Why People Love John Lennon

Michael Gerber
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Undelivered Lennon Letter to fan, 1970.

“Happy New Year…”

Friend Jon just forwarded me this news article detailing a letter that John Lennon wrote a young songwriter in early 1970. The letter never reached the songwriter–it was intercepted and sold. Which I think is quite a neat metaphor for both Lennon’s fundamental decency, and how the circumstances of his life conspired to make it difficult for him to express that.

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  1. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    But isn’t this true of all four of them? Paul, George, and Ringo all have their share of kind things they did for fellow musicians, or for fans. All four of them were “fundamentally decent” people. Why inflate John as if this was some characteristic particular to him?

    All four of them were also deeply flawed people, John included.

  2. Avatar Michael wrote:

    True enough, Anon–and people dearly love all four Beatles. But fair or not, I think people love Lennon a bit differently than they do the other three–in a peculiarly intense way–perhaps because of the PR, certainly because of the circumstances of his death. I posted it because I thought it was an example of Lennon’s great gift–his ability to reach across the gulf that separates star from audience, celeb from non-celeb, and interact in a very human, equal way. All his greatest work does (or seems to do) that–Help!, Strawberry Fields, Imagine, even Watching the Wheels.

    To a certain degree all four Beatles did/do that, and it gives them a special magic. In Lennon’s case, this emotional accessibility to his fans was so much a part of his image that it probably contributed to his death.

    I feel like I’m not doing a very good job explaining this, Anon. Anyway–point well taken.

  3. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    Interesting. See I would say that Paul has made just as intense of an effort to reach across that divide between star and audience. Paul has spent his career trying to get fans to treat him normally, to stop screaming and have a conversation. There are countless reports of him being kind to people who approached him on the street. He has never seemed to disdain the fans.

    In contrast, both John and George often expressed contempt for fans (witness John’s comments about fans bleeding them dry). And George could be downright rude to them.

    I’m a big fan of John’s (and the rest of the Beatles) but I think there’s no need to inflate the Lennon myth (any more than it already is).

  4. Avatar Michael wrote:

    Wisely put, Anon. Paul gets screwed in this regard, and I’ve never thought it was right. Thanks for bringing it up.

  5. Avatar Cara wrote:

    I’m with you 100% on this, Mike. People *do* love Lennon differently than the others… it’s partly because of his willingness to be vulnerable and somewhat “real” on the one hand and provocative on the other. He never apologized for who he was (just half-heartedly for what he said), and even with some effort, he could never fully conceal. He was both hero and sympathetic rebel. Not only a truly unique and very compelling personality, but an actual *celebrity* who, in George’s words, “wouldn’t take shit from anyone.” All this, while at the same time being genuinely and profoundly intelligent, funny, charming, and endlessly endearing. When had there been a pop star like him before… or since?

    There seems to be an interesting backlash against the so-called Lennon Legend… an attempt to take him down a peg or two from the pedestal some sectors of the public have put him on because of his somewhat ironic metamorphosis into a peacenik. “But McCartney is the really talented musician… and Paul was much nicer than John ever was.” Probably all true… but so what? (Btw, most fan accounts claim that John was almost invariably very warm and gracious… as your post clearly illustrates.) Some people forget just how powerfully attractive (and I don’t mean physically) the Lennon persona actually was. Or, in some cases, they just never fully “got it.”

    John was simply the most interesting… fascinating, actually. There’s nothing any of the other three could do to compete with him on that level.

  6. Avatar Cara wrote:

    Oops! I meant to say “he could never fully conceal his true self.”

  7. […] but she seems to lack noblesse oblige. As I’ve written many times before, it was John’s moments of humanity that made everyone love him so, and it cost him nothing. The world desperately wants to love Yoko […]

  8. Avatar Michelle wrote:

    Strange world we live in when calling someone fundamentally decent is promiting a myth.

    • @Michelle, I can’t see which post this is responding to, so I can’t speak directly, but this sentence of yours joggled out a useful thought:
      It is apparently very difficult for human beings to be both powerful and good. Not only the means by which one requires power, but the decisions one has to make once one has power, seem to encourage morally questionable actions.
      To me, this is so consistent that it’s almost impersonal; I just assume everyone has feet of clay. I remove the burden of perfection from both sides of the equation, fan and famous person. Everything Goldman says about John Lennon, even if all of it is true (which I doubt) does not lessen his accomplishments, what he brought into the world, or what he’s meant to people. Ditto Paul McCartney — Or anybody else really. I think the need to have our heroes be perfect is much more troublesome than the fact that they are not.

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