Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Across the Universe - Thoughts on the purpose and passing of icons.
"..Sounds of laughter shades of life
are ringing through my open ears
exciting and inviting me
Limitless undying love which
shines around me like a million suns
It calls me on and on across the universe…”
- Lennon & McCartney
While attempting to knit together some random thoughts about the source and discovery of personal peace and happiness a flash of news flooded every channel of media of the sudden death of Michael Jackson. The Internet and the world seemed to explode in grief and celebration of his life and songs. “Why all this attention for some troubled entertainer?” I wondered.
I too have a few fond memories watching my girls, when they were younger, imitating the moves from Jackson’s songs Thriller and Billie Jean, and the joy they derived from listening to his songs and watching him. O, K, I admit tapping my foot to a few of his more popular tunes too.
(I am delighted that music has seemed to play an important role in my life and my identity. Ginny teases me that I have a “soundtrack” to my daily life. I have even toyed with a selection of music to be used if there is any memorial at my own passing. )
One reporter noted that Jackson was quoted, as saying that he felt that the better he became as a performer the more people would love him. I thought how sad and how lonely he must have been. It was no secret that he wanted to be the most famous and wealthiest entertainer ever. He even purchased the rights to half of the Beatles song catalogue as an investment. It is bewildering to consider that a man who brought so much delight to others was seeking happiness and love in his own life.
The public’s reaction to his sudden passing is what has struck me the most these past few days. There is an immense outpouring of grief and spontaneous memorials and celebrations in his honor. Even a group of prisoners in Asia quickly rehearsed and performed for a large audience the dance routine from the video “Thriller.” Though there have been similar public demonstrations of grief on the death’s of other icons such as Elvis and James Dean, I can personally recall experiencing the murder and death of John Lennon and how the world reacted then.
When Lennon died we didn’t have the advantage of the Internet, twitters, face booking, cell phone texting. It was Howard Cossell’s announcement on television during a national Monday Night NFL football game that became the initial channel that informed much of the world of Lennon’s passing. (I went to bed early that evening and missed that news and was awakened by Ginny who heard the news the next morning on television.) By that time the next morning thousands of people were already gathering in front of the condominium building, The Dakota, where John, Yoko and their young son Sean lived in NYC, in impromptu memorializing and communal grieving. There were reports of similar gatherings around the world. When I arrived at the college where I was working at the time hundreds of students were gathered in the quad soberly respectfully singing Lennon and Beatles songs and a memorial service was promptly scheduled for the ballrooms in the student center for that same afternoon.
I called my friend David, (”member of the band”), in Virginia. He said he had expected and was waiting anxiously for my call. I had first heard the Beatles when my family visited my grandparents in London in 1962. When we returned to the US from that summer in London a cousin back in Britain would send me single records of this new band from Liverpool, England that I boastfully shared with others. Years later David had the opportunity to meet John Lennon and his wife Yoko at the Dakota. David had to go there to assemble a hand crafted crib made by his uncle-in-law, which was purchased by Yoko’s sister for the Lennon’s baby. David commented on how Lennon was amazed with the craftsmanship behind the design and construction of this crib.
My friend and I first saw Lennon and with his band The Beatles (John, Paul, George and Ringo ) perform live at Shea Stadium in August of 1965. (In an interview with a young fan in a video about The Shea Stadium concert, the girl speaks about the “joy” the Beatles bring to the world and how she wishes they could last forever. Is she wishing for the Beatles or for the joy or both?)
David and I now laugh as we recall the teenage screaming and screeching and a flying ice cream cone landing on David’s sports jacket at that famous performance. Because the noise was so loud we heard very little of the songs the band played and sang. Yet, we were immediately inspired to create our own band and make our own music together. We even adopted one of the original names the Beatles used as their band name, “Long John and The Silevermen.” We figured…”well their not using it anymore…and besides it worked for them!” A local newspaper embarrassed us with a feature story on our endeavor that headlined “Local boys challenge the Beatles to American Popularity!” The truth must be known that the reporter asked me a question about “Giving the Beatles a run for their money” and I responded smugly “yeah right.” I learned early on ---never trust a reporter. After that article appeared I didn’t go to school for a week and to this day I still don’t trust reporters!
Over the years David and I would continue our debate as to who was really the walrus.
We eventually abandoned the dream of becoming the next Beatles even though my ouija board predicted otherwise. David grew as a writer and musician and he continues to hone his crafts today. Now I just drift-away to the pleasantries and reminiscences coming through my iPod. Some days I caress the ole J-35 and scramble at recalling chords and lyrics to a Beatles song or two or maybe even one of my own. For me it is always easy to get “lost in the music.” Some call getting lost like that “zen”, while others just say it is “pure joy.” It was similar to what I had experienced years earlier while playing baseball.
A few years ago Michael Jackson collaborated a couple of occasions co-writing and performing songs with John Lennon’s old partner, Paul McCartney. In one of their videos of their recordings together they portray traveling minstrels- pure entertainers. Maybe that’s what their real role is in life was to be, minstrels? They provided relief and escape for the public from the pains of the world and the everyday journey and an opportunity to get lost in the moment in the joy. Reflecting on those perpetual massive public demonstrations of grief and celebration at the passing of Jackson and the similarities to the reaction to Lennon’s murder gave rise to a very simple possible explanation. Maybe the gift and role of Lennon and Jackson was for them to be a channel to facilitate joy and a form of relative happiness to millions around the world.
Obviously I can speak more specifically about the impact of John Lennon on my own life. However, I feel that from hearing some of Jackson’s songs and seeing how others reacted to his music and performances I can assuredly say that both artists fueled a fire of hope and delight. There are many musicologists and sociologists who have explored in depth the origins of and impact the Beatles music had on the world and society and I don’t have the wherewithal to follow that journey here. However, for me the fab four came at a time in my own experience where I was seeking identity, freedom, peace, hope and love. They became popular with a medium, a new spin on contemporary popular music, that I had recently adopted as my own channel to express my authentic self. Participating in organized sports for me had run it’s course and my physical limitations hindered progress and stalled a few dreams in that arena .So music seemed to be a perfect alternative.
As the Beatles matured, their music matured and coincidently, lagging serious few steps behind these minstrels, I slowly grew with them. Though I maintained a personal and spiritual affinity with the words and music of George Harrison (he and I had the same birthday), my personality seemed to be compatible with that of John Lennon’s. This received a non-reliable validation recently when my daughter Lindsay had me try a Facebook app “Which Beatle am I most like?” The answer for me was "Lennon." I know that at times Harrison seemed to speak or sing for me but John’s attitude and songs kindled the fire of my own journey. Recently I discovered that George admitted also that he admired Lennon and that John was in many ways a guiding force in his own life and musical explorations. Hmmm?
Fortunately the Beatles came to popularity when they did delivering and oft sought message of delight, hope and love to the world. Unfortunately, I have discovered much, much later in life that these gifts were and are always present within and in the universe but they not readily recognized nor nurtured. Sometimes we just need someone like a great mentor, teacher or even an artist who is a channel of the voice of love (God) so we can hear and experience the peace and joy already within and around us. Maybe this is why we lament and celebrate simultaneously at the passing of a John Lennon, George Harrison or a Michael Jackson? Maybe our spirits recognize the great connection to peace and joy these artists provided and in their passing we dread the possible loss of the peace and joy they spread amongst us?
Maybe we just need to be a little more attentive to the present and the gifts that reside within. I am absolutely thrilled that the Beatles and Michael Jackson existed and were able to infuse much joy and peace through their words and music. I am just hopeful that I can develop the faith and wisdom to grow this peace and love within my own being, by knowing my role and purpose through serving others and spreading a little joy wherever I go.
Lennon was one who was not afraid to create and sing songs about the power of love (i.e “All you need is Love”, “The Word” [- is Love]) and his chorus and mantra in the song “Across the Universe” is the phrase and sentiment that inspires me the most at this moment:
“Jai Guru Dev – Om. “
This phrase has been translated to mean ”Hold on to the source” or “Victory to (salute) the greatness (the love) within you.”
I am grateful for all the music and how these artists used their gifts and spirits to serve us by bringing joy to the world. Their music continues to engage a smile and make me want to dance. I am also humbly thankful for the blessing that they helped me to recognize God’s peace and happiness living within each of us.
“ And, in the end the love we take is equal to the love we make.”
- Lennon and McCartney
I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.