Yesterday marked the thirtieth anniversary of John Lennon’s death, or assassination, as some people like to call the tragic event. I missed the hour long CNN special that was broadcast over the weekend airwaves, but did get a chance to see Chris Mathews jump into the subject with both feet on “Hardball”.
As usual Chris was his old, brassy self, as he put together a rousing tribute to the fascinating personality that has been sometimes called the true songwriting genius behind the Beatles. Leaving this little bit of controversy aside, Chris tackled full-heartedly the emergence of the Beatles at a time, when the country was mourning the death of JFK and in desperate need of an uplifting event. And according to Mr. Mathews that uplifting event came in the form of four mop-topped musicians from Liverpool, England.
The JFK event was an interesting analogy that definitely caught my ear and gave me something to think about, especially since I am old enough to remember both the JFK assassination and the release of the first pair of Beatle songs (She Loves You & I Wanna Hold Your Hand) in America just a few weeks later. Whether the two events are related or not, I don’t know, but they are without a doubt important cultural happenings that occurred in close proximity.
The other interesting point that Chris brought up was the distinct, yet sometimes discrete, anarchistic and revolutionary tone of the Beatles, in general, and more specifically the funny and irreverent attitude of John Lennon. All in all, Chris’s presentation was a fascinating read on a stormy time in history.
Moreover, through the backward gaze of time, the Beatles stand out not so much for their musical accomplishments (which were many), but for the fact that we got to see all four band members as distinct individuals. No major musical group since that point in time has ever the matched what the Beatles did in the mid-sixties. The Rolling Stones were overshadowed by Mick Jagger, the Police by a bass player named Sting, The Band, featured Robbie Robertson, and Diana Ross was the big name to survive the breakup of the Supremes, but the Beatles remained the “Fab Four”. John Lennon came closest to eclipsing the Beatles as a single performer, but he never really succeeded in that regard and it is quite possible that he was just being himself during the years after the Beatles broke up.