I’m not unique in my fascination with the Beatles. I’m not even what any self-respecting Beatles fan would call a true Beatlemaniac. I’ve never read a book about them. Am not an avatar of Beatles trivia. Can’t tell you for the most part which songs are on which albums. Don’t pretend to have played any of their songs backward to discover a secret message (why did all the secret messages seem to be about Paul?). Yet I loved them in my own kind of a non-specific and protective way. Protective because I hate the thought that there may be another Mark Chapman out there somewhere.
Everyyone knows about Mark Chapman’s silly murder of John. Why do I call Lennon’s murder “silly?” How can murder be silly? Assassination is serious business, don’t you know it, boy? Remember, I’m part of the assassination generation. The two Kennedys, Dr. King, the attempts on George Wallace (you don’t only weep when they go after those you dislike. It’s the act you hate. And acts don’t carry political labels.) So many attempts on the lives of presidents in my lifetime — FDR, Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. For a country that shows less interest than other democracies in voting, we sure care enough to try to kill those who win elections.
We normally don’t murder our entertainers in America. Maybe we sensed the Beatles were more than entertainers. Lennon wasn’t killed out of hate, man. Mark Chapman killed Lennon out of love. Lennon didn’t hold political power, his power existed in Chapman’s mind. That’s why Lennon’s death was silly. Many of us have a kind of adolescent love for entertainers. Audiences threw bras and hankies at Sinatra. We grabbed for Frank’s cigarette butts. Our sick love scares the crap out of them — these entertainers upon whom we shower our love. Deep down, they know that all this love has the potential of turning violent. Today is the 41st anniversary to the day that Chapman shot Lennon. And after Lennon was killed because of a fan’s silly obsession, we made him a martyr. John would’ve smiled at the irony.
On Dec. 30, 1999, a man broke into the home of George Harrison and tried to kill him. George would’ve seen something spiritual in the attempt also occurring in Decmeber as it did with John. Harrison and his wife struggled with the intruder. Police speculated that this was no simple burglary attempt. George suffered a collapsed lung, but survived, as did his wife Olivia. The intruder’s mother claimed her boy was obsessed with the Beatles. He would run through pubs, she said, shouting about the Beatles. I remember thinking, my brain filled with conspiracies, “Oh my God, they’re trying to kill all of them.”
My love for the Beatles was always a very personal thing. I was really into the music that was big when my daughter was growing up. Especially the Beatles. Three of their albums were our personal soundtrack — the White Album, Abbey Road and Let It Be. We didn’t know the Beatles were getting ready to march off into musical history. That the Beatles’ time as a band that would make records and do appearances was going to end so soon. Lauren (my daughter) and I only knew that she loved to sing AN OCTOPUS’S GARDEN and MAXWELL’S SILVER HAMMER. We grooved on ROCKY RACOON. I adored the Abbey Road Medley. Oh, we sang along to other songs, but it was the Beatles records we wore out. Although Lauren still loves music, I’m not so certain she still even likes the Beatles anymore.
The music of great performers never dies. Paul McCartney has a new book — a bestseller — called THE LYRICS. It contains his comments about 154 songs he wrote. You can watch the three-part, six-hour Beatles documentary GET BACK on Disney Plus this holiday season. Both Paul and Ringo make annual appearances in our area. Folks still argue over whether Lennon or McCartney wrote a particular Beatles song. The Beatles are still relevant. After so many years have passed. After two of them have died. After so many changes in music have come and gone, the Beatles still matter. But it seems they matter differently.
The lack of pretension about Paul and Ringo has made them more real. The adulation we have for great performers is still there, but, it seems, without the sick obsession. It’s crazy but The Beatles exist in a world apart from Paul and Ringo. It’s as if by removing any member from the group, one creates a separate identity for the others. There’s Paul and his band Wings, who can play a Beatles tune, but will never be considered the Beatles. There’s Ringo, who surrounds himself with great musicians, whose whimsical humor may remind us of the Beatles, but will never be mistaken for them.
And that is, maybe, as it should be. The Beatles existing alone. The four of them apart, but not ever really separated. Playing a gig on Mount Olympus. Their ending celebrated in a rooftop concert on a British street celebrated today not as an ending, but as another beginning. Proof that legends cannot die.
And in front of the band, are a small girl and her father. They are singing. MAXWELL’S SILVER HAMMER. Not the best Beatles tune. But it’s their tune. Forever together. Never growing old. Singing their hearts out.
Oblivious to the cold cruelty that is sometimes our world.
Lennon liked to provoke us. Prod us with our platitudes.