Today is October 9th. 70 years ago today John Lennon was born. I have always been a huge Beatles fan, but I’ve alwasy been drawn more to John than to any of the others. I have friends who really like Paul, or really like George (Sorry Ringo, but after the Beatles broke up, you’re most famous for being on Thomas the Tank Engine), but I’ve always liked John.
I don’t know what it was, maybe it was his subtle wit, his folksy songs, his political activism – I had a phase in high school where I absolutely loved protest songs. Maybe that love of protest songs grew out of a love of John Lennon, or maybe it was the other way around.
What I love about the Beatles is the very different styles of music that each member brought to the group. That is why they were so successful, I think. George is an excellent guitarist, and brought in an eastern influence, Paul is very much the popstar of the group, writing nice, silly love songs. But John was definitely the folk singer, starting out with folk songs, then progressing to politically charged songs.
If you look at what each of these musicians did after the Beatles, how successful they were in their own rights, and what kind of songs they wrote, you can begin to see which of the songs the Beatles sang were written by which songwriter. George’s songs have that eastern fell to them, the sitars and such that we hear in “Within you, without you”, as well as the amazing guitar work on “While my guitar gently weeps”. Paul, with Wings, had a brass section! He wrote “Silly love songs”, “Live and let die”, “Band on the run” – very complex songs with bridges and transitions and multiple instruments. But John wrote simple songs that had great meaning. One guy on guitar or piano and a drummer. Listen to “Imagine”, “Give peace a chance”, “Beautiful boy”, or “Woman”. These are musically pretty simple songs, but the messages in the lyrics are so deep and full of meaning and emotion.
This summer my wife and I had the amazing opportunity of seeing Paul McCartney live in concert. For the first time in his career he came to Utah, and it just happened to be when we were here and were able to go see him. That is an experience I will never forget! He played songs from a career spanning 50 years! It was quite impressive. But it made me sad, just a little, to think about John Lennon, whose life was cut so short. What could John have given us had he lived? What would John be writing about today if he were still around?
That is the thought that occupies my mind today as we celebrate the day of his birth. I am thankful for the beautiful music he gave us, but I mourn the loss of the many, many songs that he could have written. I hope his life, and his death, can serve as an admonition, as an example of what happens when anyone is killed. There is so much potential in life, so many possibilities that it is such a tragedy when any life is cut short. I don’t think it is inconsistent with John Lennon’s life or his message to be advocating more peace, more tolerance, more love, more respect on his birthday. And so, today, when all of the oldies radio stations start playing “Imagine”, think of what you can do to make the world that John Lennon imagined a reality. A world where there is “nothing to kill or die for”, where “all the people [are] living life in peace” and “sharing all the world.”