Last Saturday, October 9, 2010, marked a milestone for us baby boomers: John Lennon would have turned 70 years of age. That automatically makes us pull out our wrinkle cream and flex our arms to make sure they haven’t calcified yet.
John had barely left adolescence when he, along with Paul, George, and Ringo were introduced to us on the Ed Sullivan show. It was February 9, 1964, and witnessing the Beatles’ arrival on our musical shores was one of the events from childhood that I can recall with particular clarity. That big box of a black and white television had my complete attention as I watched four young men sing and play so engagingly. I was equally intrigued by the girls in the audience who seemed to be having screaming fits and nervous breakdowns. I came to understand the condition as “Beatlemania.”
My grandparents were visiting and I remember my grandfather shaking his head and disparaging their haircuts as my fifth-grader self was trying to sort out exactly what she felt about the quartet of mop-heads (as he called them). Part of me wanted to side with my elder, but another part was irresistibly drawn to the four young men, even if I couldn’t quite identify with the Beatlemaniacs in the audience. The ambivalence, however, would resolve itself as it had with Elvis and his hips in the face of elder disapproval: Long Live the King!
That night, we heard them sing “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” “She Loves You,” “Till There Was You,” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” The world as we knew it rocked and rolled on its axis – the earth would never revolve around the sun quite the same way again. The Beatles had landed and life was forever different.
Soon we were collecting Beatles bubble gum cards making Beatle scrapbooks, and dividing up into favorite-Beatle camps. Most of my friends were crazy about Paul with his angelic expression, round eyes, and sweet voice. But for some reason, I was drawn to John and his insouciant smile. And the more I learned about him, the more he intrigued me with his wry comments and irreverence. Maybe it was the report of a John quip during a 1963 Royal Variety Performance for the British Royal Family: “Will the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And the rest of you . . . if you’ll just rattle your jewelry.”
Before long, I discovered John had written a book, and I had to have it for my collection of all things Beatle with a concentration in things John. I probably washed a ton of dishes to save up and buy “In His Own Write.” But having the book in hand, I realized it was easier to buy it than it was to understand it. In short, literature it was not, and as a collection of allegedly humorous stories, poems, and drawings, funny it was not. Was it representative of Liverpoolian humor, which was hopelessly beyond me? The jokes were often dark and the drawings, positively strange. When I had my own sons, I recognized that what he had written and drawn was mostly “guy” humor and – dare I say it? – immature guy humor (although, to be honest, I’m not exactly sure there exists a division between the two humor zones in men). But I was not disillusioned – my John-crush was too advanced.
In fact, next, I bought a cap like the one John wears on the book’s cover. I have no idea where I found the fisherman’s cap or what I thought I would do with it. Since I wasn’t cool enough to wear it in public, it never left my bedroom. As cool as it would be today in the world of fedora/beret/cowboy hat-wearing females, sixth or seventh graders in 60’s Austin would not have been caught wearing anything more than a headband on their head – we were Stepford-like in our desire to not be too different, to fit in. There’s simply no way to explain that cap but to say that a young girl’s idol worship exhibits itself in mysterious ways.
As I grew out of my Beatlemania into a less intense relationship with John and the band, I lost the hat, his book, and the scrapbook. As an adult, I appreciated and supported his interest in the peace movement and enjoyed seeing the direction his songwriting was taking. He seemed to abandon his bad-boy persona and become introspective and sensitive. My sensibilities happened to be evolving, too, so it was easy for him to remain my favorite Beatle to the very end.
Many others have waxed eloquently about John, Paul, George & Ringo, and their place in the pantheon of musicians. These four young men – of hair and song – flew over from Liverpool and infected us with Beatlemania – to greater or lesser degrees – and many of us have never fully recovered. Disbanding a short six years after rocking our world, they left us wanting more. Thus, their image was preserved, forever young and pure, in our hearts. This is particularly true for John Lennon – killed senselessly at the age of 40.
Sometimes I wonder what John would have done if some crazed individual had not had a gun that day in 1980. What other music would have been created by this song writer extraordinaire who wanted to give peace a chance and to imagine . . . all the people sharing all the world.
No matter how old we are, it’s nice to think that the world would have been a better place. You may say he’s a dreamer, but he’s not the only one.