John Ono Lennon
by Anthony Milne
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Thursday, December 8, marked a quarter of a century since Liverpool-born Beatles composer, writer, singer and guitarist John Lennon was shot to death by a little man for whom the word “lunatic” would only be a euphemism.
“I’m shot,” Lennon murmured as he lay bleeding to death in Yoko’s arms outside their New York Dakota apartment building. I wondered for a moment if Lennon’s weird humour had managed to transcend the event, as if he were playing cowboys and Indians.
I soon dismissed the idea, listening in tears to up-to-the-minute radio reports in Trinidad and Tobago in 1980 when I was not yet 30. I don’t think even the irrepressible Lennon, in his final agony, would have been capable of that. Recent deaths in my family in Trinidad make me think again of the extended, horrifying experience this must have been for the inseparable Ono.
I don’t like capital punishment, but when I think of Lennon’s killer comfortably sitting out his life in prison, expecting every so often to be released on parole, I can’t help thinking that the rack and being torn apart limb by limb would be too good for him.
The 25th anniversary of Lennon’s death was of course marked by millions of fans young and old around the world. For me it took place on a cold, snowy night of happy melancholy, laughing and crying, and of course endless replays of Lennon and Beatles music at the James Joyce pub on Bloor Street, in Toronto, just west of Spadina. I’ve had very few heroes, but Lennon was one of them. His seduction by Trinidad murderer Abdul Malik, to whom he donated a famous white piano, was...well. A friend of mine lived next door to Malik in Christina Gardens, Arima, and met Lennon through the fence. He was fascinated by her four-stringed cuatro.
Toronto seems to me somehow to be a Beatles, a Lennon, city. I don’t know why, but you still hear their music everywhere. I’ve asked about it and others seem to think the same way I do. The innocent die young, they say. Well, if a godless, womanizing, LSD- and heroine-using, foul-mouthed genius of music and lyrics can be considered innocent, then this aphorism applies to John Lennon. It applies to him in the same way it might apply to Baudelaire or Gauguin, the works they left behind them excusing their follies and sins—like Lennon’s “lost weekend” with May Pang.
I think the exotic and eccentric,
yet sober and firm-headed Yoko Ono must not only have inspired but saved
Lennon. In what back-street drug den might he have ended up without her
and her stabilizing influence? Their meeting was a miracle: they were made
for each other. From the time I was a very young teenager till Lennon’s
death, from “I Want to Hold your Hand” to “Mind Games” and beyond, I was
a devoted Beatles and Lennon fan. Still am. There needn’t have been another
band, I felt with some exaggeration, and always Lennon was in the forefront.
Lennon and McCartney, then Lennon alone.
I wonder what actually went wrong, besides Yoko’s presence and influence? The Fab Four really were once the Fab Four. Never seen anything like ‘em: their words, their chords, their outfits, foolish acting, and absurd humour, a lot of it very funny criticism of aspects of British society. And the copy-cat songs, “Rocky Raccoon,” and Lennon’s later album of four-bar blues.
Poor George Harrison, of happy memory,
was relegated to the role of a very fine lead guitarist interested in musical
experimentation, like his interest in and use of the sitar—and the many
magical mystery tours and the world and peoples’ causes he eventually
And Ringo, lovely Ringo and his “Yellow Submarine.” I’ve been told by people who should know that Ringo was quite an extraordinarily talented drummer.
Lennon’s mixed legacy won’t be forgotten,
not the music or the campaigns for peace, and the notion: “And in the end,
the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
(Anthony Milne is a professional
journalist who worked for several years for Trinidad Express in Trinidad
& Tobago, and now resides in Canada where he is writing an historical
novel about his native Trinidad.)