“A lot of us are looking for fathers. Mine was physically not there; most people’s are not there mentally and physically, always at the office or busy with other things. So all these leaders are substitute fathers, whether they be religious or political. All this bit about electing a President. We pick our daddy out of a dog pound of daddies. This is the daddy that looks like the daddy in the commercials. He’s got the nice gray hair and the right teeth and the parting’s on the right side. This is the daddy we choose. The political arena gives us a President, then we put him on a platform and start punishing him and screaming at him because Daddy can’t do miracles. Daddy doesn’t heal us.”
These words, as timely today as they were 30 years ago, are John Lennon’s. They’re from an interview he gave to Playboy in November of 1980. I grabbed it off the stands on December 8 and took it to work to read. I could read a 20,000-word Playboy interview at work because I was the 22-year-old night stockman at a department store, with no duties except being on call to carry TV sets out to people’s cars. Other than that I sat in the basement, usually drinking beer and finding other highly antisocial ways to amuse myself. Like reading Playboy.
The interview was Lennon’s first major statement in many years. He had just emerged from five years of hibernation—five years in which rock and roll had never been worse. The mellow singer-songwriter vibe of the early 70s had turned slick and hollow; disco had come along and provided the death knell. There were signs of hope on the edges thanks to Elvis Costello, The Clash, The Police, and a few others, but what many of us were waiting for was Lennon to come back and lead the way.
He had other ideas. Double Fantasy, the new album, was actually a showcase for Yoko. The B-52s song Rock Lobster was a big hit around that time, and Lennon thought it was a ripoff of Yoko’s style: wild guitars mixed with warbled screaming. He thought her time had come. Like many other powerful men throughout history, he wanted his wife to be his equal on the public stage, whether the public wanted her there or not. Yoko was part of the interview too… I read past her parts impatiently. What did Lennon have to say, that’s what mattered. I was about halfway through reading it when the phone rang.
“Lennon’s been shot,” said my friend Gary.
What? No he hasn’t. He’s right here, talking to me. I ran upstairs to the electronics department. In the TV section, a wall of sets, maybe 100 or more screens, all tuned to Monday Night Football. I arrived just in time to see hundreds of Howard Cosells in their blue blazers and toupees, all solemnly intoning that Former. Beatle. John. Lennon. Had. Just….
I made my way home, somehow. Talked to Gary again, briefly. His voice was hollow. Turned on the radio. The late night deejays were as messed up as I was. They played every one of his songs, and the best were the really obscure ones. Angela. New York City. Nobody Loves You When You’re Down and Out. I sat staring at the poster from Imagine. It showed John at his white grand piano in his white room in Tittenhurst Park, his big white mansion in England. This poster was the only decoration in my all-white room. Needless to say, I’d gotten into John lately. So I sat and listened through the night, crying my bitter and uncomprehending tears. The world was crying with me, but that was very little comfort.
The next weeks brought the usual celebrity death orgy, with wall to wall coverage and endless footage and canned, lifeless tributes. The song Imagine, once a pleasant little wisp of cotton candy idealism, became a dirge, and unlistenable. Meanwhile, nobody talked about guns… how ridiculously easy it is to get them in this country, even if you’re a schizophrenic and off your medications. No, no, no talk about anything real, or what we can do in a practical way to make the world a saner and safer place. Gun control? No, just dirges and crocodile tears.
After a couple of days, I remembered something Lennon had said in the interview.
“It’s better to fade away like an old soldier than to burn out. I don’t appreciate worship of dead Sid Vicious or dead James Dean or dead John Wayne. What do they teach you? Nothing. Death. I worship the people who survive. Sid Vicious died for what? So that we might rock? I mean, it’s garbage, you know. No, thank you. I’ll take the living and the healthy.”
So I took down the poster and folded it back up. Stopped listening to Lennon. Tried to move on, although there was still an aching hole in my heart, and an overwhelming sense of loss. Not for a man, exactly, but for the whole beautiful dream of the 60s, which I had just missed and which I suppose I’d been hoping would flower again in my twenties. This despite the recent election of cowboy actor Ronald Reagan, a daddy figure many people found very appealing and who fired a few bullseyes straight into any notion of idealism. My generation, to put it mildly, would not be so fortunate.
A few months later, Yoko put out an album called Season of Glass. It had a photo on the cover taken inside the Dakota, looking out over Central Park. John’s blood-splattered glasses sat on a table in front of the window. She wanted to show the violent, sickening reality of how he died and many people recoiled, as usual, from her directness. But as it turned out, the album was a blistering, heartbreaking, all-stops-out tour of the grieving process. By turns tough and achingly vulnerable, always revelatory, often gorgeous.
Fearlessly opening up her heart, she was everything Lennon always said she was. An earth mother. A goddess. A major artist. And she did what all great artists do: she made an intimate connection with me that healed my wounds and made me stronger somehow. Daddy doesn’t heal us… but it seems sometimes Mother can.
Season of Glass is as great as any Beatles album, maybe greater, but the world, busy merchandising its worship of dead John Lennon, didn’t even notice. Thirty years on, nothing has changed. I cringe in anticipation of the anniversary tributes coming this week. Imagine will be played on a loop; gun control won’t even be mentioned. I’ll be avoiding the whole thing as much as possible.
I worship the people who survive. I’ll take the living and the healthy.
Happy Xmas, Yoko.
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