Tuesday, October 9, 2012

John Lennon: Happy Birthday to You!

John Lennon would have been 72-years-old today. Had an assassin not emerged from the shadows of New York’s Dakota apartment building on the evening of December 8, 1980 and ended Lennon’s life only two months after his 40th birthday, where would the man who founded the Beatles and provided the British quartet with its most distinctive voice be today?

Of course, it’s possible that the assassin, having missed his chance on December 8, may have returned and tried again on December 9 or 10, or some later date, and Lennon would still have fallen victim to those bullets. If an assassin hadn’t succeeded in killing him, maybe cancer, heart disease or another “natural cause” would have claimed him by now.

Let’s assume, however, that Lennon had successfully dodged the bullets, both real and metaphorical. What would he be doing now?

Shortly before his death, he joined wife Yoko Ono and recorded his first album of new original material in six years. It had been five years since Shaved Fish, his first greatest hits collection, had been released, and Lennon all but disappeared from public view after 1975. Having been one of the most public of public figures during the early ‘70s, appearing frequently in the press and on television talk shows as he battled the government’s efforts to deport him, he was conspicuous by his absence. His sudden reemergence in 1980 all but guaranteed the success of Double Fantasy. After his death, it became his third post-Beatles album to reach number one on the Billboard chart (1971's Imagine and 1974’s Walls and Bridges were the others).

It would be nice to think that he would have gone on to greater success in the years to come, but a look at the track records of his fellow superstars from the 1960s and 1970s suggests he would not. Following 1983, his more commercially-minded former partner, Paul McCartney, struggled to have hits, and wouldn’t see one of his albums reach the top 10 again until 1997; the same year Bob Dylan also made a comeback with the Grammy winning Time Out of Mind. Dylan had also hit the skids in the dreary ‘80s, and, unlike McCartney, even struggled to sell tickets to his concert appearances. Even Neal Diamond, who, by then, had defined “middle of the road,” found his albums floundering near the bottom of the top 40.

Would Lennon have fared any better?

I doubt it. This might have been good news for those Beatle fans clamoring for a reunion. The three surviving band-mates reconvened in 1995 for the only reunion possible by then, adding their voices and instruments to several Lennon demos. Had Lennon lived, I think he would have joined them. The Beatles might then have reunited more or less permanently, issuing new songs every few years (none of them likely equal to “Strawberry Fields Forever” or even “Your Mother Should Know”), and embarking on mega-tours like the ones that the Rolling Stones use to rake in the dough several times a decade.

Another possibility, one that Lennon even acknowledged as an option when interviewed by Rolling Stone in 1980, was television. Yes, John and Yoko who spent a week co-hosting The Mike Douglas Show in 1972, and also chatted freely with Dick Cavett and David Frost during the same era, might have their own talk show now, or, God forbid, a reality show, probably titled The Ballad of John and Yoko.

I’d rather not think about that, even though it’s obvious that I already have. It’s best to remember him the way he was, as Bob Dylan has done in “Roll On, John,” the closing track on his latest album, Tempest:

“Shine your light, move it on, you burn so bright, roll on, John.”

© 2012 Brian W. Fairbanks


1 comment:

  1. Great homage to the fallen creative musician. Fun to "Imagine" what course he might have taken had he lived on to the present day. Very good tribute.