the Music Died
30th death anniversary
“Something touched me deep inside; the day, the music died,”
- Don McLean, American Pie 1971
December 8, 1980. A man returns home with his wife to their apartment in Dakota, New York City at 10:50 pm. An autistic and schizophrenic man calls from behind. He took an autograph earlier in the day. The man looks back to see Mark Chapman. Four bullets enter his back. Before arriving to the nearby Roosevelt Hospital the man left the 'material world' and with him took 'all the love he could need'. December 8, 2010 marks the 30th Death Anniversary of one of the most influential personalities of the 20th Century - John Winston Lennon.
John Lennon was born on October 9, 1940 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. His parents -- Jack and Julia Lennon -- divorced when John was five. Jack left for the sea; Julia re-married. Julia's eldest sister Mimi and her husband George Smith looked after John although John was in regular contact with Julia. Julia bought John his first guitar in 1957. She told him, “Son, if you know how to play an instrument, you'll never be short of friends.” A year later Julia was overrun by a car driven by an off duty policeman and died very shortly. Through his music and collaboration with Paul McCartney, John and Paul composed some of the most influential songs of the 20th Century. Through his music, John also expressed his personal experiences in life through songs like 'Strawberry Fields Forever'; 'Julia'; 'The Ballad of John and Yoko'; 'Mother' and the songs of the Double Fantasy LP.
The Sixties of the 20th Century was 'the' decade for music. Whether in this part of the world through Modern Bangla; Hindi in Bollywood; and Urdu through Ghazals in Pakistan; or even through the powerful notes of Umm Kulthum in the Arab world -- music was flowering 'here there and everywhere'. The Buena Vista Social Club was just the tip of many icebergs that sent out all-inspiring notes throughout the non-English speaking Americas. Rock n Roll from the mid fifties through Chuck Berry, BB King, Muddy Waters, Fats Doimno, Little Richard, Jerry Lewis, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley et al was an inspirational platform for groups and individual artists of the Sixties.
It is in this historical context that the Beatles surfaced with their first LP 'Please, Please Me' in March 1963. The initial Beatles songs were very much influenced by the Rock n Roll of the fifties especially by Chuck Berry. But the Beatles had an edge in three places. First they were a group that was young and could automatically identify with the listening audience with their wry humour and wit. Second the Beatles were composing songs of a universal appeal- love. Through 'I wanna hold your hand' and the Ed Sullivan shows the Beatles invaded the USA in
1964 with Beatlemania with timeless LPs 'A Hard Day's Night'; 'Beatles for Sale'; 'Help' and 'Revolver'. Their final edge was in their first manager Brian Epstein who was very clever in presenting the Beatles to live up to the Beatlemania they created -- something that was never seen before in popular music and something that has never been re-matched since.
After the untimely death of Brian Epstein in 1967, the Beatles were on their own to manage their empire. The little boys in John and Paul by now had grown up to become men. John divorced his first wife Cynthia and married Yoko Ono. Paul got engaged with Linda Eastman. In spite of the cracks developing between John and Paul, the Beatles still came up with critically acclaimed LPs in 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' (1967); 'The White Album' (1968); and 'Abbey Road' (1970). The rooftop concert from their Abbey Road studio was their last live concert that coincided with their last album in 'Let It Be' in 1970. The band disintegrated leaving the fans with the message that 'all you need is love'.
After their disintegration the four Beatles followed their own 'beats'. Between 1970 and 1975 John went back to his Rock n Roll roots and his anti-War activities with “Give Peace A Chance” that become the anthem of the anti-Vietnam war activists. John's solo masterpiece is probably the controversial yet romantic 'Imagine' in 1971. After the 'Rock n Roll' LP in 1975 John retired from music to give time to his second son, Sean from Yoko- something he missed out on with his first son, Julian from Cynthia. 1980- five years after a 'golden slumber' John and Yoko were back with their 2LP album- 'Double Fantasy'. The title track was apt 'Just like starting over'. All the tracks in this album had a personal touch with 'Watching the Wheels'; 'Beautiful Boy'; 'Dear Yoko'.
Then- just when it was all really 'staring over' again- the fateful event happened on 8 December 1980. Four bullets of Mark Chapman put rest to the ever-restless soul of John Lennon.
Thirty years on the legacy of John Lennon and the Beatles lives on. It lives on not only because of their artistic creations, but also because of their universal appeal towards and against love, war and peace. The Beatles and John Lennon (along with George Harrison) gave Rock n Roll a Sufi touch while keeping true to their own roots and history. Probably this was their everlasting effect on Rock n Roll.
The beauty of any art lies in its universal emotions. One artist's emotions become the emotions of other artists because of this universal appeal. When Don McLean wrote American Pie in 1971 commemorating the tragic airplane death of Buddy Holly in 1959, little did he know those same words “Something touched me deep inside; the day, the music died,” would also sing the emotions for John Lennon in 1980 in another tragic death.
The beauty of musicians is they sing and speak our latent emotions for us in a way better than we could ever have done. John Lennon is one such musician among the many that have graced human civilization. Thirty years since the 'music died'- John Thanks for Everything. Let's 'Imagine John Lennon's Soul Living in Peace'!
(The writer teaches economic theory at Jahangirnagar University and North South University)