I Come Not To Praise John Lennon But To Bury Him
I never cared for the Beatles. Or, as I call them, the Overatles.
I could name the number of Beatles songs I genuinely like on one hand. “Come Together,” sometimes “Let It Be,” and I must confess some fondness for some a cappella versions I’ve heard of “Strawberry Fields Forever.” And, if done by Earth, Wind and Fire, “Got To Get You Into My Life.” And I still have room for an opposable thumb.
I find more poetry in any single song by Curtis Mayfield than I find in the entire pretentious oeuvre of John Lennon. I find more musical intelligence and intellectual content in any single song by Paul Simon than anything Lennon ever did. More sensitivity in anything by Carole King or James Taylor. More political integrity in anything by Woodie Guthrie. More harmonic invention in early Chicago or early Yes or early Genesis. More classical chops in any Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Anything you can name to me that made John Lennon “great,” I can name you back an example of someone who did that exact thing but better.
You could make an argument that while each of these different acts did their particular things well, Lennon was the total package and that’s what made him great. Okay, if you say so, but I’m the kind of guy that likes to hear excellence in some dimension rather than adequate above-averageness across the board, which is what Lennon has always represented to me. He’s an above-average vocalist, but not great; an above-average guitarist, but not great; a reasonably gifted songwriter, but in my view there are so many songwriters who do it better and don’t have to rely on drug-induced cryptography to make people go “wow, that’s deep.” Give me an “in the clearing stands a boxer” over an “I am the Walrus coo-coo-ca-choo” any day.
But there’s one thing that he did really, really well, you have to admit, and that’s knocking around his wife.
So in the past few days, I’ve seen the murdered Overatle’s mug coming up again and again on my facebook feed, because it’s his birthday or something, and I think, I guess people just don’t know. Or they’re willing to overlook it. Or something.
Of course, there are people on my side on this. Here, you can get a top ten list of things that made JL pretty loathesome, though unfortunately this list has the perhaps fatal flaw that smacking around Cynthia (though this article claims Yoko got whacked around too) only rates #10 on the top ten list, with his songwriting shortcomings rating around #3 or #4. Really?
Then there’s Julian Lennon, who calls his dad a hypocrite. I think if you read between the lines, you can see that the abuse was a problem for him to deal with.
A lot of people won’t believe Cynthia Lennon’s account of matters, of course, but I do, because violence against women is a global pandemic. That’s today, in the here and now. Why would it have been any better in Cynthia Lennon’s day, which was a much more misogynist and patriarchal era in the U.S. and U.K.? Besides, the only people that doubt the credibility of women who say they were abused are the MRAs (Mens’ “Rights” A-Holes).
So why don’t we believe her, or if we do believe her, why don’t we care? Because he wrote a pretty-sounding fantasy that many people love, even though most people who love it don’t even believe in its central message since it’s kind of, sort of a paean to atheism and most people aren’t actually atheists? Really?
But, I guess if you’re like most people, or at least most of my facebook friends if they’re any indication, this view will resonate with you more closely than my own:
I don’t love Lennon because I think he is some kind of infallible being. I love him because he was a great singer and songwriter. He, like all people, was human. He made mistakes. The fact that some people feel it’s their duty to dredge up these mistakes and air dirty laundry some 40-odd years later speaks more for their character than Lennon’s, don’t you think?
Yeah, guys like me are the bad guys here, dredging up what is euphemistically referred to here as “dirty laundry” and “mistakes.” What lacking character I must have, not to see that a great singer and songwriter (but whom I for one don’t feel was all that great, but whatever) was human and made “mistakes.” He couldn’t have been that bad, right? He taught us to imagine, after all.
Well, then. Let’s imagine.
Imagine you’re Cynthia Lennon, and this guy beat you up. And everywhere you go this guy who beat you up is heralded as a saint. And imagine that you’ve been putting up with this BS for forty years. And imagine that when he got shot— which wasn’t actually his idea or any kind of real accomplishment on his part or anything— he became a martyr on a par with Martin Luther King or Malcolm X. Imagine trying to get people to listen to you, trying to get people to understand that this sainted man had a dark side and was actually pretty much a creep. But nobody listens because he’s a saint, and has been a saint for forty years, and then when some people finally come forward to set the record straight, you get— heh— shot down. Shot down by people saying “well, we shouldn’t air dirty laundry from forty years ago” and by people questioning your character and integrity for refusing to suffer in silence and for having the unmitigated temerity to actually complain a little.
Maybe I’m missing something. Or maybe it’s that everyone else is missing something… something called empathy. Because I for one could not possibly imagine what it would be like to have to have put up with the sanctification of my abuser for forty years.
Can you imagine?