By Lachman Balani
John Lennon- rock’s great composer and advocate for world peace –died 33 years ago.
Dec 8, 2013, marks the double whammy – the 33rd anniversary of the death of one of western music’s greatest composers, rock legend and former Beatle John Lennon, who was shot dead by Mark Chapman as he returned home with his wife Yoko Ono after a long day of recording at this studio in New York City (NYC).
I was out partying in a club in the wee hours of the morning (5 hours ahead of NYC time) in Las Palmas in the Canary Islands when the DJ stopped the music and announced that “El gran Seňor Lennon de los famosos Beatles se ha sido assasinado! (the great Mr. Lennon of the famous Beatles has been assassinated)”.
We patrons just could not believe our ears running up and confirming with the DJ if it was indeed true as he stopped the energetic music and the go-go girls took a break for a full minute in deference to this ultimate rock legend.
The following day, it was front page news and all the radio stations were dedicating music to this brilliant musician who had since leaving the Beatles not only wrote and sang music but also dedicated his life to humanitarian and social activism. “Imagine”, “Give peace a chance”, “Instant Karma”, “Cold Turkey” and numerous more of his songs took over the airwaves and news of his fascinating life was all over.
Many DJs attributed his genius to his troubled early life, saying he was brought up by his aunt and uncle after his parents divorced. Radio stations and TV channels just talked and talked about his rich, colourful and powerful life. He is famously quoted for saying, “We (the Beatles) are more famous than Jesus Christ”.
Famed Pakistani British journalist Tariq Ali, well known for his verbal spars with Henry Kissinger over the Vietnam war and also his interviews with John Lennon and The Rolling Stones also lamented the fact that the world had lost such an astounding personality.
Many believed then, that his first encounter with drugs was with Bob Dylan, when Bob handed the Beatles a joint of marijuana to try. However, the radio stations told us that he was already well versed with “speed (amphetamines- a stronger synthetic drug than marijuana)” way before then, back in his early days in Germany. They also told us that after marijuana, John “graduated” to “acid (LSD)” for a while before heading down with his fellow Beatles to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in India to cleanse himself and create their most historic songs ever, which have been recorded in the Beatles’ double white album and “Abbey Road”. Till date some extremely creative work from his ashram days remains unpublished including a song on Dehradun, a city in India.
Later, he took up “smack (heroin)”, but also decided to quit it overnight and go “Cold Turkey”, hence his famous song “Cold Turkey”.
John was a frequent visitor to Canada and one can till date visit the room he stayed at in the King Edward Hotel in downtown Toronto. However the more famous landmark is the suite in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal where he and his wife Yoko staged their 2nd “bed-in” for peace in 1969, the first being held in Amsterdam. Also in 1969, John and Yoko performed at the Toronto Peace Festival. Both were also privileged to meet the then Prime Minister of Canada, Hon. Pierre Elliot Trudeau (or as many have said, it was a privilege for PM Trudeau to have met John and Yoko).
It was Lennon who decided that the Beatles would not perform after their last concert in the US in 1966 because of the pressure.
“I’m not against performing, but performing as a Beatle is like such a myth and an aura about it that they expect Jesus, God, and Buddha,” he said.
Whatever the reason, the Beatles most psychedelic and defining work was produced after that with their Sgt. Pepper’s album being THE watershed album of rock and roll followed by their double white album, “Abbey Road”, and their last album “Let It Be”. Many critics attribute it to the fact that they had more time to concentrate on producing songs rather than being on the road and getting knackered(tired and drained of energy).
After the definitive break-up of the Beatles in 1970, John continued enjoying a prolific career producing numerous albums and memorable songs and his fame spread far and wide, so much so that there are memorials of him all over the world including such far off places like Prague ( a wall) and Iceland (a peace tower).
His oft quoted lyrics are from his fabled song `Imagine.’
“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people Living life in peace…”
Yes, just imagine if all that was to come to pass.