When the Beatles officially split in 1970, I wasn’t even born yet. Their impact on my life, however (not to mention the lives of countless others of every generation alive on the planet today), is immeasurable. If you’re like me, you feel genuine pity for all of those human beings who died before ever getting the chance to experience their genius.
Lennon’s spirit, in particular, has been among the most profound influences on my life, capturing my heart in a unique way. When I was in seventh grade (we’re talking 1984-1985) I heard the song “Help!” come over the speakers above, as if broadcast directly from Heaven, while waiting in a line at a Doctor Who convention. I remembered the song from my childhood (in fact, I was probably more familiar with The Carpenters’ cover version), and when I got home I scrambled for the lone Beatles cassette in my dad’s collection. I dug out The Beatles 1962-1966 from the storage closet in our basement and took it up with me to my room. “Help!” was the first song on Side B. I played it. None of the magic was lost. It did something to me on such a visceral level that I couldn’t imagine anyone else not having the same reaction. It was both desperate and life-affirming, haunting and intensely pleasing, a pure expression of unbridled joy and longing at the same time. I became utterly obsessed, playing the song over and over, rewinding the tape to the beginning after each listen so I could hear it again. Then one day, inadvertently, I let the tape play through.
Oh. My. God.
ALL OF THESE OTHER GREAT SONGS!!!!!! I had unearthed a goldmine. A lifelong obsession was sparked. A quest began to attain every available Beatles recording. Music (The Beatles’ and otherwise) was everything. Learning to play the guitar soon became my Number One Life Priority.
A few years later, in October 1988, the film Imagine: John Lennon was released. I was 16, and skipped school to catch the very first showing at the AMC Orleans in northeast Philly that Friday afternoon. John Lennon was already my hero, but seeing him up on the big screen in all of his magnificent irreverence; his raw, gut-wrenching emotional honesty; his fearlessness about appearing the fool while using his and Yoko’s excessive coverage in the press to promote peace; and of course his sheer talent as half of the greatest songwriting team of this or any other century, just blew me away. By the film’s end I was overcome with emotion, my eyes swollen and my face wet with tears. I stayed for all of the credits and beyond, planted firmly in my seat, taking it all in. Within about fifteen minutes other people began taking their seats for the next showing. Before long, in walked my guitar teacher and his wife. They sat down next to me, and I stayed and watched the film again all the way through with them.
Music helped me weather the emotional storms of my teenage years unlike anything else, and filled my life with passion and purpose. It made life worth living (it still does). John Lennon continues to inspire me and always will. It’s hard to believe he was only on the planet for forty years, and maybe harder to believe he hasn’t been with us for the last thirty. But then again, in a very real sense – as real as anything else – he has.