John Lennon


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About John Lennon

Disregard any hyperbole about John Lennon and The Beatles being the most important thing to ever happen to popular music and ask yourself: How many artists can you name whose work has left people so energized and divided more than 40 years after their death? “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” most people probably agree on. But what about the agony of “Mother,” or the trio of borderline-amusical experiments he released with Yoko Ono in 1968 and 1969? Lennon revolutionized pop, yes—especially when it came to the scope, depth, and range of subject and feeling we could expect in it. But he also demonstrated that revolution takes risk, and that real risk is, by nature, messy. In an interview a couple of months before he was murdered in 1980, he said that people who were still hung up on the idea that The Beatles had answers in the '80s was like being hung up on swing bands or World War II. The only way to stay ahead of the game was to accept that everything—everything—is unknown. He was born in Liverpool, England, in October 1940. His childhood was unsettled. His teenage skiffle band, The Quarrymen, evolved into The Beatles, where he played the tough, questioning poet to Paul McCartney’s dreamy romantic. His solo songs were skeptical of religion (“God,” “Imagine”) and no more inspired by the politics on Earth (“Instant Karma,” “Working Class Hero”). They could be nasty (“Cold Turkey”), petty (“Whatever Gets You Through the Night”), and at times comically self-interested (“How?”). But they could also summon an innocence so direct and unpretentious it felt less like he was performing than confiding you in (“Love”). And yet even as he drew you into his soft, private world, he projected on a global, rock-star scale. Either he was very different from everyone else, or pretty much the same—only, of course, with the gift and tenacity to express what that means.

Liverpool, England
October 9, 1940
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