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Written on March 30, 2005, and categorized as Secret and Invisible.
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Where were you when? is a question every generation asks itself. I was on the top deck of a bus from Penge when I saw the Evening Standard lunchtime headline, and I still remember the shock I felt. If I was older, it would have been Kennedy’s death. If I was younger, Kurt Cobain’s. But for me there was only one working class hero – it was something to be – it was John Lennon.

“JOHN LENNON SHOT DEAD” shrieked the headline. My friend Richard was on his Honda 90, tracking the bus, so that we could both get to Croydon at the same time. I went to the back of the bus and gesticulated until Richard saw me. Encased in his helmet, I could only see his eyes, which he was using to demonstrate that he didn’t have a clue why I was waving my hands around and pointing at newsagents as we passed them. Between Norwood Junction and West Croydon, there were 5 or 6 similar headlines, and I became animated as I attempted to communicate, completely ignoring the other passengers, who gawped at me curiously.

I got off the bus, and went over to Richard who had pulled up at the kerb. “John Lennon is dead” I said, flatly, let down now, the truth sinking in. We bought a paper and read.

They say if you can remember the 60s you weren’t there. That’s ageist hippy crap. I was born in 1962, the year the Beatles released their first single “Love Me Do” and began their re-definition of popular music, pop culture and politics. Yes politics. The influence of this four-piece from Liverpool has been airbrushed away since that time, but we forget that this was the age of the mass movements to counter entrenched conservatism, and that the Beatles, and Lennon in particular had a unique and unimpeachable role as spokesmen for their generation. Pacifist, pro-choice, anti-racist, welcoming of alternative lifestyles and Eastern philosophies. When Lennon died, conspiracy theories abounded, based on Lennon’s supposed imminently-to-be-renewed Peace Movement activities, and the CIA. It certainly wasn’t a straighforward New York murder.

When the Beatles broke up, I was 9. I remember asking my mother, “Who is going to make the music now then?” The Beatles were music, their songs were the charts. They had informed our growing up from hand-holding to free love as the 60s revolutionised Western culture, swept the old shit away, and blew all our minds. Post-Beatles, there were still John and Paul, and as the great songs continued to come, albeit without the harmonies and productions we all knew and loved, I realised that there was a pop afterlife, even if there was no heaven. Paul warbled off into Wings, his melodies intact, while John gave us Number 9 Dream, Imagine, Give Peace A Chance… and Yoko, who inherited everything but his musicality and amazing skill with language.

Of all John’s songs from Beatles days, there is one that completely restructured my head: I Am The Walrus. What was a pornographic priestess? With one swift move, Lennon confounded Christianity with the concept of the feminine sexual divine. Why was she climbing up the Eiffel Tower? This striking image of France’s steel phallus burned itself into my skull, corrupting me forever. What was that about custard? Semolina pilchards? I was eating this food. Stupid bloody Tuesday? Wasn’t that swearing? Knickers down? This was storming, insistent, sexual psychedelia on a grand scale, a coded call for an English revolution, and I loved it. Just what you wanted to hear on breakfast radio before school.

I Am The Walrus

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.
See how they run like pigs from a gun, see how they fly.
I’m crying.

Sitting on a cornflake, waiting for the van to come.
Corporation tee-shirt, stupid bloody Tuesday.
Man, you been a naughty boy, you let your face grow long.
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen,
I am the walrus,
goo goo a’joob

Mister City Policeman sitting
Pretty little policemen in a row.
See how they fly like Lucy in the Sky, see how they run.
I’m crying, I’m crying.
I’m crying, I’m crying.

Yellow matter custard, dripping from a dead dog’s eye.
Crabalocker fishwife, pornographic priestess,
Boy, you been a naughty girl you let your knickers down.
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen,
I am the walrus,
goo goo a’joob.

Sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun.
If the sun don’t come, you get a tan
From standing in the English rain.
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen,
I am the walrus,
goo goo g’joob, goo goo g’joob.

Expert textpert choking smokers,
Don’t you think the joker laughs at you?
See how they smile like pigs in a sty, see how they snide.
I’m crying.

Semolina pilchard, climbing up the Eiffel Tower.
Elementary penguin singing Hare Krishna.
Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen, I am the walrus,
goo goo a’joob, g’ goo goo g’joob,
(goo goo goo joob goo goo goo joob goo goo gooooooooooooo joooooooob)
(Oompah, oompah, stick it up your jumper,
Oompah, oompah, stick it up your jumper)

John Lennon

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This thing has 3 Comments

  1. transience
    Posted 30 March, 2005 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    imagine there’s no heaven.

  2. Blog ho
    Posted 30 March, 2005 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    I never did fancy Wings, nor understand the meaning of I Am The Walrus. Thank you.

  3. mallowry
    Posted 8 December, 2005 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    As well as recognizing a superior craftsman in the art of song and music making, what will always remain of John Lennon is his willingness to confront his vulnerability as well as society’s vulnerabilities head-on. In doing so , he reminded all of us that we are not machines but humans, and that we have a right to feel the blues. His troubled nature, his deep insecurities, his ambivalences, including his racism and intolerance(times and moments of anti-semitism and homophobia) were mixed in with a deep desire to help set things right in himself and with the world.
    A very complex man, he shone beauty and truth where lies and ugliness ruled.

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