We saw John Lennon's 75th Birthday Concert on AMC last night. It took place in The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City on December 5, and first aired on AMC on December 19. In an alternate history with a better world, John Lennon would have performed at this concert himself. But that was not to be. He died of the epidemic of guns that has been ravaging America my whole life. But that's another story, and at least we have his music.
It's easy to forget, given the Beatles' beginning with "Love Me Do," that Lennon was one of the towering, transcending lyricists of our time, indeed of all time and history. This began to emerge as far back as "Nowhere Man," but became ringingly clear with "But when you start carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't gonna make it with any one anyhow" in "Revolution," a couplet right up there with the best of what Dylan wrote.
Steven Tyler and Eric Church brought the crowd to their feet with their rendition of "Revolution," but that was true of just about every performance, and the incandescent words they conveyed. I'd forgotten how brilliant the lyric of "Mind Games" is - with its talk of "mind guerrilla" and "druid dudes" - until Eric Church sang it and lifted the veil. But that was also the case with Aloe Blacc's "Watching the Wheels" - first time I've heard him, he has a fantastic voice, by the way - and even Sheryl Crow's "Hard Day's Night" had a real plain-spoken elegance, harkening in a way to Woody Guthrie.
But the preponderance of the songs at the birthday concert were Lennon-alone compositions and performances, brought out after the Beatles' breakup. And it may well be that Lennon did his very best work, most enduring and significant, after the Beatles. Well, certainly most socially significant, including "Imagine," "Give Peace a Chance," and "Power to the People," all well performed at the concert, especially "Power," with a stonking guitar solo by Tom Morello (exceeded only by Prince's performance on "My Guitar Gently Weeps" at the George Harrison Memorial Concert as the best I've ever heard from any guitarist.) But even on the personal level, consider the difference between "Julia" (a Beatles song, not performed at the concert), and "Mother," released by Lennon right after the Beatles split, and rendered with heart-rending power by The Roots at the concert. Or "Jealous Guy," one of my all-time favorite songs performed by anyone, and done well by Pat Monahan last month.
But if this is so - if Lennon did his best work in the 1970s - then that returns us to what we lost when Lennon was murdered in 1980. I thought at the time, and feel even more strongly since, that Lennon's assassination was on a par of horror with JFK's, MLK's, and Bobby's in terms of what it took, irreplaceable, from our lives and ongoing world.
I've dealt with this just a bit as a science fiction writer, in my "Loose Ends" short story saga, which before it concludes delves into an attempt to save John Lennon at the Dakota. But what his death took from us needs much more than wishful thinking and science fiction. Gun violence is never "another story," cannot be, because it is foist and forced upon us all the time. My New Year's Resolution for 2016 is thus to do everything I can to reduce the scourge of guns in America - including those wielded by police against African-Americans - before it takes from us another John Lennon, or anyone else.