Lennon, Beatles ‘led the way’


Let me finish tonight with a hero of mine - John Lennon.

There were times, especially in my twenties, when I would list up my heroes.  I wanted to know who on this earth personified what I valued - in achievement, in guts, in talent.   It was like balancing my checkbook. I just wanted to know.

Lennon was on that list, along with writer Norman Mailer and a few other cultural heroes of the 1960s. 

When you think about it, how could the leader of the Beatles not be on such a list?

They’d come to this country early in 1964, that gloomy, gray winter after John F. Kennedy had been killed.   A gloomy time it was and when the four young guys from England showed up on Ed Sullivan it was the biggest thing in the world.  Everyone on our floor at Holy Cross crowded into the RA’s room.  It was the only TV set allowed back then. 

This was the early Beatles, of course, before they became important, important especially to those of us dealing with Vietnam and the draft and a generational struggle that was only fun if you were looking at it from the outside.  Fighting with your father, having him angry with you for long hair and going to anti-war rallies, is not fun at all; it’s miserable.  If you like the notion of being a menace in your own family you’re different than me.

The thing, is millions of us went through this.  As the brief years of the New Frontier, the world you can see today on Mad Men, morphed into the decade of protest and long hair and the psychedelic, what we call The Sixties, the Beatles led the way. 

They were, to use word Mailer liked, protean. They were capable of taking on different shapes and forms.

And for seven years it never stopped.  There is simply no precedent, no standard, no chance of any other group matching what this group did, the sheer number of songs that live in our collective heads - the hundreds of millions of us who grew up with them worldwide. 

When I think of the Sixties I think of the record shop on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill that blared out “I am the Walrus” for all to hear.   “Hey Jude” was the song guys and women in my Peace Corps outfit in Swaziland made their own.  “Take a sad song and make it better.” 

And, of course, there’s “Imagine,” John Lennon’s haunting rebuke to all the reasons that people give to kill each other and war.  That’s the one that we’re going to hear for as long as it’s necessary to have someone out there willing to say it.

Lennon, Beatles 'led the way'