Saturday, October 09, 2010

John Lennon at 70

John Lennon was so young when he was gunned down in 1980 — several years younger than either John or Robert Kennedy and about the same age as Martin Luther King.

In the public memory, I guess, he is forever in his 20s, the sly, witty, rebellious Beatle. As a Beatle, he seemed to be constantly in the public eye. He was seen less and less frequently after the Beatles broke up, although he may have achieved his greatest and longest–lasting public adulation for a song he wrote and recorded as a solo artist ("Imagine").

And, in the final five years of his life, he was rarely seen at all, devoting himself almost exclusively to the care of his youngest son.

In 1980, he had only recently re–emerged on the music scene, first with a popular single, followed by a popular album that was released shortly before his death.

And, on October 9, just two months before he was murdered, Lennon turned 40.

They say life begins at 40. Not for Lennon. It ended at 40 for Lennon.

Nevertheless, today would have been his 70th birthday. And, if it is difficult to picture what the young John Lennon would have been like in his 50s and 60s, it is even more difficult to imagine him in his 70s.

But, if given the chance, he might encourage us to try.

A lot can happen in 30 years. If he hadn't been murdered in December 1980, he might have been injured or killed in an accident. Or he might have been diagnosed with an incurable disease. But if we presume that Lennon would still be alive today if he hadn't been shot, it's reasonable to make other presumptions, based on what we know.

I don't know if either of Lennon's sons has a child of his own. But it is certainly possible that Lennon could have been a grandfather, perhaps many times over, by this time in his life. His oldest son, Julian, is 47, and his son with Yoko Ono, Sean, was born 35 years ago today, on his father's own 35th birthday.

So I can picture Lennon with gray hair and beard because Lennon didn't seem to have the vanity that prompts others to dye their hair when it starts to turn gray, although I'm not sure how long his hair would be. I often see men in his age group with ponytails now, so perhaps he would have let it grow out. On the other hand, he might have kept it short, similar to the style favored by George Carlin in his later years.

At 70, Lennon might have been wearing jackets or sweaters on a regular basis, especially if circulatory problems came up, as they often do, and composing songs with and for his grandchildren, much as he did with his sons. The last album he released during his lifetime, his "Double Fantasy" collaboration with Yoko, hinted at a more mature John Lennon who was more focused on the relationships in his life than the young, devil–may–care John Lennon who cheekily claimed that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus."

I don't know if John and Yoko would still be living in the Dakota, the apartment building where they lived and where John was shot in December 1980. I think Yoko still lives there, though, so it isn't far–fetched to believe they might still be living there today.

I could see Lennon having an elaborate recording studio, perhaps within his home at the Dakota or perhaps somewhere nearby. And I could see him continuing to record his music, which would constantly be inspired by everything and everyone in his life.

His commercial popularity might ebb and flow, but I doubt that would matter to Lennon. He was consistently about self–expression. If you got what he was saying, that was great. But if you didn't get it, maybe you would the next time.

I get the feeling that John Lennon at 70 would be more comfortable with himself than he ever seemed to be during his life. He would have continued to use his art, his music, to comment on the world condition. I am sure he would have had messages to share about many things that have happened in the last three decades.

Not long after Lennon was killed, I saw his former Beatles bandmate, Ringo Starr, speculating in an interview about the impact Lennon might have had with his music if he had not been murdered.

"I think he would have been quite a force in the '80s," Ringo said, and I agreed with that. But I think his influence would have continued well beyond the 1980s.

He would have written, as he always did, about the things that moved him, whether those things were political or personal — or both.

He would have been moved by the major events of the '80s — the Challenger explosion, Iran–Contra, the fall of the Berlin Wall — and after — the Gulf War (and the other wars that were fought in the '90s), the Oklahoma City bombing, the death of Princess Diana, September 11, the anthrax attacks, the invasion of Iraq, the election of Barack Obama, hate crimes, school shootings.

And he would have written about all of them.

Lennon was, in the words of writer John Donne, "involved in mankind."

He was that way in his 20s and 30s. And I suspect, if he was alive today, he still would be involved in mankind.

Send not to ask for whom the bell tolls. Lennon's death was the world's loss. It tolls for us.