As a Fordham Prep freshman, I was already asleep when the world was rocked shortly after 11pm New York time 40 years ago today. When my mother woke me for school the next morning, she sat on the edge of my bed and told me that John Lennon was murdered last night. Growing up in the seventies, it was impossible not to be influenced by The Beatles, and they were the biggest influence on my young life. It must have been only months before when my father told me I should listen to John Lennon because he is my generation’s Mozart. In fact, The Beatles wrote more melodies than anyone since Mozart.
My father spent Christmas dinner a few weeks later explaining to his seven children how Lennon’s hit song Imagine was actually a paean to socialism. Aside from the beautiful melody, he wanted us all to think about the song’s message and decide for ourselves how we felt about having no possessions, no religion, and all the people living for today. Isn’t it better to live for eternity? Lennon obviously wasn’t a socialist, he lived in one of New York City’s fanciest buildings. One of the reasons why he lived in New York was because his native Great Britain taxed him too highly. Maybe he was pointing out the folly of socialism. Maybe he was actually describing Heaven, where worldly concerns don’t exist. Not unlike Mozart, Lennon liked to punk the public and force us to broaden our thinking. I still think about what he was trying to say.
As Mozart is associated with the Enlightenment 200 years prior, The Beatles are associated with the sixties Cultural Revolution. The former tore society away from royal and church authority as the Age of Reason taught people to think for themselves. Lennon singing Revolution was an anthem of the sixties generation questioning authority. The two epochs can be seen as bookends on a period that enjoyed history’s greatest flourishing of individual freedom and scientific advancement. Lennon didn’t like everything he was seeing in those tumultuous times. But when you talk about destruction/ Don’t you know that you can count me out he sang. For him, the objective was evolution. The inclusiveness of those previously excluded from society is an example of how humanity evolved in those centuries.
Lennon warned about the bad side of revolutions. But if you want money for people with minds that hate/ All I can tell is brother you have to wait, he sings later in the song. Then as now, cultural upheaval comes with plenty of hate. The tumult of the Cultural Revolution is still reverberating today as society searches for new norms to live by. The Beatles played together as a band only for a decade and epochs last many decades. So what happens on the other side of this epoch? Darwin taught us that we don’t evolve into something worse. The Beatles agreed, ending the lyrics to Revolution by repeating several times, It’s gonna be all right.