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Happy 70th Birthday, John Lennon – “Let’s Hope It’s a Good One”

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John Lennon is my favorite Beatle. That in no way is meant to belittle Paul McCartney or the other Beatles, but I find myself connecting with Lennon’s work more often and on deeper levels. McCartney is certainly one of the 20th century’s finest craftsmen of pop songs, but Lennon earns style points because he took more gambles as an artist, lyrically and musically.

An example of this is best illustrated in a comparison between two very fine songs created around the same time, Lennon’s “Strawberry Fields Forever” and McCartney’s “Penny Lane.” Released together as a double A-side single, both songs are about their childhoods in Liverpool and both are alleged to be influenced by LSD, yet they tell different stories. Lennon ’s lyrics focus more on his internal thoughts and the music conveys a sense of that inner world while McCartney mostly presents external things from his youth and the accessibility of the music mirrors his associations with them.

But it goes beyond music. Lennon’s great sense of humor revealed a sharp mind and a wit as quick as Groucho Marx’s, not just in film but in appearances also, which always amused me. He jousted with others in press conferences and on talk show appearances. He also made political statements through actions like the Bed-Ins for Peace and the guests he brought on The Mike Douglas Show, such as Black Panther Party president Bobby Seale and Yippie Jerry Rubin. These activities got the attention of the U.S. government, which is detailed in The U.S. vs. John Lennon.

December 8th is when the most outpouring of emotion happens for John Lennon. It’s certainly understandable as people naturally bemoan and reflect on what they lost. However, the day is filled with such tragedy, sickness, and finality, things I don’t associate with Lennon, that I wish people would stop. Instead, I suggest it would be much better to commemorate his life on his birthday, October 9th, and celebrate the positives he embodied of hope, joy, and creativity. I know I will.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Couldn’t have “said it” better myself Bicho.

    -Glen

  • manish kumar

    i want friendship

  • Sheila Burgener

    Perfect, Gordon. John was my favorite Beatle from the beginning; his humor and individuality were clear to me even in the early days. I consider myself so lucky to have experience “Beatlemania” and its aftermath. There’s no one like John Lennon since his passing. I, as your article suggests, celebrate his time on earth with the day he came to be amoung us. And it’s also my brother’s birthday, which was always SO cool when were growing up.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/alan-kurtz Alan Kurtz

    Lennon’s roots went deeper than the rest of the Fab Four. I mean, John’s soul resided in the dank, dark, down & dirty rock ‘n’ roll that hoodlums favored back in the ’50s.

    McCartney’s gifts, by contrast, were much more in the English music hall tradition. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s why his work, lovely as it is, goes only skin deep.

    At his best, Lennon could get under your skin, like a shot of heroin. I’m thinking in particular of two songs from the White Album: “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” and “Yer Blues”–the latter being one of the scariest pieces of music I’ve ever heard.

    Both John and Paul were genius songwriters, first together and later separately. Individually, if he were as so inclined, Lennon could probably have composed “Michelle” or “Yesterday” just out of pure skill.

    But I simply cannot conceive of McCartney, or for that matter anyone else from that era, creating “Yer Blues.” Dylan might have written the lyrics, of course. But he could never have plumbed the depths of musical hell that Lennon went to in that song. Just incredible.

  • Geek Girl

    Love him. Always. Great tribute.

  • apollo c vermouth

    ….Lennon’s roots went deeper…John’s soul resided in the dank, dark, down & dirty rock ‘n’ roll that hoodlums favored back in the ’50s

    Hmmm? You mean like hoodlums in the movie, ‘Blackboard Jungle’ or from other showbiz clichés?

    Roots deeper?
    Suppose this seemed like a good way to contrast the fellas but it has no musical basis.
    John’s earliest musical roots, like Paul’s were pre ‘hoodlum’ since they really hit their teens before they heard R&R.
    They and George got rock and roll the same way. American records that came into the dank, dark & dirty Port of Liverpool. Not to exclude their shared working mans influence in Liverpool and Hamburg bars and cellars. And of course to note, in 1950’s England John was more of the middle class than either J or G.

    J&P’s early public personas were superficially defined as the ‘smart’ one and the ‘cute’ one. But these definitions are clearly superficial and limited. To use a cliché, like comparing icebergs by observing what’s on the surface.

    ….McCartney’s gifts….English music hall tradition….why his work, lovely as it is, goes only skin deep.

    You mean like Eleanor Rigby, For No One?

    ….Lennon could probably composed Michelle or Yesterday just out of pure skill.
    This line just doesn’t work. No sense.

    I have no problem with your interest or preference for John’s work. But offering
    unfounded or irrelevant support and discounting Paul, to any degree, is unnecessary.

    Suggest to just emphasize the positive. If something gets to your soul, go with how that works, how that came to be.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/alan-kurtz Alan Kurtz

    apollo c vermouth (#6), I apologize for offending you with my admittedly clumsy tribute to John Lennon (comment #4). I’m sorry it wasn’t pure enough for you.

    As for specifics, I meant the American hoodlums that I grew up with in the 1950s, not those well-scrubbed lads and lasses in the movies. Like the JD (juvenile delinquent, for those born after 1960) who lived across the street from me, called himself Fireball, was in and out of the local reformatory more often than I went to church, and loudly played down-&-dirty rock ‘n’ roll on his car radio via WAMO, Pittsburgh’s black station that in those days programmed both “Negro” and low-class white records for a rabid teen audience drawn from both races.

    I somehow assumed that the American records John & Co. got off the ships that docked in Liverpool were essentially the same ones with which Fireball serenaded our neighborhood.

    I said nothing about John being the smart one and Paul the cute one.

    And, please, what does “Eleanor Rigby” have to do with rock ‘n’ roll?

  • zingzing

    paul could certainly write a rager, such as “helter skelter,” if you want to stick to the white album. but his songs don’t reveal the personal crisis that you can see in so many lennon songs. paul just had an easier time with his fame and himself. good for him. paul is just as talented a songwriter as lennon, but lennon was bonkers on top of that talent.

    that said, when mccartney was hurt, as on “you never give me your money,” he could detail some devastatingly personal stuff. that song has just as much depth as anything lennon created, but it’s less universal. lennon just had a knack for making deeply personal emotion feel like it was meant for more than himself.

    i think that mccartney actually absorbed more of his musical upbringing than lennon did, as lennon was a bit of a purist at the start. if musichall started creeping into mccartney’s stuff, that’s only natural.

  • apollo c vermouth

    Your buddy Firewall? ehh (what’s this have to do with JL?)

    Smart/cute.
    No you didn’t say ‘this’. Not inferring. But we know this is where clichés start.

    Again, how about just the JL positives? There should be enough material/ground for you to work with.

    Rock and Roll? Is that the limited subject here?
    I’d say Eleanor Rigby has as much to do with R&R as, ahhh, Imagine?

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/alan-kurtz Alan Kurtz

    Fireball, not Firewall, you dummy. Either learn to read or learn to type. Or better yet, learn to think.

  • apollo c vermouth

    Ok, missed one letter.
    This is not important, of course, as pertaining to the celebration of John Lennon’s 70th.

    Sorry you have such thin skin.

  • Beatlefan

    Big up to Apollo, for comment #6. Very incisive.

    Why do so many people seem unable to celebrate the work of John Lennon without denegrating McCartney at the same time?

    As Apollo was saying, there are many ways to talk about Lennon’s music and what was great about a lot of it without resorting to all the cliches.

  • Beatlefan

    I’m of the opinion that Lennon’s political “activism” was so naive and short-sided, it barely warrants mention.

    Lennon was a great pop songwriter and singer, and a genuinely interesting person.

    But as an intellectual he was insignificant. His political-activist phase really only lasted a few years. He quickly abandoned such aspirations. Not that he had any obligation to continue (it wasn’t doing anyone any good to begin with). I only say this because people seem intent on celebrating him for this relatively brief period of his life, where he parroted everyone else’s rhetoric before he got bored with. What “phase” of his life followed the political period? The so-called “lost weekend” – getting wasted and making an ass out of himself very publically.

    But as a musical artist, there is much to celebrating in Lennon.

  • zingzing

    “I’m of the opinion that Lennon’s political “activism” was so naive and short-sided, it barely warrants mention.”

    well, the fbi didn’t think so. was “warrant” a pun?

    “I only say this because people seem intent on celebrating him for this relatively brief period of his life, where he parroted everyone else’s rhetoric before he got bored with.”

    the difference being, of course, that he was arguably the most famous person in the world at that point. he felt he had an obligation to do and say something. doing so must have been exhausting, and his mounting personal problems (with the fbi, immigration, yoko ono, dwindling album sales, etc, etc,) certainly made being a political activist less appealing. that said, things in vietnam (his major project, if you will, although he was pretty scattered,) were winding down by the time of his “lost weekend,” so whether or not he accomplished anything, at least some of his goals were on the way to being met.

  • http://donaldgibson.blogspot.com/ Donald Gibson

    As for the bulk of remembrances occurring on 12/8 instead of 10/9, I think a big reason for that is (even though John’s birthday is widely known and commemorated now) his murder happened when he was a worldwide celebrity.

    Like JFK and RFK’s assassinations, people remember where they were, what the felt like, etc. when Lennon was assassinated and, in a visceral sense, something deep affected them at the time and ever since. That horrible incident not only took a life, but it scarred countless others who appreciated John Lennon’s music. There’s a shared history involved…

    On the other hand, Lennon wasn’t born a celebrity like, say, Prince Charles and Diana’s sons. The world didn’t really know of John until he was in his 20s; there’s no shared history between his birthday and his fans like there is with his death. So I think that may have something to do with why his death inspires more reflections and tributes.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Yeah, no kidding…and this isn’t even the politics section…LOL…

    Getting back to the subject at hand, I like ElB’s idea of celebrating Lennon’s legacy on the date of his birth rather than his death.

    But I also think Donald Gibson made a good point with his comment that Lennon’s assassination has had a lasting sort of resonance so many of us, and particularly with his younger fans. Many of us remember exactly where we were when we got the news, much like the cases with JFK or Elvis. I know I sure do.

    -Glen

  • El Bicho

    hey, what happened to all my comments? Did anyone save them?

  • Liz

    I’ll take Paul’s solo work over John’s anyday.

    John had one great record (Plastic Ono Band), some great songs, and a whole lot of mediocre, forgettable songs.

    Paul has also produced his share of weak music. But he’s also produced acoustic gems like McCartney I, musically inventive records like Ram, and power rock classics like Band on the Run. Plus he didn’t whine endlessly about his tough life.

    See, it’s all subjective. I listen to McCartney’s music and I’m moved, deeply. If you’d said that purely that Lennon’s work moved you, that would have been fine. But you slammed McCartney for lacking depth. But that’s only to YOU. Not to ME and not to many, many others out there who are Paul’s fans.

    I totally agree with those who are absolutely tired of people trying to boost Lennon at McCartney’s expense. It’s unnecessary and just plain tiresome.

  • Liz

    “I’m of the opinion that Lennon’s political “activism” was so naive and short-sided, it barely warrants mention.”

    well, the fbi didn’t think so. was “warrant” a pun?

    —Just because our government overreacted doesn’t mean Lennon’s political activism wasn’t naive and an inch deep.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Not sure what to make of so many Macca fans having reading comprehension issues but this misguided outrage is rather tiresome.

  • zingzing

    “just because our government overreacted doesn’t mean Lennon’s political activism wasn’t naive and an inch deep.”

    that very well could be true, but he certainly got the attention of some people pretty high up. and he got media exposure like no one else could. he never claimed to be a political genius. he was just a very famous man who felt he needed to say something. and he did.

  • apollo c vermouth

    Outrage?
    Reading comprehension?

    Not so much from this article itself.

    But this is less than fair…
    …Lennon earns style points because he took more gambles as an artist, lyrically and musically.

    Style points…musically?

    This comment seems to minimize the elements Paul brought to songs John (and sometimes Sir George) gets mostly full credit for—Tomorrow Never Knows, Rain, Day in the Life and more.

    But its folks like A. Kurtz everywhere…maybe on this discussion only A Kurtz who think ‘boost up’ requires ‘hits down’.

    Not misguided at all.

  • zingzing

    ronny’s gettin paid!