Today marks the 32nd anniversary of John Lennon’s murder: the passing of a legend and also of a generation. For those of us who grew up in the Sixties, we’d thought that Lennon and the Beatles were somehow immortal. Despite the tragedies of Vietnam, the Kennedys, King, as well as our own private losses and despairs, we assumed (however unconsciously) that our rock-and-roll heroes were somehow immune to life’s harsher realities; and if they could die, so could we. Even though the like of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Elvis Presley had already departed, theirs was a self-imposed trip; an end result to their own unrestrained lifestyles. Not one, of all the legends that commercialism and escapism had created in our own image, had ever been murdered.
The BBC reported, in 2008, that a Vatican newspaper had finally “forgiven” John Lennon for his remarks to a British newspaper in 1966. An off-the-cuff response to a question concerning the band’s popularity, Lennon stated that the group was more popular than Jesus and wasn’t sure if Christianity or the Beatles would die out first. “In an article praising the Beatles, L’Osservatore Romano said Lennon had just been ‘showing off.'”
Both Lennon and Jesus continued to be equally cool and respectively controversial for millions of people. Lennon later apologized for his statement, but, in the course of his apology, added that he wasn’t suggesting that the Beatles were greater than Jesus or bigger than Christianity, but that they were, at the time, more popular. This, in fact, was the truth: in 1966, one would’ve been hard-pressed to find many teenagers willing to pass up tickets to a Beatles’ concert in exchange for an audience with Pope Paul VI.
We take the various phenomena seriously that, by chance or circumstance, arise as celebrity and descend as legend. Temporal beings, enacting our vicarious deeds and evincing our sincerest hopes, for which we grant them an eternity that we ourselves aspire towards. Indeed, whether they’re nailed to a cross or gunned down in an alleyway, they transcend the fleeting moments of a generation to the loftier heights of our fleeting existence…we all tend to show off, at times.