It’s That Time Of Year Again.
Happy birthday to James Douglas of course, but I’ve got bigger fish to fry at the moment. This has literally been in the works for months and now must be unleashed upon the world at large. I make no apologies for the length, but knowing me I’ve got wound up and reversed my position two or three times. If there’s something that doesn’t sound like me within, tell me cos I probably don’t mean it. Or I do and I’ve surprised you. Whatever.
7th September 2005, Hertfordshire
It is the seventh of September, and I am embarking upon my reflections on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of John Lennon. A little early, you might say, given that it’s not until the eighth of December. It’s even too early for his birthday on the ninth of October. He’ll be sixty-five. Nice, round, easy numbers to remember. He passed the mythic sixty-four last year, but that was much more Paulie’s song, so we didn’t make a fuss. This year, like five years ago, it’s a bit of a milestone.
You can tell it’s a milestone because all the magazines are selling more copies this month because they’ve slapped pictures of him on the cover. They’re all at it, and I can’t imagine Yoko Ono has slept much the past few weeks in her Great Quest for the Deification of John. BBC Radio Six is doing a whole day of John Stuff while Channel 4 will be showing the thing He Who Shall Not Be Named has participated in. No doubt all the newspapers will have all kinds of samey nonsense features.
Twenty-five years is a long time. Two years longer than I’ve been around, but John’s anniversary will always be two years longer than I’ve been around. I wasn’t there when it happened, which when I tell you about the twentieth anniversary will seem like a God-given act of mercy.
I thought twenty years was a long time, but it turns out that twenty-five is not only chronologically five more years, it’s a few light years too.
Back then on that dark and horrific December day in 2000, I could console myself with the statistics. There was only one dead Beatle, and that left three more to be going on with. Now there are two dead Beatles, and that means that half the Beatles are gone. Numbers are a funny thing.
I was eighteen in December 2000, a newly minted university student, living in cloud cuckoo land up in Lancaster. I’d made friends with my new flatmates pretty quickly, so they knew that the day was going to be horrible for me. Actually, perhaps they only knew that I’d be down that day. They didn’t know how horrible it would be. Neither did I, really.
In December 2000, I was yet to experience the exhilarating highs and lows of life in the Zeppelin lane beyond Stairway To Heaven. I was Morrison’s girl by then, but he had yet to push me to the brink of insanity and lead me to collapse. In December 2000, I was still a disciple at the feet of Dr Winston O’Boogie. I even owned Jailbreak by then, if I recall, but I wasn’t Philip’s to have just yet. In December 2000, my heart and soul were John Lennon’s. I was still so much his that 8th December 2000 was only his day, not yet Jim Morrison’s birthday too, not to me.
It was a horrible day, weather-wise. Lancaster doesn’t get stupendously fine weather at the best of times, and the start of December was truly dreary. I had a cold in some form or another for the entire first term, acquired the night before leaving for Lancaster in early October and not shaken until the Christmas holidays. It probably rained on that particular day, but I don’t remember. I remember it being cold, and I remember it being dark. Very dark.
Like now, the magazines and papers were full of John. I bought the week’s Rolling Stone for the English import price at the university newsagent and tore out the pictures I liked. One of them is still with me to this day, torn and tattered but still blu-tacked to the cupboard beside my bed, where a be-quiffed John watches over me eternally. Back then, most of the pictures were shoved up on my dorm-room notice board, fighting for space and attention with Buffy nonsense and Dean Martin.
I mooched around all day, silently and sometimes not-so-silently mourning my lost hero. I moped and mourned but I got on with my day, even after reading through the Daily Mirror’s section all about it. I thought I would cry, but I didn’t, not really. I let a few tears slip past my eyelids, but in some ways, they were the tears I thought I was meant to shed, but only 90% sincere. There was the 10% that thought I was being overdramatic. I listened to his music, and then I didn’t listen to his music. All in all it was a pretty manky day.
I survived to the evening, glad I was no longer in the throes of obsession as I had been only a year or two previously. I was in the midst of my love for Buffy/Angel and so Johnny and the boys had gallantly stepped aside for a little while. They were the soundtrack, but they were no longer the entire plot as well. I had burned out a little on the Beatles – too many hours watching episode eight of the Anthology over and over and over again, perhaps.
I felt glad I’d made it through the day without much incident. It had been a crap day, but not a terrible day. Then, some time in the night, I turned on the TV to BBC1.
The BBC was showing something about Freddie Mercury. Beautiful, flamboyant, and charming Freddie. Yes, the first rock and roll star I truly took to my heart, Freddie Mercury. I switched on just in time to be told how horrendous and painful his slow, protracted death had been.
It turns out that I could just about handle the twentieth anniversary of the death of my greatest hero, but not when combined with details of the death of one of my first heroes. I switched it off, began shaking and decided to go and make my dinner, very late as usual.
My dinner consisted of pasta with a Dolmio stir-in sauce consisting of ‘spicy pepperoni and tomato’. I had tried this the week before and discovered it was disgusting. I was a scatty student in my first term away from home, so of course it was the only thing I had left in my cupboard.
The stress of discovering I would hate own dinner became the straw that broke the John Lennon Camel’s back. The little plastic tub of stir-in got hurled at the Angel poster on the kitchen wall (put there by me). The foil lid broke. Pasta sauce went up Angel, across the table and, in a weird freak moment of physics, ended up all over the bay window too. For my part, I slid down the opposite wall, sobbing as if my heart was breaking.
John Lennon had been dead twenty years. My heart was breaking.
I’d never felt so detached from my own world before. My friend Sarah came and found me, rescued me and cleaned up my mess. That Angel poster stayed up on the wall for the rest of the year, crinkled but otherwise unharmed by the tomato and spicy pepperoni double onslaught. Still, looking back it left no doubt in my mind who was more important. Angel and Buffy were all right as a diversion, but when push came to shove, I knew which side of my pop culture bread was buttered.
In a strange way, this was a warm-up for George. I didn’t realise it at the time, but what happened when George died went almost exactly the same, although without the throwing of food products. A day of moping and mourning before finally, sometime after the sun has gone down, the threshold is reached and I am broken. For George, it turned out to be a really bad news report on ABC that made it out to be some great event: “ooh, fans have been bringing things down to the Beatles’ star on Hollywood Boulevard all day!” I ended up in a hysterical heap in my room there in Irvine, knowing that the night before I’d asked God to look after George. I hadn’t realised that he’d do it so quickly and in that sense. I was asking him to make George better, He took it differently. I was asking him and at the same time, George was 45 minutes up the 405 dying. Irony is a biyatch.
Five years ago, I threw pasta sauce. In 2001, I just ended up in a hysterical heap. Maybe this time I’ll get by with a modicum of dignity. But knowing my reaction to a bronze statue in Dublin in August, I don’t exactly rate my chances. Knowing the way I still feel about that man, I don’t rate my chances at all.
There are three reactions one can have to John Lennon. One is ignorance. The second is hatred and the third is worship. Sure, there are degrees to this, but that’s all there is. Either you’re in the ‘Saint John of Mendips’ camp or you’re in the ‘Burn in hell, scouser!’ camp. That, or you don’t know who he is. Funnily enough, the third group seems to be the smallest.
Like every single great figure in history, John Lennon has polarised opinion. One does not make the history books by sitting on the fence or playing it safe. The Middle of The Road is safe but forgettable. Nobody will forget John Lennon for a while, because he was not acquainted with the Middle of the Road. Like my other great heroes, he has been worshipped and yet vilified, adored and yet demonised. John Lennon: like Alexander The Great, in a way.
Albert Goldman painted a grim, heroin-addled picture of John Lennon’s final days. A Hughesian hermit strung out and unable to enter into the real world. Of course, this is the author that called Michael McCartney ‘unknown man’ in a picture caption and neglected to mention all the travelling around the world Lennon did.
The thing about John Lennon’s so-called hermit years 75-80 isn’t that he was a hermit, it’s just that he flew under the media radar. He didn’t stay at home, but he didn’t make a big deal of going out. For five years, he chose not to live life in the glare of the spotlight. Whether he was really at home baking bread (now widely regarded as a great exaggeration on his part) or whether he was Howard Hughes for the smack generation, he chose to do it without fanfare. It’s the final terrible irony of his life that he was cut down just as he re-entered that same spotlight.
7th December 2005, London. 23:11
So, there’s less than an hour until the Worst Day Of The Year begins. It’s always the Worst Day Of The Year, combining as it does the brutal murder of John and the birthday of a man who didn’t make it to his twenty-eighth birthday and has now been dead longer than he was alive.
Currently, I feel very little indeed, as is my custom. The eighth of December is usually the day of the year when I do feel, when I allow all the terrible things about rock and roll to overwhelm me, just for one day. It is the Rock and Roll Day of Mourning, and it always has been for me. In many ways, tomorrow will be no different to all the other eighth of Decembers I’ve dealt with since I allowed John Lennon into my soul.
The difference, I now understand, is not in the way I see it or deal with it, but the way everyone else does. While it means a great deal to me (and other Lennon fans) each year, tomorrow it is for everyone who wants to leap up onto the bandwagon for their own purposes, emotional or nefarious or commercial.
The thing is, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Yoko Ono seems to have given so many ‘exclusive’ interviews that I wonder what the word means any more. The whitewashing of John W. Lennon, MBE has been going on for years under her stewardship, but it’s reached ridiculous proportions as the spotlight falls squarely on him once more.
Let me say this once and finally: John Lennon was a bastard. An unapologetic mind-fucker who traded in emotional and mental manipulation along with physical violence. Ron Nasty of the Rutles is well named.
John Lennon was a good man.
John Lennon was a funny man.
John Lennon was a cruel man.
John Lennon was a great satirist.
John Lennon was the sort of bloke who thought mocking the disabled was hilarious.
John Lennon was the sort of bloke who made his girlfriend dye her hair blonde to look more like Brigitte Bardot, his fantasy woman.
John Lennon was an unsentimental, brutally honest writer.
John Lennon was a syrupy, lying writer.
John Lennon was a good father.
John Lennon was a distant, absent father.
John Lennon was a god.
John Lennon was a man.
John Lennon was as much a bundle of contradictions as the next man.
John Lennon will not provide you with the answers to the universe. He might help you find the way to them.
John Lennon could not change the world. He could still provide the inspiration to the rest of us to try.
John Lennon was just a man. He was not a beacon of light, but his music can bring hope if you need it. He was a great man, and a genius by most standards. He can lift you up or bring you down with a riff or a lyric, but he isn’t the answer to all the world’s ills. How I wish he were!
Yoko Ono would have us all believe that John was a shining knight of glory and magnificence, the standard by whom all others must be measured. She would have you believe that the Beatles were nothing more than a diversion to his loftier pursuits. She would like us to believe that John’s greatest works came only after he fell in love with her and by extension she is the power behind the throne.
Some of what she does can be seen in a kind light, as an attempt to make sure that nobody forgets him, but the fact is, John Lennon authorised baby wear and sneakers is not the best way to remember him.
John Lennon was many contradictory things, but the one thing you can say is that he never ever adhered to the Establishment’s way of doing things. Even when Brian Epstein forced the band into suits, your man John was the one with the loose tie making remarks about the Queen Mother. He’s the one who tried to give his MBE back and probably didn’t particularly want it in the first place. Even as a boy, he was the dangerous one, the kid who the mothers didn’t want their precious darlings playing with.
He deserves better than empty accolades, mindless platitudes and fucking merchandise. He deserves more than over-priced ‘special editions’ of magazines who should know better, or cheaply made television programmes on the telly. He deserves far more than Yoko and Paul bitching at each other about who misses him more or who brought out the best in him. His death was shocking and terrible and there’s more than enough grief to go around, even now, 25 years later.
We deserved more than having him ripped away from us back then, but he deserves more than he’s getting. He deserves our love and respect. He has mine, does he have yours?
I miss you Johnny. You’re a swine, but I love you.
You said it all, though not many had ears… all those years ago.