John Lennon was the only Beatle activist

With the Beatles he went through all the extremes a pop star has to offer, roared his insecurity out into the world - and put himself in the line of fire. Forty years ago today, John Lennon was murdered in New York. He became an icon of his generation.

  • John Lennon was shot dead outside his home in New York on December 8th
  • With the Beatles he defined the term world stars
  • The founder of the band, adored by many fans, suffered from self-doubt since his difficult youth
  • He spent the years before his death as a private citizen in New York

In 1971, just as John Lennon is writing the song that will make him immortal for good, a confused fan stumbles onto his property. In the film for "Imagine" you can see the pop star talking to the young shaggy-haired American who thinks he is the Messiah. Lennon protests, “Hey, I'm just a guy who writes songs. I line up words and see if they make sense. ”He invites the hippie to dinner.

Lennon elevates the writing of pop songs to an art form

Of course, Lennon puts his light under a bushel. "Imagine" alone touches billions of people: US President Jimmy Carter later says: "You can hear this song all over the world, and it has almost the status of the national anthem." In March 2020 dozens of Hollywood stars smack the song on the Internet raise morale during the corona pandemic. “Imagine” is equal parts prayer and socialist manifesto with icing - sung by someone who can express doubts and hopes like no other. "You could say that I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one."

Less than ten years after the recording, on December 8, 1980 at 10:50 p.m. New York time, the dream is over and the meeting with another confused fan ends fatally. Mark David Chapman murders 40-year-old John Lennon with five shots at close range. He wanted to get some of the star's fame, he says as a reason. Chapman is still in jail today. The record he had Lennon signed is up for auction these days - the current bid is $ 450,000. It is a collector's item, a historical document of the times.

Because Lennon is an icon of his generation. But the short-sighted sensitive from Liverpool does not want to be. No messiah who lets his words rain on the masses like manna. And yet that is the role that is attributed to him, especially after his death. A caricature that he can no longer defend himself against.

Lennon is the band's center of gravity from the first minute

It was still funny with Queen Mum. 1963, when Lennon was a young hop and Mrs. Windsor wanted to know what was so wild about these Beatles. The subjects fell over in packs! So the band of the hour was invited to the Prince of Wales Theater in London. A snappy appearance culminated in Lennon's much-quoted cheek before the last track “Twist And Shout”: “Could the people in the cheap seats please clap along? The rest of you just jingles the jewels. "

Even the rest of England, who are quite humorous, attest the people from Liverpool that they could discover something funny in any situation - and John Lennon is the prime example. In the film “A hard Day’s Night” he hoots a German plastic submarine in the bathtub, he jokes at press conferences (reporter: “How did you find America?” Lennon: “We turned left near Greenland.”). He's been the band's center of gravity from the minute his friend and co-songwriter Paul McCartney first met him at a garden party on July 6, 1957.

The British press compares Beatles concerts with Nazi party rallies in Nuremberg

Lennon defines the term world star with the Beatles. Together with McCartney, he elevates the writing of pop songs to an art form. But the side effects are severe: The "Daily Telegraph" compares the frenzy at Beatles concerts with Nazi party rallies in Nuremberg. In Plymouth, the band had to flee the concert hall through the canal system while the police were using water cannons on the streets. When the Beatles first arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York in 1964, Lennon's first wife, Cynthia, was amazed at the shrill noise outside. “We thought it was the turbines.” No: It's the screeching of 5000 fans.

The band is experiencing all the extremes that pop fame brings with it for the first time and has to deal with them. At first she does it with charm and humor. But for the sharp-tongued Lennon, the lessons are sometimes bitter. Yes, you can say: He invented the shit storm. Only in 1966, the angry US youths are not typing abuse in smartphones - they are burning Beatles records. Because they resent Lennon for saying that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus". On their American tour, bodyguards and a limousine with the engine running are in front of the stage. If it gets serious. Once a spectator throws a firecracker. "The rest of us all looked over at John," Paul McCartney later recounts. "We were afraid someone would have shot him."

With his statements, the sharp-tongued pop star invents the phenomenon of shitstorm

Lennon balances on this ridge. The good-hearted softie McCartney is actually much more stubborn than his friend and colleague - and he's more diplomatic. In 1969, Lennon said with almost prophetic clarity: “People prefer a dead saint to a living nuisance.” By this he also means his love for Yoko Ono, the Fluxus artist with whom he met in 1968 - and the one for the fungus in the fragile one Statics of the Beatles will. For the rest of the band, the self-confident Japanese aristocrat daughter is a nuisance, for the fans an object of hatred because she alienates their messiah - the couple sit in sacks for performances, give press conferences for peace in bed. But for Lennon, the seven-year-old avant-garde is not just a lover, she embodies the mother he never had. He calls her "Mother".

The loss of his actual parents is the matrix before which Lennon's life is seen - and this life is not a long, calm river, it is a ride in a barrel down Niagara Falls. The pop star publicly exorcises the complexes implanted in him in childhood. Mother Julia, a woman as artistically talented as she is fickle, pushes the boy off to the strict but kind aunt Mimi - the father goes to sea. Julia, who has a friendly relationship with her son, dies in an accident when John is 18. He longs for father figures all his life and finds them in Stuart Sutcliffe, the painter and early bassist of the Beatles, or in Brian Epstein, their manager. Both also die early. John Lennon is a forsaken.

The star roars his neuroses out into the world

And he is the first star to shout his neuroses out into the world. McCartney certainly has an even finer feel for catchy melodies, is the more complete composer - but Lennon exposes himself: His vulnerable interior can always be felt in songs like "I'm a Loser", "Help!", "In my Life" or "Nowhere Man". Lennon's second son Sean will be right: “Feeling insecure as a man and questioning yourself is a postmodern phenomenon. It's something that is peculiar to my father: that feeling of insecurity that so many other songwriters have tried to copy. He invented it. ”So he is a walking contradiction: Lennon, the rock’ n ’roller; Lennon, the sensitive songwriter and hallodri; Lennon, the impulsive thug; Lennon, the naive peace activist considered an enemy of the state by US intelligence; Lennon chasing gurus; Lennon the junkie. In the end he is tired of the Beatles and explains to the others that it is now time to finish. McCartney, however, explains it to the world - and that in turn worries Lennon all his life.

The ex-Beatle spent the second half of the 1970s as a househusband

After initial solo successes, he spent the seventies largely in artistic exile. After he fought for the right to stay in the USA, he practiced as a househusband and father for Sean in New York for five years. So as someone he missed so much himself. The bitter irony: The fatal bullet hits John Lennon when he is actually no longer in the line of fire.

Practically overnight he is now declared a saint. For a long time Lennon is not seen as the ambivalent character he was, but glorified as the fearless fighter for love, peace and feminism. It only slowly subsides, if his biography is viewed more critically, young bands take him as a role model again as a musician. Today, as both his birthday and the anniversary of his death are marked, we recognize Lennon for what he actually was: more in search of help than figure of salvation. And a guy who wrote songs. Songs in which he strung words together that still make sense to a very, very large number of people.

You might also be interested in:

"Jimi Hendrix died 50 years ago"

"Hard music for hard times: New wave of heavy metal around 1980"

Orpheus ’grandson: Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize for Literature