Guns suck. With all the recent horrible mass shootings, with the murder-suicide committed by Jovan Belcher just a few days ago, you think more people would be talking about doing more to control access to these monstrosities. But instead, sales are up. That does not reassure me. It’s been 32 years since a madman gunned John Lennon down on the sidewalk in front of his New York brownstone. 32 years, and very little has been done to stop the violence. I’m pretty sure that somewhere, John is very disappointed in us.
There’s been a lot of songs written in Lennon’s memory (most recently, Bob Dylan’s “Roll On John,” which I couldn’t find for this post). I remember Elton John chiming in first.
I’ve always had a lot of trouble listening to this song. Elton was one of John’s good friends, playing with him on Lennon’s “Whatever Gets You Through the Night.” “Empty Garden (Hey, Hey, Johnny)” must have been written very soon after Lennon’s death. And even though it is a bit overwrought and the metaphor a bit strained, it is so tremendously emotional. Elton isn’t exactly one to hide his emotions, and his grief is palpable here.
Paul Simon reacted in with his typical low-key artistry. The metaphor of “The Late Great Johnny Ace” is more natural, but no less devastating. Simon expressed the sudden shock of hearing about the shooting, and the way it brought the city together.
Lennon’s death had such a huge cultural impact that it’s sometimes hard to remember how personal his death was for so many. John had a lot of friends. Of course his fellow Beatles remembered him in song. Paul’s song for him has always been so bittersweet to listen to. Just a sweet, sad little song remembering his partner for so long. “And if I say, I really loved you and I’m glad you came along. And you were here today, for you were in my song.”
George Harrison was sad and grieving for his friend, but it seems to me that “All Those Years Ago” was a conscious decision to remember Lennon with joy, although there was a touch of anger there, too. “But you were the one they backed up to the wall, all those years ago.” Like Paul, George understood John better than most, understood what he had been through and what he believed.
The person who knew him best was his second wife and soulmate, Yoko Ono. Her song about John, “Walking on Thin Ice,” is raw and difficult to listen to. It’s such an intimate experience, it just kind of shreds you to pieces. “I may cry someday, but the tears will dry whichever way.”
There’s an incredible undercurrent of rage and anger to all these songs. And there should be. We shouldn’t sit complacently by and remember John Lennon’s life without acknowledging the violence of his death. We should all be angry that it’s so easy for anyone to get a gun and kill another person. So honor John Lennon today and every day by doing something to end this violence. Demand adequate and effective gun control laws. Demand better mental health care and education. Demand support for domestic violence prevention programs. Make John proud. Give peace a chance.