” I can’t wake you up. You can wake you up. I can’t cure you. You can cure you.” – John Lennon
(Written for Scholars and Rogues)
Mark Twain once described his novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as “A book of mine where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers defeat.”
Twain’s quote sums up the complex personality of our newest Scrogue, John Lennon – a sound heart often in collision with a deformed conscience.
Lennon’s achievements as a songwriter and musician are indisputable. With his songwriting partner (and lifelong friend Paul McCartney, he is arguably the premiere composer of the 29th century) and solo, he left a body of work that is alternately brilliant, haunting, and petulant. As a writer he is an experimenter of the first order, playing with language in ways that rival Joyce and Becket.
Even as we enter an age of not just indifference but open hostility to artistic achievement, his genius is undeniable. “If there’s such a thing as a genius – I am one. And if there isn’t, I don’t care” he once said of himself.
Digression: In my undergraduate days I had an English professor for a class in the Romantic poets. He spent almost the entire semester on Wordsworth – and ignored the younger Romantic poets (Byron, Keats, Shelley) if not entirely, damned nearly so. When I went to his office one afternoon and confronted him for not giving Byron the attention that 20-21 year old me thought he deserved, he argued eloquently for his fixation on Wordsworth’s poetic achievement. I demurred and told him in no uncertain terms that Byron was as great, maybe a greater poet, than the “lonely as a cloud” mewler and puker.
“You misunderstand, Mr. Booth,” he said with a wave of of his aristocratic hand, shaking his mane of gray hair. (He affected Wordsworth’s look more than he’d ever have admitted.)
“What is it I misunderstand, Dr. Dixon?” I asked. “That you admire Wordsworth and disdain Byron?” I sneered. (I was big on sneering at that age.)
What you misunderstand, Mr. Booth,” he replied with that infuriating smile of his, “is that Wordsworth was a great poet. Byron was a great man!”
Lennon was a great man.
Like everyone else who presumes to understand a great man, I’ve offered my own criticisms of Lennon. Like many geniuses, he was tormented, and that torment spilled over into his personal relationships. Noting that does not take away from his genius or his achievement.
All geniuses are humans, too. Ask Mozart.
* * * * * * * * * *
Like Mozart, Lennon refused to see what he did as great art. He once described what he did as a composer as “knocking out a bit of work.”
It’s pretty good work. “In My Life,” “Nowhere Man,” Strawberry Fields,” “All You Need is Love,” “Revolution,” “Come Together,” “Instant Karma” – these are the works of a man looking backward, looking forward, looking inward, looking outward, looking for answers, looking for the truth.
But it’s this one, one which caught the zeitgeist when it was released in 1971 and has spoken to every generation since in which Lennon expresses most clearly why Lennon mattered, why he still matters, why, despite every attempt to marginalize him, discredit him, debunk him, dismiss him, demean him that Lennon and his message to the world will always matter…
Welcome to the august company of Scrogues, John Lennon.