What just happened to me is of little consequence to pop culture. I turned 53. But what just happened to all of us, especially musicians, on this same date, notes merit, since Dec. 8, 2002 marks one more anniversary of the assassination of John Lennon. This is of great consequence to anyone who grew up watching and listening to the efforts of the man who created The Beatles, since those bullets also marked the end of an era known as the ‘60s.
To the digital generation, The Beatles are phantoms and legends of this long gone era. And, no matter how proficient Paul McCartney is at recreating Beatles music live (see his newest live CD), he cannot translate to the Y Generation the magic or cultural importance of the four individuals that included Lennon, recently deceased George Harrison and the eldest Ringo Starr. Even though Lennon’s death came when The Beatles were already a memory, they always existed while Lennon and the others were still living.
Certainly, only a faded image of Lennon himself exists to many of today’s budding musicians. So, none of them can understand, on Dec. 8 of any year or on any other day of remembrance, the impact to pop culture that was the death of John Lennon. I might be more sensitive to feeling the impact of Lennon’s murder because it happened on the anniversary of my birth (I turned 30 as Lennon’s life went up in gunsmoke). But we should all be aware that it was a definitive point in pop culture, one that truly ended The Beatles Era and the long-lasting vibe of what the 1960s represented.
The ‘60s began with an assassination when John Kennedy was shot dead. Bullets flew throughout the years with deadly accuracy, taking away human icons representing dreams and hopes and, of course, innocence. Bullets were strange symbols of a turbulent time that was reflected even in The Beatles’ most lofty music. For as the Beat Generation walked off and said, “I told you so,” the 1950s ended. And as the hard rain was a-fallin’, youth looked to The Beatles to be healed. But “things got bad and things got worse,” and the bad moon was, indeed, a-risin.’
Pop music prospered and wove itself into the blanket of social consciousness. Lennon piloted The Beatles transformation from the path of pop to the peaks of political awareness. The Beat Generation, that spawned “Beat”-les, came back to haunt Lennon and his ‘60s. There was no stopping this cultural drama. It had to have a beginning, middle and an end, in reality as well as symbolically.
So, it seems, then, Shakespearean, that a symbol of what came to heal a generation of its painful beginnings would end by the same tragic means. That violence would spawn innocence and when the innocent matured it would result in a violent conclusion and a disconcerting reality. So went the ‘60s, as Lennon’s body lay moments from death in a city that never sleeps.
This is the meaning of John Lennon’s murder to me. I pass it on to all of you who are so young you might not realize that listening to him sing and play with his little group from Liverpool is a trip through your history, something that should encourage you all to grow, to accept, to look back upon as a moment of infamy.
The ‘60s are dead. Long live the ‘60s.