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Turn Me On, Dead Man: 26 Things I Miss About John Lennon 26 Years Later

05/25/2011 12:00 pm ET

Blogger Pen-Elayne (obviously a Beatles fan, by the name) reminds us this is the 26th anniversary of John Lennon's death. Last year, to commemorate that sad 25th anniversary, I wrote up 25 reasons I still miss him so many years later. I was compelled to mark the day by modifying the list slightly - and adding a 26th reason as a way to count the years.

It speaks to John's genius as a communicator that "Imagine," which is so clearly hostile to God and religion, is so widely popular in our heavily theocratic society. It's not my favorite Lennon song by any means, but that's not because of any beliefs I hold. It's just that, while it is beautiful, it's not as soulful or dynamic for me as some of his other tunes.

Atheists looking for an anthem should track down a bootleg copy of "Serve Yourself," his answer song to Dylan's Christian hymn "Gotta Serve Somebody." It's hilarious, profane, and cuttingly anti-religious.

Leftists should check out this 1971 interview with Tariq Ali and Robin Blackburn, where Lennon mixes a hostility toward "God shit" with some die-hard Marxist terminology - although he and Yoko retain some of their unique stylistic flourishes as they chat with Robin and Tariq. He also gives us a glimpse into his polemical genius, as when he talks about the use of simplicity.

Could somebody like Lennon be a star today?

John was the best New Yorker Liverpool ever produced. He was a fine American who happened to have been born in Great Britain. Here are 26 things I appreciated about him:

  1. That screaming wail that opens "Mr. Moonlight"
  2. The way his primal album anticipated punk music
  3. How cool he looked chewing gum on stage
  4. Playing the organ with his elbow when I saw the Beatles at Shea Stadium for my 13th birthday
  5. Putting words from "The Tibetan Book of the Dead" to music ... in 1966
  6. Not being afraid to appear ridiculous in pursuit of a good cause
  7. Always being willing to care too much, rather than too little
  8. Embodying the very opposite of "ironic detachment," which has been the definition of what it means to be "hip" for far too long (see #7 above)
  9. ... thereby being the inspiration for Kurt Cobain (see #7, #8 above)
  10. Being publicly insecure ("I'm a good guitar player," he said in an interview. "I know I'm not technically that great, but Clapton says I'm good")
  11. Writing simple sounding but deceptively complicated melodies
  12. The fact that "Sexy Sadie" was originally called "Maharishi" (explains a lot, doesn't it?)
  13. Using Asian scales in songs like "Oh My Love"
  14. Writing a song about karma - and then having Phil Spector produce it
  15. His feelings about Yoko - theirs is one of the great love stories of all time
  16. That line from "Backbeat," which I have the feeling he probably really said to Astrid:  "I'm not angry, sister, I'm desperate"
  17. Having the greatest voice in rock and roll
  18. That 3/4-size Rickenbacker (if anybody wants to buy me one, I'll send you my address)
  19. That single-cutaway Les Paul Junior (see #18, above)
  20. John, I forgive you the whole "Revolution" thing (especially "out, in" - we were all confused then)
  21. His dedication to honesty
  22. Being an proto-rapper ("Give Peace a Chance")
  23. Being prepared to go to Memphis and march with the laundry and restaurant workers who were out on strike (as he was reportedly about to do at the time of his death)
  24. The last line in "Working Class Hero," which was something of a "Twilight Zone" ending:  "If you want to be a hero, then just follow me" ...
  25. Adopting New York City as his home, and living there until the end
  26. Embracing each new passion without hesitation, even if it contradicted the one that preceded it. "the way to know God," said Van Gogh, "is to love many things." (sorry, John!)

He sat alone in the corner of Max's Kansas City, three tables away, when I and my young bandmates went there to hear Bo Diddley one night. We, and the rest of the crowd, left him alone. He was happy to be there.  We were happy to have him.  For a while.

And that was enough.

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