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Melissa Webster Headshot

What Would John Lennon Think?

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"Revolution" by the Beatles [remastered for HD] performed on the David Frost Show in 1968 and published for the Beatles Anthology.

As one of the greatest rock legends of all time, and one of my personal heroes, I can't help but wonder what John Lennon would think of the digital music scene that has transformed the music industry from a physical content distribution powerhouse to a crowd-sourcing, fan-driven social platform of equals, and all the technological accessories it has spawned. Would he secretly embrace the technology while publicly spurning anything short of vinyl records as a bastardization of music, claiming to be a stoic purist? Or, would he publicly welcome the changes and call it evolution, or shall we say "Revolution," of sorts for music and artists? My guess is he'd probably do a bit of both, casting aside some things while endorsing and supporting others. The charge of "sell-out" is, after all, a mainstay among rock 'n' roll purists, and even the Beatles weren't immune to the accusation.

I imagine with Lennon's free-thinking, hippie, liberal ways (he did actually live the life he preached), he'd shrug his shoulders and view the file-sharing of free, downloadable music as the unstoppable, inevitable conclusion to an archaic industry that once served its purpose but is now past its prime as the new technologically advanced industry emerges. But, what about apps that allow musicians to download and play sheet music to his lyrics on a computer they can hold in their hand? Or apps that let him write his own lyrics on his telephone? Would he use them, or stick to pen and paper? And live-streaming his concerts online for anyone with an Internet connection to watch free of charge: What would he think about that?

So, it was in the week of John Lennon's birthday that I pondered these questions, when I stumbled upon a new digital sheet music app, featuring this week music from the Beatles in honor of his birthday. Being the free-thinking liberal he was, I'd like to think this falls in the category of one of the things he'd endorse as a way to share his music with the world, mostly because I just think it's cool. Called Tonara, it partners with major sheet-music retailers to provide a variety of sheet music of every genre of major artists for musicians to download and play. And, it isn't just normal sheet music -- it actually listens to musicians as they play, follows their progress and turns the pages for them. It also allows musicians to record their work and make notes as they go along. The convenience alone, and the trees it saves along the way, makes me think John Lennon would approve.

And livestreaming? This thought makes me laugh, because there's no doubt in my mind John Lennon would be the first to lead the charge, illegally climbing to the roof of a building advertising free Wi-Fi, with cameras in tow, to play the first free concert via the Internet; and it wouldn't be preceded by ad-heavy content or a promotional roll-out or sponsorship by one of the handful of music conglomerates that dominates the industry. Just a few men and their instruments, a cheap Internet connection and a camera, gifting the world with a concert most would never get to see in reality. Supposedly a bit of a prankster, I imagine he'd consider this a real lark and laugh at the possibility.

And the other app? The one that lets him write his lyrics on a computer he holds in his hand? This one may be a little more complicated. In this one thing, I believe John Lennon would have been a stubborn purist, preferring the connection of pen to paper, resisting the move towards the convenience of digital and the environmentally friendly impact it has on the world around us. I imagine him pulling out his iPhone and jotting down a burst of inspiration that hits him while he's sitting in the waiting room of a doctor's office. Ya know, once he figured out how to work his smartphone. But, I also imagine him transferring those lyrics to paper the moment he got home, at least in the beginning, clinging to the feel of holding a pen in his hand and the way the words flow from the brain, down the arm and onto the page, a release of creative energy and brilliance.

So what would John Lennon think about the new digital music environment and other's ability to access his music instantly in a variety of formats? Alas, we'll never really know, but the speculation is as limitless as the Internet itself. Maybe they should make an app for that.