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John Lennon: A Time to Remember

Seventy years after his birth (on October 9, 1940) and nearly 30 years after his passing, John Lennon shines on as a musical and cultural icon.

The reissue of our Lennon Opus Collection, Remember roughly coincides with the arrival in theaters of Nowhere Boy, a John-as-teen biopic that’s earning strong advance notice, and a star-studded tribute concert at New York’s Beacon Theater. All this activity celebrates a man whose impact transcends his art. That’s quite an accomplishment given that Beatlemania remains the pop craze to eclipse all pop crazes.

Certainly much of Lennon’s towering standing three full decades after his murder rests on the powerful music he created as a Beatle and solo artist (the portion of his career that Remember chronicles). But the force of his personality and reach of his worldview took him to another level.

I recently read Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland, an account of the rise and fall of our 37th president, and was struck by how Lennon loomed over the 1972 elections. Picture that: a Brit rock star with the potential to alter the course of a U.S. presidential race! Or at least some very powerful people thought he had that kind of sway.

The “Smart Beatle” was plenty brainy, but he didn’t fit into that pat role. (Nor did the “Cute,” “Quiet” and “Funny” Beatles, for that matter.) His perspective was too complex and just plain big to peg.

The power-to-the-people counterculture firebrand was simultaneously an ahead-of-his-time marketer who, in tandem with his wife, Yoko Ono, dreamed up low-cost, high-impact campaigns like the Bed-In for Peace media blowout and War Is Over billboards. He’d have been all over social networking ... or maybe a step ahead of it.

Within a few years, Lennon transformed himself from a leather-clad roughneck in Hamburg clubs (the chapter covered in another film bio, 1994’s Backbeat) to a meditative truth seeker in India. But the rock ‘em, sock ‘em Lennon in Germany had a tender side and the reverent visitor in Rishikesh was no softie. The backbone and unflinching honesty of the guy is what makes the music on Remember feel unpredictable and exciting.

It’s hard not to speculate where Lennon would have taken his music if somehow that fatal attack outside his home at New York’s Dakota apartment building had never happened. But that’s really the crux of Lennon’s appeal. He might have gone in any of a hundred directions. Just imagine.

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