I never really liked John. I thought he was too acerbic and critical. He always seemed to be the nasty one in the group – argumentative and awkward.
And then I caught myself listening to “Imagine”, time after time.
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too . . .
And I saw the light! The words speak for themselves: so pure and straightforward – so daring in their simplicity.
I was becoming fixated by the song. I started playing it on the piano, picking it out note by note. That week, on Monday 8 December, John Lennon was assassinated.
I’d first become aware of the Beatles when I was at Oxford – they were playing somewhere or other and I remember mocking the pun in the name. When I first heard them I was entranced, though still snooty about pop music. I bought Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band when it came out in 1967, the first Beatles LP to be recorded in stereo, I believe. I was won over.
When Lennon was killed, I really didn’t know how I felt about it. With “Imagine”, I had begun to see him in a different light – no longer as the argumentative one but as a sublime lyricist. I don’t know how I had overlooked that before. I was an easygoing type and didn’t like troublesome people. But when he died, in such a senseless way, I guess it drew me closer to John.
I looked at his other lyrics. I particularly liked his masterpiece “Grow Old With Me”, freely adapted from Robert Browning’s “Rabbi Ben Ezra”. I’d always thought the wonderful lines – “Two branches of one tree/Face the setting sun/When the day is done” – were from the original poem, but they aren’t. Lennon wasn’t frightened of saying “God bless our love” and for a thoroughgoing atheist he can be forgiven.
I began to love him for being a peace activist – moving to Manhattan in 1971, where his criticism of the Vietnam war resulted in a lengthy attempt by the Nixon administration to have him deported.
“Give Peace a Chance” was written during Lennon’s “bed-in” honeymoon at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, Montreal. A reporter asked him what he was trying to achieve by staying in bed and he returned: “Just give peace a chance.”
He recorded the song on 1 June 1969 at the same hotel. It was originally credited to Lennon-McCartney: he later said he regretted having been “guilty enough to give McCartney credit as co-writer on my first independent single instead of giving it to Yoko, who had actually written it with me”. I know the feeling.
I loved “Woman”, from the Double Fantasy album released in November 1980.
Woman, I can hardly express
My mixed emotion at my
And after all I’m for ever in your debt . . .
His marriage to Yoko Ono marked his transition from acerbic critic to warm and thoughtful man. Good for you, John. I love you now and for ever.