Not sure if you’ve heard, but today marks the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death. Unsurprisingly, the occasion has been marked with the same level of overkill that marks anything Beatles-related these days (oh, for the soothing sound of the last Baby Boomer’s death rattle).
Most of the news coverage focuses on Lennon’s years with the Beatles and on the craziness of Mark David Chapman. And it highlights the worst thing about his death… the minimizing of a serious and interesting solo career (except for the simplistic deification of Imagine).
The Beatles are both one of rock’s best and most important bands, and by far its most overrated (unless Creed is rated by anybody at all). The marketing hype has reached a point where it’s an article of faith that the Beatles are the greatest thing ever heard by two ears. Whenever an historical figure reaches a level where they are treated more like a god than a human, the story gets much less interesting. The Founding Fathers are political seers who created an infallible document, rather than a group beset by conflict, prejudice and doubt. James Dean is an acting savant cut down in the prime of his greatness, rather than an immature actor who mirrored his generation’s callowness. And the Beatles were a group of geniuses who created rock as we know it by transcribing perfect songs handed down by Zeus, rather than a bunch of raw musicians who were able to push each other to ever-greater heights.
And, popular history would have us believe, they all went on to inferior solo careers, falling into traps set by their evil wives. Maybe this was true for three of them (except the evil wives part), but is definitely not true of Lennon. I would argue that, while it isn’t as deep or important as the Beatles catalogue, Lennon’s best solo work is just as good as his Beatles work.
I’ve always had a soft-spot for Lennon because he seemed like the most human of rock stars. He wanted to be all about peace and love, but knew that in reality he was pretty much a bastard. He wanted the perfect British family, but couldn’t stay away from the crazy Asian chick (who, contrary to popular legend, is actually a badass and a pretty interesting artist). He wanted to change the world, but chose to be a househusband out of the public eye for five years in his prime.
So raise a glass for John… but give his music with Yoko as much of a chance as the stuff he did with Paul.