Today is my 60th birthday. On my 20th birthday, I found out John Lennon had been assassinated (for those of you who think it was only a “murder” or a “killing,” peace be upon you), in New York City from Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football.
I was living alone in a roach-infested single-room apartment two blocks from Florida State’s campus. There was no phone in the apartment and no one to call if there had been. I turned off the television and played the only John Lennon solo record I had, which was a 45 of “Mind
Games.” Not much later I acquired Lennon’s greatest hits and his Plastic Ono LP which was life-altering. But they wouldn’t have mattered on the night of my 20th birthday either, because for me John Lennon was a Beatle and that really was something to be.
The Beatles were never my favorite band. I loved their music but any chance they would replace the Four Seasons and the Beach Boys after I saw the movie I Wanna Hold Your Hand in the spring of 1978, was made irrelevant when I found the Byrds’ Greatest Hits in a Woolco bargain bin in June. Plus, if I’d had a favorite Beatle (and I don’t) it wouldn’t have been John. Probably just because he was so many other people’s favorite. Usually people like rock critics, of whom I was already suspicious, not least because guys like John Lennon courted them, and because they let him.
John Lennon was a deeply flawed man to say the least: a violent-tempered, wife-abusing, audience-baiting hypocrite, one of many celebrities who loved everything about Marxism except the part where you don’t get to keep your money and didn’t seem to realize that was a feature, not a bug.
All that and more.
If you stick through all that, you realize Lennon was not quite predictable. In the age of celebrity politics that was just heaving into view on the night Lennon was shot, if one man in all that ghastly crew could have been counted on not to remain on the ridge in safety, it was John Lennon. I could imagine him hating or loving Donald Trump, for instance, or treating the whole age with the contempt it deserves, but I could never imagine him making excuses for the likes of Joe Biden. Maybe that makes me naive. But, as someone who felt a cold chill that night in December 1980, as I was listening to “Mind Games” over and over, a chill that could not be explained by my feelings about Lennon, the song, or even the Beatles, I can only say that from this end of the Frozen Silence, Elton John wasn’t wrong a few months later when he sang that his friend could not be replaced.
Many have tried. But he’s still John Lennon and they’re still not.
Happy Birthday to me. R.I.P. to the man who turned out to be as good a hero as any: