A new movie opened a few weeks ago titled “The U.S. vs. John Lennon.” It is about the Nixon Administration’s attempt to essentially kick John Lennon and Yoko Ono out of the United States for their views on the Vietnam War. The parallels between the early 1970s and now are obvious, which makes the film all the more relevant. What is not as obvious, however, is the contrast between Lennon the hero figure of the movie and Lennon the real human being.Since his murder in 1980, Lennon has attained mythic status in rock history. Multitudes of musicians pay homage to him; many, such as the band Oasis, practically worship him. Yet, I think if we peeled the myth from the man, we would find someone more flawed, yet more inspiring than we ever realized. I say that because in his contradictions and idealism, we see a reflection of us all – which may be the real, unknown reason so many find him mesmerizing, even in our day.
The “heroic” side of Lennon began in the late 1960s after meeting Ono. Songs such as “Revolution,” “Give Peace a Chance” and “Come Together” helped voice the protest in the streets. His famous “bed-in” with Ono in 1969 helped cement his reputation, in the eyes of Nixon at least, as a radical whose views were dangerous to the American public. Anyone who observed Lennon simply from his actions and words might think he was on some great moral crusade. He was full of controversy, yes, but he was also a model of passion, zeal and excitement. It also looked as if he had a great time.
Yet during the same period of time, both he and Ono were battling heroin addiction, lost a baby to miscarriage, and to top it off, The Beatles broke up.
In 1970, after an intense three months in primal scream therapy, he recorded and released the album “Plastic Ono Band.” The album was a purging of illusions and ideals – debunking God, The Beatles and practically the entire counter-culture movement. It was a stark contrast from the “peace-and-love” days of merely a year before.
One year later, however, his idealism returned probably stronger than ever. He released his most famous non-Beatle song, “Imagine,” with lyrics such as “You may say I’m a dreamer/ But I’m not the only one/ I hope some day you’ll join us/ And the world will live as one.” Thus the disillusioned realist became the idealistic dreamer as the world turned. Yet instead of that being a fickle, hypocritical thing, it is perhaps the most human and inspiring aspect of Lennon of all.
We are all a mass of contradictions. We are one person one minute, another person the next – depending on whom we’re trying to impress. We believe one thing with all of our heart, but a few months later we’ve made a complete 180-degree turn. Perhaps Lennon’s greatest legacy is that he reminds us no matter how successful one can become, no matter how famous or popular, we are still merely flesh, blood and emotions; – always at war with ourselves – desperately praying for a moment’s peace.
Though he never found peace, he never gave up hoping for it either. Indeed, it was in his continued striving that his genius was painfully revealed. His creativity, his beliefs and, ultimately, his actions came out of this striving. In all the various roles he took on, one central goal is clear: peace.
Lennon the hippy-turned-atheist-turned-Christian-turned-what? Lennon, the man who sang “Give Peace a Chance” and “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” Lennon, the visionary of Nutopia and proud American patriot. Lennon the dreamer and the realist. Lennon, a mirror of us all in the spirit and the flesh.
As he sang in “Instant Karma (We All Shine On).” Even in all the inner struggles each one of us conceal as we go along in our own search, we can still hear those words. I have no doubt, though we stumble more often than we walk, that Lennon’s words to us, even in our struggle, would be “Keep on shining.”
Erick Raven is a first-year graduate student in the school of education from Grand Prairie. His column appears every Friday.