Thirty-three years ago today, John Lennon was murdered outside his home in New York City. It was a devastating time for people all over the world, because the musician had such an impact on so many people's lives. And while he didn't always do the right thing, especially when he was starting out as a 20-something-year-old with world fame, over the years he did a lot of growing and changing, and in the end, though his life was cut short, it was headed in a positive trajectory. He was clean, he was being a good dad, and he wanted to make a difference. So on the anniversary of his death, let's celebrate the man behind the music, and take a look at some of John Lennon's greatest moments.
HE TOOK A STAND AGAINST RACISM
The Beatles' first U.S. tour was in 1964, smack in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement. The band resolved to join the right side of history by refusing to play for segregated audiences. To take a stand of that magnitude when they were just starting out was brave, and worth recognition.
HE PROTESTED THE WAR IN VIETNAM
In 1965, the Beatles were given MBE awards (Members of the Most Honorable Order of the British Empire) which was a big deal — they met the Queen and everything. But in 1969, Lennon returned his medal to the Queen in protest of Britain's involvement with the Vietnam war. He enclosed the following letter, written with his characteristic sense of humor:
"Your Majesty, I am returning my MBE as a protest against Britain's involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam and against 'Cold Turkey' slipping down the charts. With Love, John Lennon of Bag."
HE WAS A VOICE OF REVOLUTION
He may have only been a musician, but music can be instrumental (get it?) to protest. An anthem like his "Power to the People" did exactly that, it gave citizens a chant as they rallied together. Journalist Tariq Ali called it "an ideal marching song.”
HE STAYED BY YOKO'S SIDE EVEN THOUGH EVERYONE HATED HER
Okay, he did cheat on his first wife with Yoko, but at least she wasn't just a fling. He really loved her. In an interview with Playboy he said of the hate fans expressed:
"We are both sensitive people and we were hurt a lot by it. I mean, we couldn't understand it. When you're in love, when somebody says something like, 'How can you be with that woman?' you say, 'What do you mean? I am with this goddess of love, the fulfilment of my whole life. Why are you saying this? Why do you want to throw a rock at her or punish me for being in love with her?' Our love helped us survive it, but some of it was pretty violent. There were a few times when we nearly went under, but we managed to survive it and here we are."
How much did he love Yoko? Well for her 47th birthday, he bought more gardenias than all of New York City had to offer, and local florists had to ship in more flowers from out of state.
And Yoko was good for him, she helped show him the struggle for women, something that Lennon didn't really think much about prior to meeting Yoko. In an interview with Tariq Ali, Lennon said:
Yoko was well into liberation before I met her. She’d had to fight her way through a man’s world–the art world is completely dominated by men–so she was full of revolutionary zeal when we met. There was never any question about it: we had to have a 50-50 relationship or there was no relationship, I was quick to learn.
HE WAS A FAMILY MAN
John Lennon is well-known for not being the greatest father to his first son, Julian Lennon, but he tried to turn things around with the birth of his second son, Sean Lennon. He took a five-year break from music to spend quality time with his child, and it's lucky that he did because Sean only ever got those five years; John was killed shortly after. He said of the five-year break:
"I wanted to give five solid years of being there all the time. I hadn't seen my first son, Julian, grow up ... I was not there for his childhood at all."
HE WAS A FEMINIST
Not always, but later in life he championed the fight for women's rights. His song "Woman is the N***** of The World" explains what many women then (and sadly, even now) experienced in society. Sample lyrics:
We insult her every day on TVAnd wonder why she has no guts or confidence.When she's young we kill her will to be free.While telling her not to be so smart, we put her down for being so dumb.
You can check out the full song below:
So while John Lennon will always be remembered for the music he's given the world, let's also remember him for all the good he tried to contribute, as well.
As Yoko Ono said after Lennon's death, "We had planned on so much together. We had talked about living until we were 80. We even drew up lists of all the things we could do together for all those years. Then, it was over. But that doesn't mean the message should be over. The music will live on."