(Dec 8 is John Lennon's death anniversary)
December 7th, 2010
Sometimes, words fail you. When a musician is equally revered as a
peace campaigner, when his songs become an anthem for anti-war
groups, when he attains a place beyond the confines of musical
history, then even exhaustive efforts at finding the right adjectives
for him can be futile. Thirty years have passed since he was killed
Dec 8, 1980 at the age of 40, but words still fail to capture the
phenomenon, John Lennon.
He gave the world Beatles. He communicated his inner world through
his words, and the world saw its own reflection in them. He sketched
the half-formed images of his mind, and the world found surreal art
in them. He asked the world to give peace a chance, but he was
murdered in cold blood.
Early in his career, he wrote simple love songs with band member and
close friend James Paul McCartney, with whom he would later fall out.
Songs which don't penetrate your marrow, never overwhelm you with the
grandeur of their lyrics, but songs that are written with naked simplicity.
The band's music invaded much of the early rock scene in Britain, and
conquered hearts and charts alike. The Beatles Lennon, McCartney,
George Harrison and Ringo Starr came to define the golden age of rock music.
Lennon gave India a boy band to worship. The four Englishmen found
themselves on the walls, in the audio cassette players, in the
cupboards, in the dreams, in the living reality of the teenagers
spanning generations, bitten by the Beatle bug.
The Indians consumed Beatles beyond music. Anyone with ears owned up
to it, the young were obsessed, the old amused, the songs opened up a
world of new expressions and emotions.
Lennon, who gave body to these expressions, saw the world
differently. He imagined a world where everyone lived in peace, and
wrote 'Imagine', which ranks third on the Rolling Stones list of the
500 greatest songs of all time. He played in a garden called
strawberry field as a child, and grew up to sketch out a song out of
He would take a trip down the world of abstraction while riding high
on LSD and pen down 'I am the Walrus' on the way. Even after 33 years
of its release, the actual meaning of the song is still debated.
On a holiday in 1965 with his wife, his extra-marital affairs
inspired him to write 'Norwegian Wood' one of the first Western
songs to feature the sitar thanks to Beatles' association with
Indian sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. Twenty-two years later, the song
would become the title of Japanese author Haruki Murakami's
The philosophical 'Nowhere Man' was released in 1966 as a single. It
was one of the first songs by the band which was entirely unrelated
to love. Lennon later claimed that he wrote the song about himself.
'I'd spent five hours that morning trying to write a song that was
meaningful and good, and I finally gave up and lay down. Then
'Nowhere Man' came, words and music, the whole damn thing as I lay
down,' Lennon told Playboy.
The man sporting that middle-parted shoulder length hair, trademark
glasses and beaky nose also gave India a poster boy. He is proudly
imprinted on t-shirts, bags and sold as an exponent of peace. Though
he never defined himself as a socialist, communist or capitalist, his
ability to be affected by world events has branded him a socialist.
He is affectionately remembered for condemning the Vietnam war, for
bluntly using the Beatles popularity for advertising peace. He even
sold his honeymoon and called the world media to a Paris hotel room
where he and wife Yoko Ono staged a bed-in, a non-violent way of
protesting war. Sitting on bed, they talked peace much to the
disappointment of the media which had expected a lot more action
after the couple's nude appearance on an album's cover.
His musical connections apart, many also remember him for his
spiritual connections with India, his and the band's
much-publicised visit to Rishikesh and the founder of transcendental
meditation Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, an association which he would later
call 'an error in judgement' and a 'public mistake'.
The Beatles legacy continues in more ways than one. It recreates the
magic everytime an anguished teenager plays 'Help' to deal with the
emotional pain of growing up. Every time a guitar weeps, every time
someone promises to love eight days a week, there is a Beatles moment in it.
(Mohita Nagpal can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)