I watched a BBC Documentary from 1988. it struck me so strongly that I had to sit and watch it again. It was “Imagine” John Lennon, and it was in his own words, apparently filmed in 1971 and pieced together with interviews from Yoko Ono, Julian and Sean Lennon, as well as the aunt that raised him, his producers and his former wife.
I was 20 when Lennon was killed and I had opinions about him and his music, as well as opinions on the Beatles break-up, Yoko, his post Beatles music and other things about him. Watching this documentary really changed some of those opinions, making me take a personal look back at that time in my own life. I was born in the year that the Beatles went to Hamburg, Germany; spending time playing and recording there.
I remember my mom playing the radio in the late 60’s and hearing Beatles songs, I fell in love with the music. I was just 12 when they had their last year together and in my pre-teen way, I felt that it was the end of something really interesting. I did not experience that “Beatle Mania” stage that older kids had gone through, I was, after all, only 4 when they came here for the first time. My mom, at 21, was not into the hysteria and hype of it all.
I thought of myself as a bit of a rebel as a teen, my parents were strict. I was the eldest and therefore the babysitter and help at home while my parents worked 2 and 3 jobs to support us. There were 6 of us by 1972. That year I was 12, I lost both of my grandfathers, a traumatic thing for me. I rebelled by trying to wear mini skirts, face makeup and talk back to my parents, typical stuff. Music for me was an escape and Elvis, the Beatles and others were my saving grace during those years.
Like most teenagers coming of age in the ‘70’s, I was “against” the Vietnam War, while not really understanding the whole mess. Having to watch it all on the news was surreal. I had an MIA/POW flag and bracelet that I wore faithfully. Protest music was popular and even though I was not allowed to date or go to parties, I heard the music often. John Lennon’s “Peace” songs were known to me, but I really did not take the time to absorb and truly understand the thoughts behind them. I was too busy having crushes on boys in my High School and trying to spend as much time away from home as I could to assert my independence.
As I watched the documentary, the songs played behind the scenes and I really LISTENED to them, reflecting on what I was seeing AND hearing. “The Ballad of John and Yoko” suddenly made sense to me! Before, I had sung along with it, not really knowing what it all meant. Seeing the song through John’s words and the home movies made me look at it from a different point of view. He really did love Yoko; was devoted to her and the Peace movement. I never understood how he could be with someone so obviously different from anyone else in his life.
I never appreciated the words to “Beautiful Boy” before seeing the home movies of John with his son Sean. What an eye-opening thing it is to hear and see a father’s love in a song written for Sean. I had thought John to be a horrible father for abandoning his son Julian; he admitted that in this film, he never really got to know his older son until he married Yoko. I had, like so many others, attributed the troubles of the Beatles to the pairing with Yoko. I am still a bit convinced that she was a controlling person, but I did see that she loved John from what was shown in the film.
I think that I never really liked her because she seemed to always be in the forefront of every aspect of their lives; he sang almost every song for her or referenced her in a lot of his speech. Watching the interviews he gave with reporters and other media, as well as his protest speeches, was enlightening to me. He honestly believed that he was doing the world a favor by trying to let them see him as a real person instead of the icon that was sitting atop the pedestal that the world had placed him on as a Beatle. I find Yoko annoying in general but really can’t explain exactly why. For me, something has always been off about the way that she is; hmmmm, have to figure that one out eventually.
I have always been deeply offended by John’s atheistic and pessimistic approach to life in the realms of religion and politics. He did not seem to believe in God, seeming to prefer a world without a deity of any kind, with the ensuing (as he put it) peace that a religion free world would bring. I find that very notion to be appalling – without faith in a higher power, no matter what you call it, there is no optimism, no hope and no way to comfort the dying or the living left behind. If John’s words from his songs post-Beatle years are to be believed, we escape into nothingness and just disappear.
It is, IMHO, ironic that a man can write such beautiful words of love to his wife or his children on one hand and such hopeless and bitter tinged songs about religion and politics. He preferred to believe in a world without God’s love or in human goodness in government anywhere, including his home country. It has been 30 years since his death and it has been asked how a man of peace could be so cold bloodedly gunned down with a loving God allowing that. It is not ours to wonder, we are all given this life and it is but a grain of sand in an hourglass of eons, borrowed for us to make a difference in whatever time we are given. I believe that John really did that.
A few years ago, I attended an “Imagine There is No Hunger” benefit at the Hard Rock Café, Hollywood. I went for lots of reasons – I believe in the cause, feeding the hungry. I also wanted to help in my own small way with a donation of food and my support. Yes, getting to see Ringo, Dave Stewart, Joe Walsh and Edgar Winter was a plus, but the whole thing made me wish that I had, in that before time of the 70’s, paid more attention to the words behind the music and the thoughts of the song-writer.
I find that I can put aside my feelings of disappointment in one side of John to say that he was one of the most talented song-writers of modern times, going from the innocence of “Love Me Do” and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” to “Woman” and even to the song I still have a love-hate thing with – “Imagine”. I love the idealism behind the words while hating the pessimistic tone. I don’t remember where I was or what I was doing the day John died, I was pregnant with my daughter, that I do know, and I was in Germany. I was 20 years old and I was still, in many ways, a very young girl, not a grown-up yet. The world would have no chance to know what he may have accomplished in his later years, but I know with all my heart that he was wrong – there is a heaven above us and a hell below us. I hope he realized that in time and is in “Peace”.