Next week sadly will be the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's shocking murder. And as we recall and commemorate the ex-Beatle's all-too-short life, we fondly remember him as a colorful figure, husband and father, standout musician, and international celebrity.
Many mainstream media outlets, though, also remember Lennon the political activist, and assume that if alive today, he would have continued the radical leftist bent he displayed in the late '60s and early '70s. To mark what would have been Lennon's 65th birthday, for example, Beatles biographer Hunter Davies speculates that John would be at the forefront of leftwing activism, protesting against Bush, Blair, and the war in Iraq.
Now certainly Mr. Davies knows plenty about the Beatles, but on this matter I believe he is fully mistaken. Au contraire, I see Lennon becoming a patriotic, pro-America Republican.
Yes, I know this may sound ludicrous to some - this same man, after all, virtually represented all things anti-authority, protested vehemently against Vietnam, and wrote his most famous solo song ("Imagine") as a virtual ode to utopian communism. But perhaps even more strongly, Lennon detested hypocrisy and always remained on the search for the "next big thing." Given this, I doubt he would have stagnated politically like so many of his leftwing brethren; rather, I believe he would have reversed course entirely a la Michael Medved, David Horowitz, and other liberals-turned-conservatives.
Notwithstanding Davies' official group biography, the best Beatle book out there, in my opinion, is the late Ian MacDonald's Revolution In The Head. (For the record, I am a huge Beatles fan who owns all their albums, has read a number of books on the band, and has seen both McCartney and Ringo in concert in recent years.) Not quite a traditional biography, Revolution examines the Beatles and their music in the context of the decade they represented most - the 1960s. (The band formed in 1957, issued their first single in 1962, and broke up in 1970.)
Many of the book's most fascinating sections cover Lennon and his cultural and political views, and far more than being a by-the-numbers leftist, the head Beatle continually explored new avenues of life experiences in an ongoing search for meaning and importance. Never settling on any one phase for long, John led the group through a myriad of '60s hallmarks - tough rock 'n' roll, Bob Dylan-style folk music, psychedelic drugs and the Summer of Love, meditation and Indian mysticism, anti-war protests, and finally a return to their roots (the "Get Back" project which was released as the Let It Be album). This same pattern continued after the Beatles' breakup, as John launched a solo career, explored leftist/communist political activism with wife Yoko Ono, spent an infamous two-year "lost weekend" living the celebrity life in Los Angeles, sought peace and quiet by moving to New York, retired from music in 1975 to become a stay-at-home father, and returned to his career in low-key fashion shortly before his 1980 assassination.
Clearly, Lennon was no career leftwing activist; rather, it was a particular phase in his highly varied and fascinating life, and as he grew older, he certainly appeared to grow more conservative in his cultural and family outlook. At the same time, he always railed against establishment stagnancy, and today, it is the Democrats, particularly those on the far left, who have largely assumed this characteristic. I believe John would have continued these personal trends, and were he alive today, would with sharp moral clarity support America's efforts to achieve freedom around the world. Assuming he would have obtained U.S. citizenship (he was on track, having been granted permanent residency status), I feel he would have become a card-carrying Republican and voted for President Bush in the 2004 election.
Perhaps his latest song would have even been a cover of "G-d Bless The USA."
*note: This essay is adapted from a piece I wrote back in October on the occasion of Mr. Lennon's would-have-been 65th birthday.