John Lennon 1940-1980

“In 1971, I wrote something about John and Yoko that they liked a lot, and to show their appreciation they invited me and my girlfriend Dominique to John’s 31st birthday party–in Syracuse, where a Yoko Ono retrospective had been mounted. I’ve never been one to hobnob with the stars, but who could resist John Lennon?”

Robert Christgau focuses mainly on Lennon’s personality and candor, rather than his countless accomplishments. This article was written in 1980, a couple weeks after Lennon was ‘assassinated’, and acts as a eulogy from the perspective of an appreciative fan rather than an acquaintance.

Christgau indulges in Lennon’s journey from critical acclaim, to selling-out, to finding his roots after losing his true artistic voice and his muse Yoko Ono. Christgau describes this patch in Lennon’s life as rock bottom, giving the star a much needed reality check. Lennon was too honest of an artist to produce the “half-hearted professional rock” he had been releasing as of late with little commercial success. In an act of self-realization, Lennon thus decided “to lay low, to keep silent until he had something to say”, rekindled his relationship with Yoko again, and “retreated into domestic pursuits” and fatherhood. Lennon was described as “infantilized” by the change, and after 5 years of keeping quiet, Lennon and Yoko released the album Double Fantasy in 1980. “…while the record was no Imagine or Plastic Ono Band, I found its candor irrefutable. Lennon had always seemed like someone who might make good new rock and roll when he was 60–and I was 58. Nothing about Double Fantasy damaged that fantasy for me.”

“Lennon’s death was unprecedented. He was assassinated, a fate heretofore reserved for kings, politicians, and captains of industry. Yet as I sit here alternating between my records and WNEW’s all-night vigil, I must admit that my feeling of loss is qualified by a false sense of inevitability. We’ve been expecting this to happen, haven’t we, ever since Phil Ochs wrote “Crucifixion” and various assholes began imagining Bob Dylan’s martyrdom?”

“As I began writing it bothered me that I wouldn’t know much about the alleged killer, Mark David Chapman, until after deadline. Then I decided that whether the putative motive was ambulatory anomie or personal ressentiment or even twisted politics, the underlying pathology would be the same–the anonymous eating the famous like a cannibal feasting on testicles. But that’s too simple. As my wife said despondently an hour after the event: ‘Why is it always Bobby Kennedy or John Lennon” Why isn’t it Richard Nixon or Paul McCartney?’ The fact is obvious enough. [Bob] Dylan, of course. Jim Morrison, possibly. Neil Young, conceivably. But Paul McCartney? Neil Diamond? Graham Nash? George Harrison? Ringo Starr? Never–because they don’t hold out hope, even if they’d sort of like to be able to. John Lennon held out hope. He imagined, and however quietistic he became he never lost that utopian identification. But when you hold out hope, people get real disappointed if you can’t deliver. You’re famous and they’re not–that’s the crux of your relationship. You command the power they crave–the power to make one’s identity felt in the world, to be known. No matter that the only thing you’re sure it’s good for is room service. No matter that you’re even further from resolving anyone’s perplexities than the next bohemian, artist, or intellectual. You’re denying your most desperate admirers the release they need, and a certain percentage of them will resent or hate you for it.From there, it only takes one to kill.”

christgau Christgau’s original article in The Village Voice (December 10, 1980)

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