an autobiography in the works...
Isn't He a Bit Like You and Me
Genre: Classic Rock
Artist: An Article about John Lennon
In each person's story, he is his own hero.
Some heroes go to their graves forgotten, with no one but their mothers calling them brilliant yet sensitive and misunderstood, and little else to show for it in the end. Others go on to become heroes for other people.
For every hero there is a tragic flaw, and the Beatles were no different. Among the mop tops, George Harrison was a present-day King Arthur, overshadowed by internal struggles, honored too late, with his wife stolen by someone he considered a friend (enter Eric Clapton as Lancelot). Vanity and PR love made Paul Narcissus, in my book. As for Ringo, he isn't a hero - he just got lucky since the producers didn't like Pete Best, the Beatles' original drummer.
Lennon began as his own hero.
At a young age, he was dealt more than his fair share of pain and betrayal. The abandonment of his father; the loss of his mother, his kindly Uncle George, and his close friend Stu Sutcliffe brought him too close to mortality and what it meant. The hurt transformed him into a brash, tough-talking young man, determined to cover his bases at all times; unwilling to let anyone see any sign of weakness. Instead, he wore his tragic flaw like a badge - John perfected being every kind of wanker. Evidence of this abounds. There is no need to look any further than his first wife Cynthia, who came home one day to find her husband in her kitchen, coolly sipping tea with Yoko Ono. His manager Brian Epstein, who was madly in love with him, had to endure John poking cruel fun at his memoir "A Cellarful of Noise," by renaming it "A Cellarful of Boys." Everyone from Stu to his beloved Aunt Mimi was equally hurt and charmed by John's ability to be a trash-talking troublemaker one moment; the next, a repentant, lovable child.
Perhaps because he had experienced death and loss so early on in his life, John was fierce about the things he loved dearly - and it made him determined to rock life as hard as he knew how. At Stu Sutcliffe's funeral, John walked up to Stu's girlfriend Astrid Kirchner and said, " Make up your mind, you either live or you die. You can't be in the middle."
Every decision, every thing he did thereafter made his choice clear. In all the biographies and writings on Lennon I've read, John would never become the type to consider offing himself. He loved life and everything it stood for, warts and all. He had too much to live for. While he certainly did want to live, there is no indicator that he knew exactly what he was on about. The mistake most people make is making a hero a god, which John certainly wasn't. He had his gaffes, just like the rest of us - only on a bigger scale because he had more money to make mistakes with.
But the best part is that for all his bravado, he was able to admit it in "Nowhere Man:"
"He's a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody
Doesn't have a point of view
Knows not where he's going to
Isn't he a bit like you and me?"
It is a flash of vulnerability on his part, echoed when he wrote "Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans." Crap happens, and we have no idea where we're headed, but let's rock the ride anyway and see what happens.
It doesn't mean people will cheer you on - as a matter of fact, more people wrote Lennon off as a loony with more money than he knew what to do with. He annoyed more than his fair share of fellow Beatles, fans, and dignitaries.
As is the case with many gifted people, John had to struggle before the world was acquainted with his genius. But by then he had his ticket to ride - and as time went on he discovered that people's opinions mattered less and less to him.
Pain had forced John to grow iron-clad balls. They made him pursue whatever it was he wanted to pursue, call things as he saw them, and let the chips fall where they might.
He also grew the guts needed to do what many men find an ordeal - apologize. He eventually buckled down and did so when his "The Beatles are bigger than Jesus" statements were blown out of proportion. He all but threw his MBE back in Buckingham Palace's face in protest of Nigeria-Biafra and England's support of America in the Vietnam War. This was perceived as another of his weird publicity stunts, but in hindsight we can clearly conclude that maybe Paul would be more capable of selfish publicity, but not John. To this day I believe that Paul had to be more active as far as promotion was concerned to make up for having less of a personality, but John was a supernova - he always seemed to have something unexpected going on.
I believe that everything John went through prepared him to just say "Buggerit," and try new things, because he figured he had more to lose if he didn't say or do something. He went through more failures because he launched into more experiments than the average, but that also made him more successful.
Average people don't have that sort of courage. I fear I am one of them.
In my own personal story, I think my own tragic flaw is my fear - I fear failure. I fear falling flat on my face. I fear risks. In a way I suppose it's also because not enough things have happened to scare me into hanging it all out there.
Perhaps Lennon's biggest legacy to me is his own tragic flaw. You can't always be afraid of being seen as crazy, or an ass, or a horrible person. Life is not bordered by eggshells, not to be handled with tongs and oven mitts. It's not meant to be cut off like a limb with gangrene the minute it goes bad, either. You need to explore each and every way of making life work with you. If John proved anything to the universe, it was that you don't achieve anything by doing yourself in - you can make one hell of an impact by hanging on, making some solid music and occasionally a general nuisance of yourself.
If I were to replace my tragic flaw with his own, that would cancel out this fear that catches me like headlights do a deer. I'm not going to say I don't care what people think; I'm not quite there yet. But I can't let what people say paralyze me. I can't waste too much time making them understand - I need to trust that they will grow to understand my decisions; or at least learn to live with them. John made people want to understand. How pain can transform you. How it can make you break down sometimes, but you mustn't let it beat you. How you can fail all your classes in school and still wind up on top. How fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity. How you can channel your pain into something that makes the entire world alternately bob their heads and weep along with you. Ultimately, he became Orpheus, taking everything he had lost and making us mourn with him and for him.
He sang his story to us and we took it to our hearts and made it our own story. A story where fools lead perfectly happy lives on hills; egg-men, walruses, plasticine porters with looking-glass ties live in perfect harmony with Mean Mr Mustard and Rocky Raccoon in our land of submarines. A story where a regular and flawed human being can become a working-class hero.
And to this day I am one among many who sing along and keep adding new bits to the story he has left; who keep the faith; who remember that heroes are human; who remember that heroes can become heroes of other stories; and who believe that above us, there is only sky.
In-Print (Fully Booked Newsletter)
Issue No. 14 / February - March 2006