[Given that October 9 is the 74th anniversary of Lennon’s birth I thought I would reprise this post from 2010. It's worth emphasizing here that innovators attract innovators. Lennon chose the US for his home—and notably NYC—so he could get close to the most creative hearts and minds in his field. Not limited to the US of course, the innovation cauldrons of our great cities beckon to us all.]
This week marks another 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 of course was 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 daringly 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 his 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 overlooked by critics and fans.
While he was desperately trying to establish permanent residency in the US, Lennon (especially in the early 70s) was highly critical of the US war effort, American racism/nativism/bigotry, and the government’s suppression of political dissent—prompting the Nixon administration (note the irony) to attempt his deportation. In fact, Lennon may have been the most famous immigrant of the era to demonstrate that one can criticize US foreign policy, cultural narcissism, and hypocritical religious moralism—and still love what America aspires to!
John Winston Lennon also expressed a longing for a world without national divisions (you might say he was a dreamer) while he expressed a desire to become a citizen of the very country that has long and fiercely championed the primacy of the nation state.
How did he reconcile the inconsistencies? Perhaps he felt that America had contradictions, not unlike himself. Perhaps he felt that despite its countless flaws and frequently dysfunctional public behavior America—thanks to its metropolitan melting pots—was the most colorful, diverse, creative, and entrepreneurial container of humanity he could find. Imagine that.
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