Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

Lennon

Posted in music by Andrew Hickey on December 8, 2012

Please note, this isn’t aimed at any one person.

Today, like October the 9th, sees people all over the internet mourning for John Lennon. I’m not going to say they shouldn’t (and they’d quite rightly ignore me if I did) — John Lennon deserves mourning.

But unfortunately, a lot of them seem to be mourning St John The Martyr, Who Died That We Might Have Peace, rather than the actual human being John Lennon. A lot of the posts, videos and so on seem to be about the most perfect human being who ever lived, who was too beautiful for this world and who thought only of love.

To my mind, this is actually horribly disrespectful of the man and his memory.

Lennon was, of course, always the first to mythologise himself — but he was also the first to tear that mythology down and destroy it.

Lennon was, in many ways, a fairly horrible human being. He regularly mocked the disabled on stage, made some arguably racist comments, was a terrible father to his first child, and was a violent thug who beat at least his first wife regularly.

There were only two saving graces that made up for that — his sincere desire to change, and his brutal honesty.

Those are the things that made his flaws forgivable — *everyone* does terrible things, not everyone tries to fix their own flaws — but they were also the things that made him the great artist he was. You can’t throw a stone in Liverpool without hitting someone with a good singing voice, a way with a melody, and an acerbic wit. But if you’ve only got those things, you’re Lee Mavers, you’re not John Lennon.

It’s Lennon’s awareness of his flaws, and his attempts to document and transcend them, that let him write In My Life, Jealous Guy, God, Working Class Hero, Strawberry Fields, I Am The Walrus, Happiness Is A Warm Gun and the rest. The erasure of that, in favour of a public image that seems closer to that of St Francis Of Assissi, seems to me to be a huge crime against his memory.

So rather than remember him as a martyr or an angel, I’m going to remember him like he is here, in what seems to be the only video of him on YouTube that *isn’t* made up of soft-focus shots of him looking saintly. As a man with a great voice, singing a very good song he wrote. In the end, that’s all he was — but that’s enough. We have enough saints, we need more singers.

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9 Responses

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  1. Liz W said, on December 8, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    I’m not sure it’s ever possible to have enough saints. But I agree with you, we shouldn’t turn people into saints if the cost is erasing the reality of their struggles and, where applicable, those of the people they hurt.

  2. Lawrence said, on December 8, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    Andrew, I didn’t know he beat Cynthia. I do agree with everything in your post. I so wish you would write that George Harrison book – we need a volume on his solo work that isn’t…well, crap.

  3. S. Barrios said, on December 11, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    excellent post ! / .. and one reason i don’t have any particular problem with Albert Goldman’s much-maligned bio. Yoko and Paul were pleased to attack it as “anti-John,” but that wasn’t really the case at all. it was, rather, Unfair to .. Yoko and Paul and i wish they’d handled it from *that* angle (especially Paul, whose contributions to the Beatles get sadly marginalized by th’ Late Mr Goldman).

    • Andrew Hickey said, on December 11, 2012 at 2:34 pm

      I’m not at all sure. I’ve never read the Goldman bio all the way through — I got to a bit where he was talking about how Lennon was probably dyspraxic, and that that meant he was a terrible guitarist, and how you could tell this from listening to the records and noticing that you can hardly ever hear a rhythm guitar part.
      I thought about that.
      And I thought about those *impossibly hard triplets* on All My Loving, that Lennon kept up throughout the song.
      And I thought about the claim that Lennon couldn’t play guitar properly.
      And I thought about that lovely fingerstyle playing on Julia.
      And I thought about the claim that Lennon couldn’t play guitar properly.
      And I thought of all the many, many, *many* Beatles records where the rhythm guitar is, despite what Goldman said, clearly audible.
      And I put the book down.

      I’m not claiming that Lennon was the greatest guitarist in the world — in fact, he was only about as good as me, and I’m not very good (I’m dyspraxic too) — but you can hear him playing on the records, clearly. I wasn’t going to bother carrying on reading a book by someone who’d never even *listened* to the music of the musician he was writing about.

      • S. Barrios said, on January 16, 2013 at 3:15 pm

        i didn’t expect anything resembling musical *insight* from Goldman. Gossip? well, that’s another pancake entire! (the “Dr Wu” of Steely Dan fame drops in, for instance). your points, though, are well taken / and had you continued with the book, you would’ve found Goldman’s musical abuse of Paul even more insufferable ..

  4. Oliver said, on January 16, 2013 at 8:27 am

    Mr Hickey, what do you even know about John Lennon? Have you ever set foot in Liverpool to understand the scouse ‘mindset’ towards a world that seems totally against us? (Just look at Hillsborough etc). John was a true Liverpudlian, and he was irreverent etc, but that’s the way we are.

    • Andrew Hickey said, on January 16, 2013 at 2:32 pm

      “what do you even know about John Lennon?”
      A fair bit, having been a fan of his for my entire life and having read every book, watched every documentary and listened to every bootleg I could get my hands on.

      “Have you ever set foot in Liverpool to understand the scouse ‘mindset’ towards a world that seems totally against us? ”
      You’re really doing the stereotype of Scousers as whinging complainers no favours here, you realise? The only thing I said about Liverpool in the entire post was “You can’t throw a stone in Liverpool without hitting someone with a good singing voice, a way with a melody, and an acerbic wit.”

      How awful, to say that there are lots of Liverpudlians who can sing well and are witty! I can certainly see how that terrible libel incensed you so much that you had to respond.

      Not that it’s any of your business, but I’ve spent plenty of time in Liverpool — my family are from there, although I was brought up about twenty miles away, my sister went to university there, it was the closest city for me to visit when I was a teenager, my old band gigged there regularly and I still pop over a couple of times a year.

      I said nothing bad about Liverpool in my post, and the only bad things I said about Lennon are things he, himself, would have agreed with more than anyone. I know Liverpool and its people well enough to know that the stereotypes, both good and bad, are no truer than any other stereotype. But for someone who *doesn’t* know the city, you’d have just done a very good job of convincing them that Boris Johnson was right.

  5. Oliver said, on January 16, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    You were brought up TWENTY miles away from Liverpool – does that mean Manchester?

    • Andrew Hickey said, on January 16, 2013 at 7:40 pm

      Not that it’s any of your business, but no. Manchester is where I live now, not where I grew up.


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