Today is the seventieth anniversary of the birth of John Lennon, arguably the most influential rock musician of the last century (a proposition I'm happy to discuss in the comments page).
Lennon was of course the founder of The Beatles and, in its early days, its leader and most prolific songwriter. The Beatles, as you may have heard, were the most successful pop music entity in history—a boldly imaginative British rock band that hit artistic and commercial peaks that have never been matched… in part because of Lennon's disruptive creativity.
Lennon was also an international peace activist who generated headlines of his own with anti-war protests and performances, before and after the Beatles' dissolution.
But Lennon, like so many larger-than-life pop personalities, was a bundle of contradictions. This peace advocate was a brawler in his youth and, at times, an abuser of friends and lovers alike (he was not a pleasant drunk).
He could write the most sublime acclamations of the human spirit (“Across the Universe,” “Imagine”) and the most sentimental of love songs (“This Boy,” “If I Fell”), yet also the harshest put-downs (“Sexy Sadie,” “How Do You Sleep?”).
But his biggest contradiction has been mostly overlooked by critics and fans.
Lennon's politics, especially in the early '70s, were highly critical of the US war effort, American racism, nativism, and bigotry, and the government's suppression of dissent—prompting the Nixon administration (note the irony) to attempt the deportation of this immigrant.
Yet Lennon was desperately trying to establish permanent residency in America. (Wait! You mean the two aren't mutually exclusive? You mean he/we can criticize US policy, American cultural narcissism, and its hypocritical religious moralism—and still love what America, in her finer moments, aspires to be?)
John Winston Lennon also expressed a desire for a world without national divisions. (You might say he was a dreamer). At the same time he expressed a longing to become a citizen of the very country that champions the primacy of nation states.
Perhaps he felt that America had contradictions, like himself. Perhaps he felt that despite its countless flaws and its frequently dysfunctional and juvenile public behavior it was the most colorful, diverse, creative, and entrepreneurial melting pot of humanity he could find. Imagine that.