This month marks the 40th anniversary of John Lennon's death.
He was gunned down on Dec. 8, 1980. Alas, the world has not forgotten him.
In fact, it looks as if we still can't get enough of him. In today's climate of pessimism, disillusion — division — economic — physical — emotional — spiritual brutality, it is difficult to grasp the optimism of the ‘60s and its calls for love and peace, something that now seems painfully naive.
John Lennon’s death marked the last time popular music really mattered. He was the last musician that made us care, gave us hope in something better, and allowed us to dream. It doesn't even matter that his hopeful messages, like the Summer of Love, never became reality. He made us feel connected and united, as part of something special and exciting, more meaningful and empowering than today's flimsy, superficial, divisive, social networks. He was the first rock star to use his pulpit of fame to direct people's attention to things other than music, and he never uttered the words: no comment!
Lennon’s musical, artistic and humanitarian legacies are still speaking to us today, his commitment and dedication to the poor, the underprivileged and the oppressed are carried on through multiple charities, by the tireless work of his wife, Yoko Ono Lennon.
From the "Imagine" Specialty License plate that fights to end hunger in our state, (the proceeds go to the Florida Association of Food Banks and the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund), to the Monterey Aids Project and Habitat for Humanity, the list goes on to include the Desert Aids Project, Children's Surgery International, Make a Wish, Adopt-A-Classroom and many more, too numerous to mention, spanning the globe, from North America to South America, from Africa to Asia.
Before John Lennon was a Beatle, he was an artist. Music will always be remembered as his most popular form of artistic expression but he also loved his literature and his visual art, studying at the Liverpool Art Institute from 1957 to 1960.
Around the time the Beatles started falling apart John Lennon began moving back to his first passion. Most of his sketches are spontaneous and loose, filled with laconic humor, the genius behind them is that they can be simultaneously informing, amusing, and outraging. He drew from life and imagination where there are no boundaries.
Traveling exhibits prominently include the erotic sketches that in 1970 were confiscated from the London Art Gallery by Scotland Yard because deemed obscene. At the time, the rebellious and always challenging Lennon, enjoyed the controversy and accused the establishment of hypocrisy since it reacted to lines drawn on paper but at the same time ignoring the “real” pornography of the Vietnam War and starvation in Africa.
I pride myself in being a “connoisseur’ of all things John Lennon but it wasn’t until I met Larry Schwartz, executive producer of Legacy Fine Arts & Production, the de-facto curator of John Lennon Art Work, that I picked up an important bit of information I had missed all these years.
During an exhibit at the Delray Beach Center for the Arts I was struck by a lithograph I had not seen before, I stood in front of it for several minutes taking it all in. Walking away from it, going back to it, looking at it from afar. Then Larry approached me, we started talking and seeing my interest he gave me some background information on it.
In the spring of 1972 John Lennon was asked to contribute to an anthology called “The Gay Liberation Book” (Gay Writing and Survival In the Straight World). He submitted a drawing of a naked man sitting on a cloud with the following limerick:
“WHY” — “Why makes it so sad to be gay? Doing your own thing is OK. Our bodies are our own. So leave us alone. Play with yourself — today."
The drawing is called “He Tried To Face Reality,” and it is for anyone who has ever felt different and not able to fit into mainstream life. This piece places John Lennon among the clouds, seated in mid-air, attempting to “face his version of reality,” while the gravity of the world floating by is underscored by humor. The drawing is whimsical yet poetic because when we are free to be who we really are, the sun shines and lifts our spirits. It shows two different states of mind at work, one dark and pessimistic and the other joyful and optimistic. It represents a glimpse of his unconventional view of life, and part of his continuous attempts to bring down taboos in a world drifting away from physical love and toward mass violence.
As he once said, "If art were to redeem man, it could do so only by saving him from the seriousness of life, and restoring him to an unexpected boyishness.” Or: “All you can do is try and break down the walls and show that there is nothing there but people.”
He was a true renaissance man.
The gunshot that killed him might have silenced his voice but every night, from Reykjavik's Imagine Peace Tower, a beam of light shoots 13,000 ft into the North Pole's sky telling us that we should hold on to the dream and imagine what it could have been.
Pier Angelo was born in Italy, moved to England at the age of 17 and learned English at the Nelson School of English. He attended college and graduate school in Manhattan. In 2009 he founded SFGN with Norm Kent. Now he’s retired with his husband Tom and his Affenpinscher Cabbage. He still enjoys writing his column Off The Wall for SFGN.