Reality Check: LAST NIGHT THEY SHOT JOHN LENNON

—by , December 15, 2010

Editor’s Note: The following are the thoughts of the author in the wee hours of December 9, 1980, the morning after John Lennon had been murdered. It is published here for the only the second time, the first being 12/6/00, its twentieth anniversary.

“I heard something ’bout my Ma and my Pa
They didn’t want me so they made me a star”
– John Lennon

Last night they shot John Lennon.
Wrapped him up like the world’s present and played his songs.
Holding their hands to befriend him.
Last night they shot John Lennon.

The journey from icon to martyr to idol is a short one. Usually this means a truncated existence filled with wonder, success, fame and the misinterpretation of one’s intention wrapped neatly into a package of innuendo and lies. It has been less than three hours since John Lennon was gunned down in front of his home, in front of Central Park, in front of the world. Before long this man-cum-icon will be remembered for being the nucleus of a movement, a revolution, a cultural hiccup on a planet of revisionists. His circumstance had been like few witnessed before. But would a lonely boy from an impoverished dock town on the Northern coast of England have traded it for another minute of life?

John Lennon outlived Jesus Christ by seven years. He once said his rock group, The Beatles, was more popular. Were they more popular because the Son of God never sold a million records or played Ed Sullivan, although mania and idolatry also followed Galilean carpenters… water to wine… top five singles on the Billboard chart.

And if God were a man and he could pen something akin to “A Day in the Life” and make us shutter, or perhaps sing “Imagine” and piss a few more of us clamoring humans off, would that have given him immortality? Would John Lennon still be alive if he’d chosen to huck freight or been a fisherman? Can we expect John Lennon to rise from the dead?

There are many reasons to believe the ‘60s died last night… the decade, the meaning, and the emotional effect of a million souls that were severely injured by Altamont and Vietnam and Watergate. John Lennon’s band was more popular than all of those things, so much so that many who called it the crowning achievement of 20th century pop art wanted a revival. John Lennon agreed to revivals of the past only when everyone returned there. “The Beatles will get back together when everyone goes back to High School,” he promised. That is when the ‘60s died, with the sex and the war and the exploitation of “All You Need is Love.” But most of all, the 60s’ died with innocence.

When I was a boy about fifteen.
I could hear the static pumping.
From within my treasured room it sent my heart jumping.
I forget what they call it now.
Since then people don’t say much.
Sometimes they say nothing at all.
At least when I was young and angry I would never fall.
I forget what happens now.

He was the orphan thug from the streets, spit out by his absent father, abandoned by his dead mother and rescued by the cute boy with the crudely tuned guitar and the Little Richard wail. Paul McCartney was the brother John Lennon never had, but Elvis Presley was his iconoclastic parent. “There was nothing before Elvis,” John Lennon said. Let there be light and music and anger in the glow of beer lamps and the breath of gnarled hookers where the boys rip and tear through black music from the States—youth on the edge and building strength in the German ghetto where the children of war met.

We called it Beatlemania. There were the haircuts; boots, suits and a money machine going to the “toppermost of the poppermost,” a place John Lennon believed laid the medicine for wounds. He looked for healing in fame, money, drugs, Eastern religion and a woman named Yoko. He put the same determined angst of his youth into love and invented philanthropic culture in song. “We all shine on” he wrote after Beatlemania and “God is a concept by which we measure our pain” because screaming about pain is better than inflicting it.

This is what being more popular than Jesus Christ gets you.

And the givers of the golden ring taketh away. They hated him. They hated him not being that which they had made with their own bedlam. They hated his new wife and they hated his new music and they hated his new politics and they hated his new haircut. Anger turned back on original ideas and art is nothing new in civilization. Ask Socrates. Ask Picasso. Ask Beethoven. Ask Lenny Bruce.

He moved to New York because it was a metaphor for his pain, his muse, his sanctuary from all this mass hatred and love, this false symphony of celebrity that has little to nothing to do with art or the artist. Georgia O’Keefe went to the desert, Ernest Hemmingway retreated to Cuba, Charlie Chaplin was banished to Switzerland and Beatle John and his Japanese wife moved to Manhattan. Cradled in this urban madness inside his head he escaped the spotlight for five years to raise a second son and resurrect his spirit.

Then he came back outside the shell and made songs. “Just like starting over,” he wrote, and then one of the echoes of Beatlemania entered his cocoon and fired four pistol shots into his hero’s back. His name will be infamous, his crime more so, but he is only an echo.

This is what you get for being more popular than Jesus Christ.

Last night my heart stopped jumping.
Last night it just sat and cried.
Just when I thought the tears had dried.
Last night some dream ended.
Last night they shot John Lennon.

James Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of Deep Tank Jersey, Fear No Art, Trailing Jesus and Midnight For Cinderella.


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