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John Lennon

8 Dec

Remember, remember the 8th of December. If John Lennon‘s voice and songwiritng have slipped your mind as it is over 30 years now since his murder, maybe some of the recent developments in the world – the continued slide of the economy away from the middle and working classes, the Occupy movement, the controversy around the National Defense Appropriations Act – it might be time to give Lennon a listen again. Listen to the hopeful, shining Lennon of “Imagine” and “Give Peace a Chance“, to the angrier, sharper, more critical Lennon of “Working Class Hero” and “Nobody Told Me“. It’s a good reminder that heros can and should be more complex, that it is the range of possible human emotion that makes someone compelling and makes them live on.

If, sometimes, I feel strange talking this way about a man who died before I was born, consider this: My parents were Beatles fans. Being born in the 1950s it was pretty inescapable, especially for my father, who was living in Jamaica at the height of Beatlemania, surrounded by English ex-patriates. He moved us around as well, and for a couple years when I was a child, we lived in Rome, Italy. It was there, for my 7th birthday, that my dad gave me a tape, the Beatles 1967-1970 compilation with the blue border. I wore that tape out in my trusty Sony Walkman, which I kept alive by jerry-rigging springs and tape to keep it closed and running. I listened to it incessantly, loved songs like “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. Their brilliant weirdness appealed to me, a rangy little kid running around in a strange country without a lot of friends. It showed that world existed beyond the realm of rational, comprehensible things. That’s what art is supposed to do, right?

This was also at the time of the first Gulf War, and the various political factions in Italy were up in arms about the Italian government being a part of the coalition sending troops to Iraq and Kuwait. One day my family was out in central Rome on the Via dei Fori Imperiali, the road that runs up to the Colosseum and a major thoroughfare for tourists and knick-knack-hawkers. We were looking at some of the churches that line the road, when a nun poked her head out of the Church of Saints Cosmas and Damiano and wildly gesticulated for us to get inside. We had, unwittingly, chosen a day of national protest to go out on a sightseeing excursion and there were anti-war protesters heading from one end of the road, and police forces marching down the other. Had it not been for this nun and her sharp eye, my little American family would have been wide out in the open in the middle of what became a brief but fierce battle between the two sides. We sat inside admiring frescoes of St. Catherine of Alexandria and her wheel as the air around the building rattled and ground shook. After the roaring and clashing subsided and we made our way back to the bus-stop, there was still acrid smoke in the air, blood, leftover signs and broken placard holders, people wandering dazed around the street.

Later that year, I was walking down a street in my neighborhood, just killing time by myself (not much changes) and I spotted a tape on the ground. It had recently rained and there had been a dust storm, so the tape itself was filthy, but I swooped down and grabbed it. It might have been anything. It was Shaved Fish. How that body of Lennons’ singles made it onto a bootleg tape on a side-street of suburban Rome I will never know, but in my memory, those things – seeing the aftermath of protest gone bad and finding a tape of cutting, beautiful, insightful songs – are forever and magically related. “Give Peace a Chance”, “Instant Karma”, “Mind Games”, these all made a voice for peace something that was really there for me, something that I could hear, hold onto and sing along with. “Love is the answer, and you know that for sure.” That’s a wild idea for a kid to get into his head. I didn’t even know that John was dead then. I know that now. I know that his body is gone. I know that his songs live on. I know that I sing along, as often and as well as I can. Which is all too often not as well as I would like, but I think John would understand that, too.

Of course, if you want to observe your rememberance in the company of others, the 32nd Annual John Lennon Tribute is going down tonight at First Avenue. Led, of course, by Curtiss A “With A Little Help From His Friends”, the concert also features Nona Marie & the Choir, White Light Riot and Me & My Arrow and is the official release for the MN Beatle Project Volume 3, which may just be the strongest iteration of that endeavor yet. As always, the proceeds from the Beatle Project go to help fund music education across the state, so it’s worth your money. And the show tonight is worth it for your soul. Whatever gets you through the night, as the man said.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Curtiss A and The MN Beatle Project | Cake In 15 - December 9, 2011

    […] off the post about remembering John Lennon, here’s a quick video recap of the 32nd Annual John Lennon Tribute at First Avenue, which was […]

  2. A Slice of 2011 | Cake In 15 - December 26, 2011

    […] John Lennon: ““Love is the answer, and you know that for sure.” That’s a wild idea for a kid to get into his head. I didn’t even know that John was dead then. I know that now. I know that his body is gone. I know that his songs live on.” […]

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