Today is still October 9 here in Arizona. The day has had much to occupy me, and so I am only now getting around to reflecting on the importance of this particular day.
John Lennon was born on October 9, 1940. To Beatles fans the day is well known, and there have been celebrations and observances going on to honor him. As with all things Beatles, not much gets by the fans, whether it’s birthdays, observances of the passing of John or George, or the anniversary of an album’s release. Every event merits a corresponding celebration.
If you love the Beatles, you love John. Even if he’s not your “favorite”, without John you have nothing special. You don’t have attitude or, as the British say, “cheek”. There would have been music, no doubt, but none of the greatness that is Beatles.
When you listen to the early recordings, it’s mostly John on lead. He and Paul did a lot of doubling up on songs, and then there was the double tracking, but John was the dominant voice. His was the voice on the first album, Please Please Me, that was leading the UK into the delirium that would become Beatlemania.
John’s voice is nearly inimitable. He doesn’t sound like anyone else, whether he’s tearing up his throat on Twist and Shout, or gently reminding us that he had a mother whose loss changed his life in the lilting and beautiful Julia. He could sound sexy or crazed, and everything in between. His phrasing was masterful, delivering each line of a song in the only way it should be sung.
John could draw you into his song in a way that is unique to only a few artists. His was an ability to create an environment and guide the listener into the experience that he painted with his words. It’s one of the reasons Beatle covers are so inadequate, I think. Those other voices don’t carry you with them.
Whatever is lacking in John’s style of singing (some people actually think that’s possible) is more than compensated for in his ability to manipulate the listener into being a participant in his musical vignette. John’s world becomes our world, his views and empathies our own.
Losing John at the hands of an assasin devastated a generation, and that loss is a part of our history now. He might have written more and better music, or not. There wasn’t any way to minimize who he was, what he had accomplished. Writing and performing in addition to all of that simply meant he could. The doing of it only endeared him to us that much more.
The energy he represented and the vision of his brand of genius is missing from our collective lives, his eclectic talent no longer a still living entity for us to embrace. But amazingly, what he did do in those Beatle and post Beatle years remains as vibrant and important as ever. He was part of something that never grows old, so in a way, neither does he. We will miss John, but never the music. It remains with us.