This man's personal transformation helped change the world. On
October 9 this year, he would have been 70. Sadly, some people stayed
the same, and he was murdered at the age of 40. But he lives on as a
member of one of the most popular rock bands ever. You probably
guessed by now that the man is John Lennon, the talented musician,
singer, composer, artist, writer and founder of the Liverpool Fab
Four - the Beatles.
But Lennon was also a troublemaker, rebel and nonconformist,
unfettered by the social conventions of the prim and proper West. He
did what he wanted. He revealed his true nature to the world as early
as 1963, when he yelled at a concert attended by the Royal Family:
"Would the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And the rest
of you, if you'll just rattle your jewelry."
He was no fan of the church either. In 1966, he said: "Christianity
will go. It will vanish and shrink... We're more popular than Jesus
now-I don't know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity.
Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's
them twisting it that ruins it for me." The Vatican pardoned him only
42 years later, after deciding the remark was a joke.
In the second half of the 1960s, both Beatlemania and the Vietnam War
were raging. Lennon's most scandalous move was made in protest of
this war. He returned his Order of the British Empire to the Queen in
1965, four years after accepting it. In the accompanying note, he
wrote: "Your majesty, I am returning this in 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."
It is no surprise that by the end of the decade he was an established
icon of the hippie movement, and his songs, especially "All You Need
is Love", had become anthems of the flower children, who helped move
society forward in many countries.
The writer Vasily Aksyonov remembers the first time he saw hippies in
London in 1967: "At that time, their movement was just getting
started. It was the most eccentric expression of the new youth
culture. This culture arose spontaneously; it was not imposed. It was
born in the pubs of Liverpool where John Lennon, Paul McCartney,
George Harrison and Ringo Starr first played their music, and in Mary
Quant's boutiques on Chelsea's famous King's Road."
This was a time of revolutionary romantics, when a generation of
children protested against the ossified values of their parents. In
France, students were flipping cars and burning them, while chanting
the slogan: "It is prohibited to prohibit!" They were protesting the
policies of President Charles de Gaulle, who was eventually forced to
resign. At the funeral of the student Benno Ohnesorg in West Germany,
who was killed by a policeman, Gudrun Ensslin, one of the future
founders and leaders of the notorious terrorist group Red Army
Faction, made her famous pronouncement: "They'll kill us all. You
know what kind of pigs we're up against. This is the Auschwitz
generation. You can't argue with people who made Auschwitz. They have
weapons and we haven't. We must arm ourselves!"
The antiwar movement was gaining momentum in the United States, and
young people (including future President Bill Clinton) took to the
streets to protest the U.S. military presence in Vietnam. War
veterans were discarding their medals on the steps of Congress. It
was during this time that John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono held
their famous Bed-In interview in a hotel in Amsterdam. Lying together
in bed in their pajamas, surrounded by a group of journalists, they
demanded that the United States end its aggression in Vietnam (which
eventually happened several years later, when the U.S. government
became convinced that the war effort was doomed).
Young pacifists and hippies adopted another famous Lennon song as
their anthem, "Give Peace a Chance", which he wrote during the
Bed-In. Lennon said the best moment of his life was when he saw
protesters singing it on news broadcast.
Lennon's anti-imperialist rhetoric appealed to the Soviet government,
which had a favorable attitude toward the Beatles in general, despite
the attacks of some musical critics and party functionaries. From
1967 to 1984, the Soviet record company Melodiya released 35 records
with their songs, and many Soviet bands started trying to imitate
their style. The Beatles were even invited to perform in Moscow in
the fall of 1968, but the visit was cancelled after Soviet tanks
rolled into Prague in August. But it was the British government, not
the Soviet Union, that barred them from visiting to the Soviet Union
at that critical time.
The Soviet government's benevolence toward the Beatles did not extend
to Soviet hippies, who appeared about the same time as hippies in the
West, primarily because of the hippies' reluctance to participate in
social life and their close ties to dissidents. Soviet people were
free to campaign for the liberation of Angela Davis but not for
political prisoners in the Soviet Union. Soviet people were supposed
to be engaged in public life; but they were not supposed to live in
communes and practice free love. These were signs of "the decaying
West," which we heard about periodically on the Central Television
program "International Panorama."
There are still hippies in Russia and other countries, despite the
decline of the movement and the rise of other youth subcultures, like
hip-hop, goths and roleplayers. The hippies deserve credit for
creating a society that wants to be considered democratic, racially
tolerant, pacifist and eco-friendly, with alternative army service
and hitch-hiking all over the world. And part of this credit goes to
John Lennon, who was gunned down by a madman on December 8, 1980.