Happy Birthday….Fool

“I’m John and I, too, play the guitar.  Sometimes I play the fool”

Today, John Lennon would have turned 81, if not for the bullet fired by a mentally deranged fan.   This senseless act of insanity deprived this world of 40 more years of music, art and astute awareness from a man who was an emotionally flawed but compelling genius.

He was, in so many ways, the Fool on a Hill on high.  He experienced a fame and adulation shared only by perhaps 3 other men in the last century – and their names were George, Paul and Ringo.

John is viewed by some as a famous Beatle, yet some of his most powerful songs were written after that band officially broke-up.  Imagine is an anthem still sung around the globe.  Another global anthem, Happy Xmas, one of the most played Christmas songs in recent history, despite the fact that it was a protest song against war.  Similarly, Give Peace A Chance has become a true standard in the Western musical library.  And the lesser-known Mind Games is John’s philosophical paean in which he espouses his wisdom at age 33 – “love is the answer” & “make love, not war” became catch-phrases still commonly used today.  The lyrics advocate unity, love, perseverance and positivity.  All of these songs were birthed in a period of just 3 years.

His entire body of work as a solo artist compares to some of rock’s greatest writers.  But then, he also had a previous gig as the spiritual leader of The Beatles, rock’s greatest band.  His voice wasn’t as agile as Paul’s but had an intensity that none of the other Beatles could match.  Similarly, his emotion-laden and inventive lyrics towered over those of his fellow geniuses.  Songs like “A Day In the Life”, Strawberry Fields Forever and “Across the Universe” are lyrics that remarkably convey visual imagery.  And, of course there is Nowhere Man (John’s fool takes on Paul’s Fool on the Hill) and the still-remarkable I Am the Walrus. (the song that fellow artist Jim Carrey called a “timeless piece of art” and which the BBC banned because of the line “You’ve been a naughty girl, you’ve let your knickers down”)

Lennon stood out as merging great lyrics with memory-searing melodies.  In My Life is an acknowledged classic, as is the genre-breaking “Rain,” the revealing You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” and Help!  (an actual cry for help written by a world-class icon). Mind you, this really is just a short list of my favorite John Lennon Beatles songs.

Perhaps Lennon’s most impressive musical accomplishment was his song All You Need Is Love.   This wasn’t just a song, it was his first (and perhaps best) attempt at creating an iconic event.  The Beatles were at their peak creativity in 1967 and were asked by BBC to participate in the first global satellite streamed broadcast.  Yup, it was the first world-wide, real-time concert in history!  Imagine the stakes — it would be seen by an audience of over 400 million in 25 countries.  Lennon penned the song for this first-of-its-kind performance and performed it flawlessly – live.

His chosen message:  Love.  At age 27, he had come to realize that his greatest contribution to the world would be preaching the importance of love….above all.  His commitment to both his craft and his message was honored by George Harrison in his song All Those Years Ago:

I’m shouting all about love
While they treated you like a dog
When you were the one who had made it so clear
All those years ago
I’m talking all about how to give
They don’t act with much honesty
But you point the way to the truth when you say
All you need is love
And you were the one they backed up to the wall
All those years ago
You were the one who imagined it allYet you were the one that they said was so weird
All those years ago
You said it all though not many had ears
All those years ago
You had control of our smiles and our tears
All those years ago

John was also a supremely talented artist, although this part of his craftmanship only became public after his death.   But his imaginative and single-line drawings are unique and still fascinating.  (Of course, I have one of the larger collections of his lithographs in the Western U.S., so I may be somewhat biased here)

And as a stand-alone writer, John’s pun-filled Spaniard in the Works and In His Own Write are taught in grade schools and universities.  He wrote them largely when he was only 23 years old.   Both works are quite comedic, and yet they were not written by a fool.  Skywriting by Word of Mouth is a similar but more mature collection of short stories published posthumously.

Another writing wunderkind and fellow-Brit William Shakespeare had Hamlet says of his slain father: “Take him for all in all. I shall not look upon his like again”.   Some five hundred years later, Hamlet would likely have uttered those same words about John Lennon.

More recently, screenwriter Richard Curtis wrote the movie Yesterday, in which he hypothesized a surreal world where only a few people remembered The Beatles ever existed.  In it, he has 78- year old John Lennon say to one of the only remaining Beatles fans:  “Do you want a happy life? It’s not complicated. Tell the girl you love her and tell everyone the truth whenever you can.”

If Lennon were buried instead of cremated, I think that would have been the epitaph on his tombstone.  Curtis nailed it.

1 thought on “Happy Birthday….Fool”

  1. Excellent tribute. enjoyed it very much. I can’t say John was my favorite (his general attitude & drug issues/involvement. Also I can’t stand Yoko!) … but after reading this … I like him a whole lot better! Thank you! BTW – If you can believe it (it’s true!), By the time I was only 11 years old I had 7 Beatles albums (or was it 8? Yes, still have them; plus a few more from later. All vinyl.) … And that was in 1966!


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