December 12, 2020


Lennon was killed on the cusp of that change, as symbolic as only a crowd symbol can be. His killer, the thwarted fan Mark Chapman, disapproved of the comments that had contributed to the end of The Beatles’ touring career, Lennon’s musings of March 1966: “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary.”

The hysteria that followed the publication of Lennon’s claim supplies the central panel of the historical triptych. From the fascism of the European Thirties (stadium rallies, radio broadcasts, students burning books), to the mass entertainment of the American Sixties (stadium concerts, television broadcasts, young Christians burning Beatles albums), to the rise of globalized Islam in the Eighties (more stadium rallies, satellite television, young Islamists burning The Satanic Verses).

Lennon did not cross the historical frontier of 1980 along with the other three Beatles and his most ardent admirers, the Boomers. This prevented him from vitiating his appeal by ageing or making rubbish records in the decades of Rock music’s apparently interminable senescence. It could not prevent him turning into the horror that he had already become and could never escape: a modern celebrity.

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“The dream is over,” Lennon sang on “God” in 1970. “I don’t believe in Beatles.” But the copyrights live forever. Lennon escaped from one brand, the moptopped cartoon that were the early Beatles, but now he is more tightly imprisoned in Yoko’s franchise than he ever was in one of Brian Epstein’s suits.

This, to the evident and unending chagrin of Paul McCartney, is what Lennon now means, at least to those born after in the era when music was the dominant modern art form. He is the icon of a consumer substitute for religion and morality in the post-Christian West. This is everything he had attained by the time of that fateful interview in March 1966, and everything he tried to escape by breaking himself down in the following decade. Imagine if Lennon had lived, and seen how Yoko, his saviour and true love, his “Mother”, had turned his tormented life and great tunes into a parodic cash cow. It’s easy if you try.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE (FROM GLENN): I think Lennon might have fit in better in the 1980s than the above suggests: Working class hero? John Lennon ‘was closet conservative and fan of Reagan.’ “But by the time he died, John Lennon was a closet conservative embarrassed by his radical past, according to his former personal assistant. Fred Seaman claims that the former Beatle was a fan of Ronald Reagan, who went on to become America’s Republican president in 1981 and forged a close political alliance with Margaret Thatcher. ‘John, basically, made it very clear that if he were an American he would vote for Reagan because he was really sour on [Democrat] Jimmy Carter,’ he says in a documentary film.”

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