I was struck by how much meaning could be conveyed in just a few words, in the words “John Lennon is dead.”
I was struck by the similarity of people’s comments, all true. He was like a brother to me. The best comment I heard was from a woman who said, “The Beatles raised me.” It was also the saddest.
That John Lennon was a great man is proven simply and definitely by the events following his killing. There was no media overkill. No money grabbing. It would have taken months of planning. In an unspoken, unconsciously known way, we all — as individuals, as television commentators, as newspaper editors — simply responded as, somehow, we knew we should.
What we can each do best for John is to remember his music, his ideas and his honesty, and honor the request of Yoko Ono — that we carry on.
This beautiful couple had a message for us. Strangely enough, this message could not have been more dramatically played out than in the violent circumstances of Lennon’s death.
Lennon had at least five years of just plain happiness in his adult life. Mark Chapman has surely never had even a week of such happiness and probably never will. As much as Chapman, just one man out of billions, has stolen from us and has changed us and has hurt us, we must ask what basic needs, what common decencies have been denied the child and the adult Mark Chapman. What caused him to run down such a bizarre and convoluted path in pursuit of that which cannot be pursued? If he had listened, Lennon would have told him, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
The violent death of John Lennon was both tragic and unfair but I fail to see it as a wholly negative event — the personal effects have been amazingly positive.
The spirit of John Lennon is not gone. I feel more in touch with who he was/is and what he gave us, now than before his death. Listening to song after song on the radio — years worth of music, compressed into a few hours — it dawned on me the immense yet subtle effect Lennon/Beatles have had on my life, often without me realizing it at the time.
2001, A Space Odyssey snuck up on me like that. I first saw it in my late teens at a time of general non-awakeness, and it went completely over my head. Years later I went to see it again, especially curious about not being able to remember much about the movie, only that it had confused me. As soon as it began, I went into shock; the images shook me inside and out. Seeds had been planted that first time that took years to bud and blossom into understanding. So it has been with Lennon’s music.
The last paragraphs of Playboy’s interview with John and Yoko summed up the message for me. Lennon said, “Produce your own dream. . . . It’s quite possible to do anything, but not to put it on the leaders and the parking meters. Don’t expect Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan or John Lennon or Yoko Ono or Bob Dylan or Jesus Christ to come and do it for you. You have to do it yourself. . . . I can’t wake you up. You can wake you up. I can’t cure you. You can cure you.”
When asked why people can’t accept that message, he replied, “It’s fear of the unknown.”
Years ago, in a note to myself, I wrote, “My greatest fear is that fear of the unknown will keep us from ever knowing.” Ever since I wrote that note, I’ve been jumping off cliffs into unknown, unexplored ways of being. Though it’s been frightening, in the long run, I’ve never regretted having left the “safe” (yet somehow uncomfortable) ledge I’d been standing on. We’ve got to take risks in order to grow, to get where we’re going. And though John Lennon said he couldn’t wake me up, I’m sure he helped, by his music and by example. He lived a lot of his life the hard way because he believed in it.
The way I feel about John Lennon’s spirit is summed up in a quote given to me by a friend: “Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the making of action in spite of fear, the moving out against the resistance engendered by fear, into the unknown and into the future. On some level spiritual growth, and therefore love, always requires courage and involves risk.” [M. Scott Peck]
Much has been said of John Lennon’s vision, and of his genius. Emerson said of genius that, “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men — that is genius.” As John Lennon shared with us his personal vision of the ultimate victory of universal love, we found that he was really no more than a voice for the sentiments shared by hundreds of millions. I believe that he would have been the first to point out that his death is of no more significance than the death of any other innocent human being. Let us not wallow in our grief, but strive to meet the challenge of the vision we shared with him.
We all have favorite John Lennon songs, favorite lines. There is one song none of us wants to remember: “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” With that song Lennon effectively satirizes the schizophrenic nightmare of senseless violence, the sort of nightmare that was to be the end of his personal existence. But with the incredible irony of that song we find Lennon’s wit at its sharpest. We find him laughing in the face of the nightmare that haunts us all. He would expect no less of us, that we should laugh heartily again after our grieving is done, and never give the Devil of the dead more than his due.
Our era has a few too many prophets of doom. John Lennon was truly a prophet of our universal consciousness. And perhaps the cliche was never more true, that behind every great man is a great woman. The relationship of Yoko and John reaffirms love and insight between men and women rather than the rigidity and restraint of conventional sex-role typing.
In the dark days and years to come, I believe we will be witnesses to, and participants in, a revolution in our consciousness. Our challenge is simply to be dreamers like John and Yoko, to love with all our strength, to never give up, to always be true to the vision we share.
Chapel Hill, N.C.
John Lennon’s death seems to presage a chaotic future from which a serene, balanced human has escaped. His death shocked me and tinged my world a little gray for a week or so but already the event has become forgettable. I have accepted his death.
Trying to understand the motives of the murderer, I reached this conclusion: Persons who cannot face their greatest fears by themselves must put themselves in a position where society forces them to face their greatest fears.
Thus perhaps did John Lennon’s assassin attempt an escape from fear. Fear of his own evilness led Chapman to commit what was for him the ultimately evil crime: the murder of his lifelong idol.
We can only build constructively towards a better life when we face and accept our potential for destructive action. However, what bitterness to have to lose one’s mate or father for the sake of one man’s cowardice. Understanding the assassin is possible; forgiveness is not necessary or desirable.
John Lennon finally transcended the role of musician-entertainer to our generation. In retrospect, we can see that he was very clear about where he stood as his life was about to end.
“I’ve never claimed divinity. I’ve never claimed purity of soul. I’ve never claimed to have the answer to life. I only put out songs and answer questions as honestly as I can, but only as honestly as I can, no more, no less.”
I think that if John Lennon’s terrible death had not pierced us, his message would have been turned off, laughed off, forgotten.
Like many others, I had heard “Starting Over” before December 8th and thought it sweet, but that’s all. Like others, I was expecting something else and just didn’t hear what was there.
It’s scary looking at the Rolling Stone cover photo of a clothed Yoko Ono with John Lennon nude, curled around her — eternal man-woman, yin-yang. It’s the reality of what our bodies, our sexuality, our love mean. Can we open our eyes to it?
Every age has had its avatars, male teachers who became, whether on purpose or not, father figures to groups that then founded institutions perpetuating male dominance.
Now, when we seem to be at the edge of the abyss, beyond the help of avatars, we are given John Lennon and Yoko Ono, man and woman reunited as equals, nature in balance. As John Lennon said: “All we need is love. I believe it, it’s damn hard, but I absolutely believe it . . . We’re carrying that torch, like the Olympic torch, passing it from hand to hand, to each other, to each country, to each generation. That’s our job.”
This letter from Yoko Ono Lennon appeared in several newspapers last month. We reprint it here for those who may have missed it.
I thank you for your letters, telegrams and thoughts. They have come from all over the world, including every part of America, Europe, Asia and Africa. This was a consolation to me, since both John and I believed in brother and sisterhood that goes beyond race, color and creed. They have come from all walks of life, including from those who are in prison. The kind letters from prisons especially warmed my heart.
I thank you for sending your checks to Spirit Foundation. It came in 50 cents, one dollars, five dollars, and has now reached 100 thousand dollars in total. John and I kept the Spirit Foundation staff to the minimum: John, I and a lawyer friend. All three of us, naturally, were unpaid. All expenses were paid out of John’s and my own pockets. Since there is no reason to change this good system now or ever in the future, your money, every penny of it plus the interest it generates will go straight to the people in need at the end of the year. In order to maintain the simple and effective operation, Spirit Foundation has not and will not authorize or participate in any outside activity or merchandizing.
I thank you for your concern for people who are making money on John’s name after his death. There are some of you who feel guilty about receiving paychecks for the Lennon articles you have written for the media. Do not feel guilty. People who wish to do business in a small scale in tribute to John, using his name but in good taste: you have my blessings. Remember, John was a man with a great sense of humour and understanding. “Whatever gets you through your life,” he would say. He would have felt better that you had a nice meal on him than if you had wallowed in guilt. Spend well for your children and loved ones. If there is any left, give to the ones who are in need. Do not ask for my authorization of your ventures, though, since it will be unfair to give to one and not to the others. Individuals and corporations who wish to exploit John’s name in a large scale: I ask your voluntary act to report to me of your intentions and plans, respecting the feelings and legal rights of his family, and make arrangements to satisfy them.
I thank you for your feeling of anger for John’s death. I share your anger. I am angry at myself for not having been able to protect John. I am angry at myself and at all of us for allowing our society to fall apart to this extent. The only “revenge” that would mean anything to us, is to turn the society around in time, to one that is based on love and trust as John felt it could be. The only solace is to show that it could be done, that we could create a world of peace on earth for each other and for our children.
If all of us just loved and cared for one person each. That is all it takes. Love breeds love. Maybe then, we will be able to prevent each other from going insane. Maybe then, we will be able to prevent each other from becoming violent, as violence is in our hearts and not in the weapons. Guilt is not in the one who pulls the trigger, but in each of us who allows it.
When John fell right beside me, I felt like we were in a guerilla war, not knowing who or where the enemy was. I kept telling my staff, who were hiding razors and newspaper articles from me, to show me everything: every telegram, every letter and every message. I was in the dark. I had to know. I saw the death photo. John looked peaceful, like in the back of the Imagine cover. Are you trying to tell me something, John? I saw the photo where he signed the autograph. It was flashed on the TV again and again. Somehow that photo was harder for me to look at than the death photo. John was in a hurry that afternoon. He did not have to give his autograph but he did, while the man watched him, the man who was to betray John later. I looked at the photo. I noticed that it was the only photograph shown on TV where John’s head was bent forward, obviously to sign his name. But it was a strange posture for John to show. Then I realized that he was signing for the gate of heaven.
John and I believed that we were one mind taking two bodies at this time “for convenience,” “and it’s more fun,” as he put it. Lately, we were calling ourselves “the group,” because of the recording. “I like both of you,” he used to tease me. For the past five years, I was working downstairs in my office during the day, and John, upstairs in the apartment. Now I am still downstairs and he is in the big upstairs.
I felt that I owed this letter to you. This may not answer all your questions but it is the best I can do now. This is also in place of giving interviews, personal appearances, and private talks which many of you have asked for. I would like to have some time to myself.
Remember, there’s nothing you can do that can’t be done. Imagine.
Jan. 11, ’81
New York City