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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Lennon and Me: 30 Years Later

I don't think I've ever told anyone this, but my first memory of The Beatles is telling some family friends I didn't think they were any good. I thought The Monkees were better. I was probably somewhere between 7-9 years old. In my defense, my Mom was a Monkees fan. I don't know why I remember this. Yet, somehow that exchange was stored in my long term memory. I can't help, but smile and laugh at that. Who would have known that a little over 15 years later I am paying tribute to a man that is considered my idol. And he was a Beatle!

While I remember The Monkees' story. I also remember simply sitting in my basement as early as 12 years old listening to Beatles' records especially the Red Album and the Blue Album. Sitting down there for hours being mesmerized by their music and having a horrible habit of not being able to sit through an entire side of a record. I would always skip a song or simply want to re-listen to "I Want to Hold Your Hand" or "Strawberry Fields Forever". I used to drive my Dad crazy, who was more of The Beates fan out of my parents. Still, he let me put on their records on my own terms. He never forced or rammed The Beatles down my throat. In retrospect, I respect him for doing that. I actually attribute that for making me The Beatles fan I am today.

I would be lying if I said I haven't been thinking of what I would write about John Lennon. He has been gone for 30 years. I was not even alive the same time as him. Yet, he is such an important part of my life. Everyone from my family to friends often ask me why I love The Beatles such much. What makes John Lennon so special to me? I don't really have an easy answer to that question. I don't think I will ever have an easy answer to that question.

I have often said that John Lennon lived one of the most fascinating lives of the 20th century. He lived only 40 years, but his life was full of so much happiness, sadness, excitement, disappointment, success, and even failure. Every year of his life was full of ups and downs. Even his life before he was famous is worthy of a film. Oh wait a second, Nowhere Boy just was released a couple months ago. Seriously though, there was so much pain and loss that he had to overcome. It is really an admirable part of his life that some people forget. His Father abandoned him when he was 5. His Mother was killed by an off duty drunken police officer when he was 17. His Uncle George died when he was 14 years old. Even his best friend Stuart Sutcliffe died at the age of 21 of a brain hemorrhage in 1962. The only constant in his upbringing was his Aunt Mimi. He dealt with all this loss and change and somehow managed to turn it into something.

His first creative outlet was art, but it was music that really gave him a voice. After meeting Paul McCartney in 1957, the two of them formed the most successful partnership in the history of rock 'n' roll. Then, George Harrison came along. Then, of course Ringo Starr joined them in 1962. The rest was history. I don't need to write about what happened, but by 1970 it was over. Although, The Beatles were over. John Lennon still had plenty to say. His 10 years after The Beatles is just as fascinating as his time with the band. He became one of the leading peace activists in the world. He also still recorded some damn good music. Ever listen to Plastic Ono Band? I've never listened to a more honest and emotional album.

His death was one of those "where were you moments" of the 20th century. Many people (including my Dad) were watching Monday Night Football and listened in total shock to Howard Cosell's announcement. Total shock is probably the best way to describe it. 30 years later there is still total shock. Why did someone do such a unnecessary act? I am not going to name John's killer in this piece for obvious reasons. He does not deserve my recognition. His name is already all over the net, so google it if you must. Discussing his motivation or actions is not what today is all about.

Today is about thanking a man who touched my life. I am 25 years old. I missed him by five years. I feel like John has taught me a lot about myself through the years. He made me more self aware of myself and my actions. He showed me a lot through his 40 years. You don't have to be a model student in school to succeed in life. You don't have to be a perfect husband or father. You have to have a sense of humor. You have to be passionate about what you believe in whether it is peace, love, positive thinking, etc. And maybe most importantly to me, you can leave the industry you love and return years later with a renewed faith and interest. Sometimes you need to just step away. As John said shortly before his death, "I am going into an unknown future, but I'm still all here, and still while there's life, there's hope."

At the end of the day, we are human. Humans are not perfect. They are flawed. As John proved, you may experiment with drugs. You may abuse alcohol. You may have affairs. You may say things people might not like even if they take it out of context ("The Beatles are more popular than Jesus."). You may even get yourself almost kicked out of the country after being considered a threat by the President of the United States. You just have to be able to rise above it all to inspire and live a fulfilling life. That's what John Lennon did for me. That's why I love him.

He was really just a regular guy, who was so aware of his talent and had a vision. One that he made global and universal. One that still resonates to us today. "All You Need is Love". "Give Peace a Chance". "Imagine". Pure genius. That is why 30 years later we continue to talk about John Lennon. That is why people of all ages and backgrounds are fans of The Beatles and fans of John Lennon. People will sing and listen to those songs (and countless more) for another 30 years and beyond. John Lennon touched so many people while he was alive and continues to touch people.

Today, people will gather around the world to remember John Lennon. I will gather in Los Angeles at Capitol Records for what will be an emotional ceremony being run by my good friend Jerry Rubin. And I will admit, I will probably cry a little. As Paul McCartney said during his concert at Amoeba Records in 2007 when he finished "Here Today", "It's okay to cry." Today those words are very true. Yet I remind myself of something in Ray Coleman's biography. After Stu's death, John told Astrid Kirchherr, "You either die with him or you go on living your life". It is acceptable to reflect and remember, but I really try to make today a positive one as a day with filled hope for the future and my future specifically. John would have wanted that. That is why I never consider John Lennon to be a god. He is more like a friend. I just never got to meet him. Yoko said it best, "He was one of us". Unfortunately, 30 years ago tonight, one of us was shot and killed.

Mike Cersosimo

December 8, 2010

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