December 8 will be the 30th anniversary of John Lennon's murder. I am glad we lived on this planet at the same time.
John founded the Beatles - the greatest rock band. I am perhaps biased because their words and music are the soundtrack of my teen years. The band split up when I was twenty, but they had helped fill some of the gaps in my emotional and spiritual education.
The four "lads from Liverpool" and I were all born during the 1940s. They ranged from nine years older (Ringo) to six and a half years older (George). They will always seem to me very cool older brothers - that I never met. Cool older brothers help you out. Sometimes they offer life lessons.
My mother was wary of their influence. There was all that hair, and they made too many remarks that sounded flip or irreligious. Later, after they had lived in the media fish bowl, we knew all their flaws. But honestly, the rich and famous are not alone in making mistakes. The Beatles were paid mountains of money to do what they did, and their behavior was better than most of the vastly wealthy.
In spite of anyone, at dinner table or pulpit, telling me that somehow the Beatles words and music were bad for me, they were too great to be ignored. In the end, they had a message. Most notably John was the messenger. I might even say he became an avatar.
By "avatar," I don't mean the giant, blue, sci-fi superhero with the tail. I don't mean a god come to earth. I mean a real person who wins followers, then tries to point them toward better versions of themselves. Jesus did it. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa and the one-time Beatles rhythm guitarist, with the help of wife Yoko Ono, did it.
Avatars are dangerous to those in power. Their words are twisted and misrepresented. They suffer character assassination and even literal assassination.
Consider the teachings of Jesus. Jesus preached peace, love and brotherhood. Period. Confucius' term for these was "human-heartedness." Those wanting to make it more complicated have an agenda. They want our admiration, our obedience, or our money - or all three. Remember, Jesus also warned of the human tendencies to become materialistic, greedy, and self-righteous.
One does not need to look far in John Lennon's post-1964 lyrics to find him promoting peace, love and brotherhood. That is what avatars do. And once he achieved wealth and fame, he did not wallow around trying to increase his personal fortune or fame. In fact, in late 1980, when he was shot, he was just ending a five-year hiatus from performing in public.
John tended not to strike phony poses. He was out front in expressing his thoughts and feelings. Robert Santelli, executive director of L.A.'s Grammy Museum, told Los Angeles Times earlier this year that "(Lennon) shared his demons, his weaknesses, his joys... that takes courage." (Oct. 3, 2010)
Lennon tried to be honest. He tried to be honest with himself and in his art. He did not always succeed. No one always succeeds. Based on my observation of humanity for the last sixty years, many people don't even try for honesty, some are incapable of it.
In his song "Revolution," his lyrics speak of our dependence on constitutions and institutions, but he advises, "you better free your mind instead."
His Beatles band mate Paul McCartney said of him, "John's time and effort were, in the main, spent on pretty honorable stuff." In the song "Tomorrow Never Knows," John wrote "Love is all and love is everyone." Sounds to me like Jesus' central message. It is pretty honorable stuff.
When John was killed in 1980, I was a communication studies instructor at Cal State Los Angeles, I wrote a letter to the college newspaper, University Times. I closed with "Thank you (John) for your words and music." I want to repeat that now, thirty years on.
Steve Tice, a resident of Pasadena, is on a break as adjunct professor of communication studies at Glendale Community College.