If John Lennon were still alive, you can bet there would have been one hell of a party for the former Beatles’ 70th birthday last Friday. But instead, we have to read articles about what the peacenik would have been like 30 years after he was shot dead by Mark David Chapman.
Lennon’s legacy is a complex one. His wife, Yoko Ono, has made it her mission to keep his music on the radio, in movies and, to some controversy, in commercials. It’s to her credit that the legendary rocker is still as omnipresent as he is — in some ways it feels as if he’s still making music in New York City.
Luckily, the singer-songwriter’s tunes have stood up after all these years, so Ono hasn’t had too much trouble convincing people to keep his music playing. What his been more difficult is pushing his message of peace and love.
It’s impossible to know what Lennon would have said about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, or 9/11 or the war on terror, but you can assume he’d be angry about the growing body counts around the world. It would be nice to think he’d do something as provocative as his 1969 bed-in to protest the Vietnam War — he recorded Give Peace a Chance in Montreal during one of his week-long hotel room stays — but it’s just as plausible that he would have been disaffected by the continued disregard for public opinion. (See Iraq War.)
Ono says Lennon would have still been active — she says he’d take to Twitter to voice his displeasure of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. That doesn’t seem like the best way to inspire activism, but at least he’d be doing something, and hopefully he would have followed up with more provocative action.
But, we can speculate all we want, the fact is, it’s this part of Lennon’s legacy that has been lost. These days, Give Peace a Chance is more of a campfire tune than a protest song, and while other artists have spoken out, no one’s made it a central part of their identity.
Maybe we’re all too cynical these days, but his messages of peace feel quaint; they don’t carry nearly the same weight as they did 40 years ago.
And that’s a shame. If there’s anything Ono should have been reminding us about, it’s that Lennon’s wish to see everyone get along still matters.