'd come to earth for the first time. (He was baking bread long before pandemics made it fashionable to do so). He'd push his kid in a stroller around central park. He'd walk around the corner to his favorite cafe. He seemed to be sampling the experience of being just a person. I imagine him learning how to use scissors just to cut coupons. And all the while people would not stop asking him when he would return to being Superman again. "Can't I have a break?" was his response. "Isn't changing the entire world enough for a lifetime?"
There is a famous story of a fan asking John about the origin of "Hey Jude." John immediately quipped that the song was actually for Brien Epstein, The Beatles' deceased gay manager, and the song was originally called "Queer Jew." As if on cue, he and everyone at his table began singing "Naaaaa Na Na Na-Na-Na-Naaaaa, Na-Na-Naaaaaa, Queer Jew!" And then, just as quickly, he burst into tears. This is one of my favorite stories about John. Only he could mock his dead gay manager; only he could burst into tears at his feelings of loss and love for the man who was The Beatles' biggest fan, and I'm sure at the feelings that came with knowing that the person who wrote a cheer-up song for his own son, Julian, wasn't him; it was Paul.
There are so many anecdotes and stories about this man that if you knew them, well, you might be like Gene Simmons and me, daydreaming on a couch about knowing him for just a second.
Perhaps the best summary of just how awesome these guys were belongs to Paul Saltzman. When The Beatles were in India, he purposefully went to the sanctuary to meet them. He got in and walked up to the table at which they were sitting and asked to join them. They said, Of course, Mate. After some time, The Beatles got up and left, and Saltzman asked their roadie Mal Evans, "Are they always that cool?" Mal replied: "Well, not ALWAYS. But, pretty much. Yeah."
The most moving thing I ever read about John Lennon I found only after years and years of reading biographies of both John and The Beatles. Harry Nilson was John Lennon's best friend during the 70s. After John's death, Nilson spent the rest of his life trying to ban guns. He died of alcoholism several years later, never recovering from John's death. And what he once told someone about John was this: "I admit that I was a little bit in love with him. He really was the best friend a person could ever hope to have."
And that's what I cannot help but feel every single time I hear John's voice or see his picture. I'm sure John would be the first person to tell me, as he told so many other people, that he was just a guy, no different from me. But, well, I don't know. I never knew the man, but he really does seem like the best friend any person could hope to have.
in 2000, Rolling Stone interviewed various people and had them describe their feelings for John Lennon. Oddly enough, Drew Barrymore's response was my favorite, and I think of it often to this day:
"He was just the raddest."
Tomorrow is John Lennon's 80th birthday.
I love you, John. You've never been dead to me.