by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
December 8, 2005
LONG-GONE JOHN AND THE DRAGON LADY
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- "Imagine there's no countries. It isn't hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for. No religion too. Imagine all the people, living life in peace."
Then imagine the idealistic writer of these peaceful words gunned down one evening in the street of the city he loved, New York, in front of his wife, his blood spurting and splattering, his doorman watching in horror.
Then imagine thousands of people all over the world gathering to cry, hold candles and mourn his death.
Twenty-five years ago today, I was in Lima, Peru, on business. When I came out of my hotel on the morning of December 9, I couldn't understand why John Lennon's photo was on the front page of every newspaper. If his murder was front-page news in far-away Peru, it must have been front-page news all over the world. He was that important. He meant that much to so many people.
As it happened, my passport had been stolen and I needed a new photo. So I'll always have a picture of how I felt that day: shell-shocked, devastated, wide-eyed, vulnerable.
During the Beatles days, for me it was always John. Quick-witted, sharp, anti-authoritarian, stylish, gifted John. Fiercely intelligent yet anti-intellectual John. Sexy, sarcastic, idealistic John. Working-class hero John. Yes, Paul was pretty, but he was also oddly wet. George was mysterious. Ringo was fun. John was, well, John.
And then there was Ono - the scream heard 'round the world.
She wasn't an English "bird" like Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton or any of those other impossibly beautiful long-haired young women from Britain's Swinging Sixties. She was foreign. She called herself an "artist," although she was scorned by the very New York avant-garde she called her own. She claimed she had never heard of the Beatles. She was called "the dragon lady." She was accused of breaking up the band.
"If she did, then please give her the credit for all the nice music George has made, Ringo has made, Paul has made, I have made since we broke up, if she did it," Lennon, then 30, told television talk show host Dick Cavett in 1971, when he and Ono did their first American television interview after the split-up of the Beatles. Cavett has recently released on DVD the three programs he did with the Lennons in 1971 and 1972.
On the show, Ono correctly points out that the Beatles' split was inevitable. They were four "artists so brilliant and so talented" it was natural that they would eventually need to make music on their own.
It was a different time, 1971. The couple chain-smoked on the air. Rolling Stone magazine was "the underground press." The Nixon Administration was trying to deport the couple. The FBI was tapping their phones.
But the pair didn't go on Cavett to complain. Like everyone else, they were promoting their work: her new book, "Grapefruit," all their films - Ono turned him on to Warhol-style filmmaking and he loved it; "Film is like recording, only with your eyes," he told Cavett - her museum retrospective, her single. And his new album, named after the anthem he gave us, "Imagine."
It's hard now to watch Ono on the shows. She's not very bright. She has a breathy speaking voice. When she sings, she's tone deaf, stiff and out of time. But Lennon clearly loves her, and to her credit, she clearly, madly, shyly loves him back.
In the end, I think, the greatest gift Lennon gave to the world - and his music was only the best example of it - was letting us see what a full-blown creativity in action could look like. He lived his life openly in the world. He wrote beautiful music. He sang with passion. He played with words in his books. He drew. He thought for himself. He challenged stereotypes. He despised pretension (although he could be pretentious himself, on occasion.) He hated hypocrisy. Sometimes wildly wonderful, sometimes wildly awful, his creativity enraptured his fans as much as it threatened would-be authoritarian governments like Nixon's. Imagine what he might have made of President George W. Bush and Iraq.
Were the couple unrealistic? Of course they were. They thought that racism would end if everyone wore black bags over their heads.
Were they unrealistic? Of course they were. Someone in Cavett's audience asked Lennon about drugs and he said we should ask, "Is there something wrong with our society that's making us so pressurized that we can't live in it without guarding ourselves against it? It's that basic."
Were they overly simplistic? Of course they were.
"If people are allowed to be completely free," Lennon said, "they would be less inhibited and not be frightened by each other. So we wouldn't have to take drugs to prevent being hurt by each other."
I guess that would mean complete freedom, as well, for the creepy little man who took John Lennon's life 25 years ago today because he wanted to have part of Lennon's fame.
Today, radio stations will play Lennon's music for 24 hours straight and people will gather to hold candles and remember.
"You may say I'm as dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope some day you'll join us, and the world will live as one."
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.