Imagine: John Lennon at 75?
John Lennon was born on 9 October 1940 in Liverpool, England. Had he lived, he would be celebrating his 75th birthday today. There’s no doubt the world would have been celebrating with him.
Like other artists whose unique talents and creativity live on for generations after their passing, John Lennon was a complex individual, with nice and nasty qualities, idealism and cynicism.
He was always my favourite Beatle. I liked his radicalness and sharp wit. He was the group’s thinker, the ‘political’ Beatle during a period when many young people throughout the western world were questioning and challenging the ways, habits, and established institutions, of previous generations. We were also rebelling in more direct ways against the US and its allies in Vietnam, apartheid in South Africa and all forms of racism. And John was on our side!
In 1965, the Beatles were awarded the MBE (Members of the British Empire) by the Queen. Four years later, as John’s political awareness developed, he returned his medal in protest against British policy in the Nigerian civil war and against the Vietnam war – and also, he said in jest, to protest against his record, ‘Cold Turkey’, slipping in the charts. He was no Gandhi or Martin Luther King jr. There was always the acerbic quip or joke to make clear that he did not take himself as seriously as his admirers or as the scholars who dissected the Beatles lyrics in search of deeper meaning.
Lennon believed in the power of music when linked to social movements for change. After the Beatles officially broke up in 1970, he took part in protest rallies and marches in America, where he had settled with Yoko Ono in 1971, and his music became much more political. In 1969, ‘Give peace a chance’ had become an anthem for the Vietnam protest movement around the world, while ‘Power to the people’, released in 1971, laid bare what democracy is really about. Or should be.
His ultimate song, though, was ‘Imagine’, also released in 1971. It has been described as ‘a humanist plea and socialist anthem’. Its sweet slow gentle delivery hides a message that is uncompromisingly radical, even revolutionary, in its call for a world without borders, without religion, and based on sharing rather than possession.
John Lennon was assassinated in his adopted home of New York City on 8 December 1980. He lives on through his music and whenever people imagine a better future.