I watched a small and unpretentious YouTube video today, posted by John Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono. Less than one minute long. Yoko greets us with a “Hi” and an almost imperceptible shy shrug of her shoulders, like a young girl trying to be friends. After asking us to “Think peace, spread peace, act peace and imagine peace,” she ends with the usual peace sign and “I love you” – her tone in those three words that of a mother talking to a far away child on the phone. A surprisingly touching and intimate video clip.
Yoko, who is now 77 years old, celebrated John’s birthday in Iceland, with a concert by her Plastic Ono Band (yes, they are still around) including their only son Sean Ono Lennon, and the lighting of the Imagine Peace Tower in his memory. It shines on an island near Reykjavik. The concept – a searing beam of pure light – is not particularly original, and is reminiscent of a 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero. But it is beautiful. It is night there now, and very clear, and the ice-blue beam shines straight into the star-sprinkled sky. You can see it via Earthcam at http://imaginepeacetower.com/
I wonder what John would have thought of it. He would certainly be amazed at the technology that created it, and that allowed his widow to reach out to millions of strangers around the world who love him, through “tweets,” videos and Facebook messages. He had just celebrated his fortieth birthday – expressing surprise at being so old – two months before he was shot four times in the back on the steps of his grand New York apartment block by the mentally disturbed Mark Chapman. And that’s almost thirty years ago now.
The Petchary remembers that gloomy winter afternoon well, when the news broke on TV. It was late in the evening in New York, afternoon in Europe, sipping a cup of tea. It seemed an impossible thing to happen. John Lennon was someone we felt we could sit down and talk to, one day, about world peace, about racism, about violence towards women. He would always be around to open up that dialogue, like a kind of guru. He was someone to play “Mind Games” with, like a husband or a brother. The Petchary still loves that song (see the full lyrics below).
Today, the good people of Liverpool unveiled a memorial to John. The somewhat elaborate, multi-colored, shiny memorial was heralded with John’s song “Give Peace a Chance” sung by over 2,000 people joining hands. John’s other family – his first wife Cynthia and their son Julian – were there.
There is nothing, in the Petchary’s eyes, in this memorial to remind you of John – or even of peace, apart from the spiky doves on top. Disappointing.
John struggled through an uncertain childhood and a rebellious adolescence. Not long before he died he said, “I cannot be what I am not.” From his unhappy childhood onwards (he was brought up by his aunt in a rough working-class neighborhood, with an absent father and a mother who just couldn’t cope) you just had to take him as he was. He wasn’t going to change or pretend to suit anybody. He did what he wanted to do, right or wrong. It seems to the Petchary that people who really make a difference in the world… This is what they do. They are single-minded, they march determinedly along their own path. They have no choice.
John’s path ultimately led to him becoming an unapologetic peace activist, lying in bed with Yoko, declaiming in his harsh Liverpudlian accent, courting publicity and loving it. And, before that, to becoming one of the greatest songwriters and performers ever. His song “Imagine” has become a cliche – but despite its pretty anarchic lyrics it still makes the young and the not so young sigh and smile wistfully. One could always forgive his apparent naivete because one knew that whatever other faults John had, he was never a hypocrite.
It was a rocky road to peace. John was a rebel with a devastating wit and a strong dislike of authority who failed all his examinations and was described as “hopeless” by his teachers. He was a “Teddy Boy,” one of the more aggressive youth tribes of the time, a fierce lover of American rock ‘n roll (he made a great album of his favorite songs).
He never really lost that edge, did he? He was certainly the most “dangerous,” exciting and unpredictable of the Beatles when they emerged in the still-conservative Britain of the early 1960s. He loved making outrageous comments to journalists. He would also make people laugh. “We’re more popular than Jesus now,” he said as the Beatles became a musical windstorm. People took him seriously, but it was often tongue in cheek. He used sarcasm as a useful weapon, and a kind of bravado that was endearing: ‘You have to be a bastard to make it, and that’s a fact.” As a young Beatle, his smile was cheeky and ironic. But later songs, such as “Cold Turkey” (about the horrors of drug rehab) and “A Day in the Life” (a psychedelic nightmare) are not exactly easy listening.
The two memorials today tell two different stories. The rather brash memorial in Liverpool, reminiscent of John’s tough-as-nails youth, unveiled by his first wife; and Yoko’s New Age laser, her quiet determination to keep the message of love and peace alive, burning away on an Earthcam.
John said, “If someone thinks that love and peace is a cliche that must have been left behind in the Sixties, that’s his problem. Love and peace are eternal.”
Happy birthday, John. And thank you.
We're playing those mind games together Pushing the barriers planting seeds Playing the mind guerrilla Chanting the Mantra peace on earth We all been playing those mind games forever Some kinda druid dudes lifting the veil Doing the mind guerrilla Some call it magic the search for the grail Love is the answer and you know that for sure Love is a flower you got to let it grow So keep on playing those mind games together Faith in the future out of the now You just can't beat on those mind guerrillas Absolute elsewhere in the stones of your mind Yeah we're playing those mind games together Projecting our images in space and in time Yes is the answer and you know that for sure Yes is surrender you got to let it go So keep on playing those mind games together Doing the ritual dance in the sun Millions of mind guerrillas Putting their soul power to the karmic wheel Keep on playing those mind games together Raising the spirit of peace and love (I want you to make love, not war I know you've heard it before)
- Monument marks John Lennon’s birthday (bbc.co.uk)
- John Lennon’s son unveils monument on anniversary (omg.yahoo.com)
- Fans Mark Beatle John Lennon’s 70th Birthday (news.sky.com)
- Yoko Ono wishes for 1 million birthday tweets for John Lennon (ritawatson.com)