Friday, December 07, 2007

On the Death of John Lennon

By Bernie Quigley 12/8/07 for The Free Market News Network

John Lennon was gunned down and killed 27 years ago today in New York City. Perhaps the gods take the Great Ones young so they don't end up playing Super Bowls and Bar Mitzvahs and political rallies when their immortal and timeless moment passes and the constellation dissipates.

The anniversary of his death goes largely unnoticed in the press. I think this is probably good at the moment because we live in the hour of the weakling and the wolf; the wolf enabled by the weakling - all original spirits are sent into exile in times like this or leave at their own accord - much as the wave element of matter collapses when it is being watched. (Note on The Way of the Weakling: WaPost reveals today that key Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, were fully briefed on waterboarding as early as 2002 and registered no objections. The Post advises that this torture strategy was refined in Nazi Germany. It should also be noted that the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy was fully dependent on the weakling and appeasing liberal cultural of the German and Italian middle class.)

When Lennon is remembered at all today it is as an anti-war figure but that is the way of the weakling as well. Not that Lennon was weak; he never was. But this is the way the artist is appropriated for vain political or nihilistic objectives and there was never a trace of nihilism in Lennon’s life and work. (In the Rolling Stones, perhaps, those suburban titty-bar musicians and Friends of Bill who followed in his shadow as the great ones all carry shadows and tails.)

In 1969, at the peak of the war in Vietnam, John Lennon was the most important man in the world. But that was in the twilight of his arc of creativity. The high point of his life and work was several years before when he used the expression “I am he,” at the beginning of one of his most important and entertaining songs at the height of the hippie days. Lennon was, in his time, a generational shaman. He awakened his own generation between childhood and adulthood. But today he resonates in the world as a pure force all of his own.

Had there been no John Lennon then there would perhaps be no Dalai Lama now, for in his journey to the East in his life and work he took half the world with him and he took the chill and fright and mystery and fear out of the things of the East. Nor would that Aquarian talisman, the Golden Compass, have been found yet. Possibly there would not have come that later pre-Calvin earth shaman, Harry Potter.

“I am he,” is an expression widely understood in the East – it is in a sense the essence of the East. The classic explanation in the Hindu is that a person alone in the world at some point finds an enlightenment within herself or himself; a celestial inner god, the Atman. And if that person continues on the path, which in the East would be considered the Path of God, then at the top of the mountain she or he might find wholeness with all the others and wholeness with the universe. For the first the journeyer could think and say, “I am the Atman.” Then at the peak s/he would say, “I am the Brahman.” Lennon played on these phrases in classical Liverpool humor. He followed the Hindu phrase I am he (I am no longer who I was when I started, but I have become something else which is within him and the others and everyone, everything, everywhere . . .) not with “I am the Atman, I am the Brahman,” but instead with: I am the Eggman, I am the Walrus.

Listening to Senators, Governors, Presidents and outright louts and war criminals these past few years and this week again talk about their religious “convictions” – these men of faith and religious burghers who joyfully in the name of the Prince of Peace endorse torture, “50 more years of war,” and barbaric practices unheard of among the English-speaking people since the 12th century, I began to think of how entirely screwed I would feel today if I was a young man and just beginning on life's journey, hearing these speeches given in the Manhattan penthouses of Wall St. financiers and their lobbyists and ex-Presidents and in the parlors of Texas oil men.

And what a joy and a pleasure it was to hear instead these charmed and encouraging words by John Lennon, when I was a young man, even hearing them for the first time in a war zone in Asia.

Lennon’s swan song, Imagine, reflects timeless Buddhist sentiment like that presented in What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula, which had gained popularity in the Sixties. It is likely an intentional reconstruction of Tolstoyan philosophy which was deeply influenced by Buddhism and Taoism.

Imagine also bears a relationship to The Gospel of Thomas, which he quoted from in earlier music ("When the inside is out . . . the outside is in . . ."). Elaine Pagel's book Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, states that in Thomas’s account, Jesus challenges those who mistake the kingdom of God for an otherworldly place or a future event: Jesus said, "If those who lead you say to you, Look, the kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will get there before you . . ." In a word, Imagine there’s no heaven.

William Butler Yeats writes: "What portion in the world can the artist have/Who has awakened from the common dream/But dissipation and despair?" Such was the lot of John Lennon.

Late in life, broken and in pain, Lennon wrote, "I was the Walrus, but now I’m John."

One of his biographers writes that he was never happy again after the Sgt. Peppers period. The pictures show it. He never smiled again for the camera after he returned from India.