From dmac@julia.math.ucla.edu Sun Oct 9 18:53:08 CDT 1994
9 October 1994<BR>

9 October 1994

Sender: news@math.ucla.edu

It can't do much good to be frozen in time. It's bad for the soul, worse for the psyche. If you're stuck in (or *on*) the past, you risk losing out on the fluidity of the future.

Some of us have the privilege of moving onward from some particular point in linear history. Others are fixed, like icons. It's not an enviable place to be. It makes martyrs out of men who had no wish to be cast in that mold. It halts progress; it mocks the new.

It also makes it particularly hard to mark this day with appropriate joy, if the object of celebration is no longer with us. Is it indeed permissible to celebrate? Is this a real birthday?

Just consider the illogic, how language stumbles to express itself. To wit: He "would have been" fifty-four? Instead, one's heart wants to shout---14 years having made only a dent in reality---that he *is* fifty-four.

Even so, John never reached this point, whereas we who live have done so. In one sense, for John, that's a blessing. We won't watch him fail or falter; we won't have to reconcile the vision of his aging face with the immutable image of Lennon at twenty; and twenty-three; at thirty-two.

But at the same time, we're cruelly bereft of watching the man endure such change with grace and aplomb, as the other Beatles do...despite the snipes of critics who blast them for every move they make, from returning to their musical roots to choosing a new name for their latter-day efforts. :-) The remaining Fabs, it cannot be denied, are doomed to age, and perhaps doomed to make missteps with their lives, along with all the rest of us. John is exempt.

For him, it's easy to be an icon. And for those of us who ceaselessly analyze his contribution, especially in a forum like this one, it's *too* easy to deify, rather than humanize, his persona.

But to be a deity---I have to be honest and admit that John, true to form, would probably been both delighted *and* appalled at such a development. Delighted, because it would have been his ego's own dream. Appalled, because he no doubt realized just how tenuous is divinity---how easily supplanted it could be by the latest fad...and how unworthy he was, how far he *really was* from that kind of musical sainthood.

But how could John prevent himself from becoming a symbol? He spoke the language of fame long before it arrived. His aunt Mimi remembered him in the "lounge" at Mendips, the affectionate name for their home on Menlove Avenue, writing poetry and lyrics. "He never had a pencil out of his hand. He'd write something down, then screw up the bit of paper and throw it away and start again. And he'd say: `You ought to pick these up, Mimi, because I'm going to be famous one day and they'll be worth something'."

It was Paul's drive to be professional, to create and perform, that carried the group, early on; but it was John's unrelenting conviction that they would, indeed, one day be great, that made them persevere, despite the death of close friends and the apparent distance of fame.

Poor Paul. Cheated out of his own desire for pantheonic greatness (who among us really has the strength to live humbly for a cause?), Macca is condemned whenever he reminds us of the mere truth of it: John was just like any of us, with the same faults and failings.

Some are apt to be quick to attribute the same faults---and more---to Mr. McCartney: the dissembler, the diplomat. We tend not to believe Macca, but John's words are golden.

Somehow that's not quite right.

Even when Paul says, as plainly as can be (listen to "Here Today" from Paul's 1982 album Tug of War, if you haven't lately), that he loves John, we somehow doubt it. Shame on us, if so. We should know, by now, what love is. The Beatles told us often enough.

But between the two men, there is a difference, and it leads us to see them as they are and as they are not; to deify one and segregate the other to mortal status. It's an old would-be truism that Paul, the Gemini, is two-faced if not also double-souled. He's not to be trusted. Nonsense! His sincerity is inevitably masked by his surface performance. The deeper man is in perpetual eclipse. It's a protective gesture, certainly. Paul's failing is that we can never see both sides of his personality at once. Or maybe that's *our* failing. :-)

John was very different.

John placed everything he had out in the open. And thus, without the gloss of deification, we can see the crass, cruel, simple and heartless man---and his exact opposite: the pop star with the streak of innocence, generous to a fault, especially with a fatal, final autograph. The difference is that, in John, these traits coexist in the same space, in the same frame of time. A dichotomy, certainly; but in him was (and is) the balance of two opposite souls...a mightily miraculous trick!

No wonder. It's not an easy way to live, and it makes the "real" John Lennon even more enigmatic with each passing year. It makes it tough for the likes of us to be sure we've reached the truth of the man, whatever that is...to avoid being blinded by the light of his legend.

Maybe, in this case, pure truth is beyond us. If he were easy to see, then the man whose birth we commemorate would not remain such an enigma.

His prose, his art, his political vision, his revisionism...all of it can seem draped in contradiction. Better to focus on the music he made with his closest compatriots, if we want to be dazzled by the man's message.

It might well be the best view we have. And even after so many years, it's a vista that still shines on...like the moon and the stars and the sun.

--


"Their name liveth for evermore."

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