Father and Son

The Peculiar Phenomenon of Lennon Worship

I didn't notice that John Lennon's birthday was a few days ago (Oct. 9). He would have been 71 (!). I became aware of it only because I happened across this review of a new Lennon biography

I've always been puzzled by those people who idolized the Beatles and Lennon in particular. The author of this review says

Tangled deep in the nervous system of every earthling over the age of 40, I would argue, is some fiber or filament of peak Beatlemania, some flicker of the old wild adoration. We want, we need — still — to love these men. 

Sorry, dude, but you argue wrong. I'm well over 40, and an earthling (no, really, I am). I liked the music of the Beatles quite a lot in their time, and I still like it, though I don't listen to it very much. But I never felt anything remotely resembling "wild adoration." I never needed to, and never did, love them as people, or give them all that much thought, really. I mean, like any pop music fan, I knew who was who, and who was responsible for which aspects of their music--I could tell the difference between a Lennon song and a McCartney song. And of course one could hardly avoid knowing a bit about their personal lives. But they were gifted artists, not gurus or philosophers. I certainly never looked to them to tell me the meaning of life--or, to tell the truth, even shed any great light on it, as their work is, in relation to the masters, relatively light stuff for the most part.

A significant number of people seem to think Lennon was some sort of genius-prophet. I didn't understand that when he was alive and I still don't. I suppose "Imagine" has a lot to do with it, but those who think it's a magnificent statement mark themselves in my eyes as being at very best very naive, culpably so if they're over 30.

There was one figure in the music world whom I held in that sort of regard for a short time: Bob Dylan. But I got over that about the time Nashville Skyline came out. 


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It's always baffled me. I did go through a phase of regarding Bob Dylan and Paul Simon as lyric poets, but even then with nothing like "adoration".

(And I'm afraid I still get mixed up about which Beatle is which.)

If poetry is something that must stand alone, on the page or spoken, without music, I don't think there is a single pop songwriter who should be called a poet.

If I'm not mistaken you're on the young side to have experienced the Beatles being features of contemporary news the way somebody like Britney Spears is now. I think one had to be resolutely uninterested not to have absorbed a good bit of information about them then, especially if one liked their music.

What did your mother think about them, Paul?


Yes, they broke up shortly before I was born. I do clearly remember the reporting of John Lennon being shot, and wondering why an entertainer's death should be so much talked about (I think Pope John Paul and Oscar Romero were the only individuals whose deaths had been so mediatized in my memory; but Bobby Sands was soon to follow).

The Beatles were just about the only pop group my mother would allow to be heard in the house, Janet. My parents' record collection was almost entirely folk and classical (plus Simon & Garfunkel). My mother would play cassettes of Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones in his car when he drove us to school. Other than that, I'd guess the Muppet Show was the most memorable vehicle for popular music, which has no doubt influenced my ability to take it seriously.

Sorry - second "mother" there should read "father".

Yes, I thought it likely that when she was a girl, she was probably caught up in the Beatles craziness, as was I, but I got over it by the end of high school. I still liked their music, but I wouldn't give up a vacation to see them live, which I would gladly have done a few years earlier.


During the years between Dylan's motorcycle accident (1965, I think) and the early '70s, I think I said some reckless things about the lengths I would go to in order to see him live. But by the time he started touring again he had put out several bad albums and I wasn't interested anymore.

I love the Beatles. Like many of the best artists, they caught a culture just before it disappeared. For example, in 'Penny Lane'. Their mustic and words are very largely this worldly, and that is perhaps why they don't interest Maclin. There's that odd reference to "mother Mary comes to me" in Let it Be, but by and large they rightly bypassed the transcendental mode, so long as they stayed together as a group. Of course Lennon's latter exhibitions of his religious opinions were gruesome, but I have a soft spot for the corny-transcendental side of George Harrison. I am told by a much more liberal catholic than I that that soft spot would dry up pretty quickly if I had had to suffer through Dominican sisters strumming 'my sweet Lord' on the guitar. He calls this phenomenon 'nunniness'. There is a nunny side to George Harrison, though not to Lennon, who simply hated God. In the Beatles, however, it is almost entirely subterranean, buried in nostalgia and sexual desire for traffic wardens, two of the Englishman's strongest emotions.

[laughing at that last bit]

But I didn't say they don't interest me! I just didn't look to them for spiritual depth or guidance, even when I was a 20-year-old hippie, and never felt anything remotely near worship for them. Revolver would probably be in my desert island list, maybe also Magical Mystery Tour. I'd really miss the albums from Rubber Soul to MMT if I suddenly didn't have them.

For English nostalgia, the Kinks' Something Else is my favorite, followed closely by Village Green Preservation Society and Arthur.

I am very glad I misread you. I really felt it was a bit odd for someone who loves music not to be interested in the Beatles. The thing with the Beatles - at least before the 'I am a Walrus' phase - is that they could be played in a room with three generations of people. That is an achievement almost no other pop group of their generation earned.

Very true. Even someone like Jay Nordlinger, (classical) music critic for The New Criterion, and very old-school as a critic, admires McCartney's melodic gift. I don't recall that he's ever said so, but he's usually lukewarm at best about recent classical music, and I expect he would swap most of it for a few of the better Beatles songs.

I just tried to find the piece and all I can locate via Google are references to his criticism of a rather dumb anti-Bush joke made by McCartney. That strikes me as emblematic of the way politics dominates things these days.

This is an interesting piece about George Harrison. I am looking forward the movie, despite the author's strictures


That looks extremely interesting. Thanks. Really, I think I expected more from George than the others, after the Beatles broke up, because although he didn't write that many songs, I really liked the ones he did write. "If John and Paul could write songs, how hard could it be?" That's actually a sort of dichotomy you run into often: the brilliant player who isn't nearly as good at composing. George was a much better instrumentalist than the others, which I remember John referring to in an interview, saying he couldn't go out and jam with people like Eric Clapton the way George could, because he had "a limited vocabulary." George did better as a writer than a lot of other virtuosos, e.g. Jimi Hendrix.

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