If John Lennon Were Still Here…

Believe it or not, earlier this week there were quite a few signs of hope from the United Nations-sponsored climate change conference in Montreal, despite U.S. foot-dragging. One of the most encouraging signs was a group of young people who came and camped out and demonstrated at the conference, promising a generational commitment towards a solution to the problem.

Re-awakening the call of a dreamer: if John Lennon were still here, he’d be here in Montreal.

So write Michelle Petrisor and Rosa Kouri, blogging for itsgettinghotinhere, a website built for the climate change conference in Montreal. On the date of his assassination, December 8th, they wrote that:

In his memory, youth at the United Nations Climate Negotiations staged a “bed-in” for the climate. Two blocks away from the original site of John’s protest, we briefly recreated the message of peace and compassion. Surrounded by flashing cameras, recorders, and reporters, flanked by escalators and men and women in business suits, we begin to sing John’s simple words. Youth two dozen strong, we laid white blankets and pillows on the floor. Delegates passing by began to sing along to “Give youth a chance” and “Imagine”…

Simon Retallack for The Guardian reported that:

The mood improved still further with news that Bill Clinton would be gracing the summit, rock star-like, with a surprise appearance later today at the invitation of Canada’s prime minister, Paul Martin. There was even a report that a group of US students had moved members of the US negotiating team here in Montreal to tears following a plea for them to act on climate change. If that could happen, surely anything was possible. People even began contemplating an early exit home.

The Guardian added that Margaret Beckett, the UK environmental secretary, expressed confidence that an agreement would be reached among all industrialized nations to move to phase two of the Kyoto Protocol. Still, although the UK and other industrialized nations were willing to drop virtually all conditions to get the U.S. on board–reported the BBC radio–the US delegation continued to resist being drawn into negotiations. Finally, the BBC said, US lead negotiator Harlan Watson declared that "if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck," and led a walk-out. That account was confirmed today in the Washington Post, although they soft-pedaled the fact that fact the U.S. walked out abruptly, shortly after midnight. But they did mention the bafflement of the other delegates, one of whom remarked:

"I don’t understand your reference to a duck. What about this document is like a duck?"

The delegates, focused on solving the problem, don’t understand–or claim not to understand–what happened. It’s a fact that the U.S. is at the conference, was part of the original Kyoto Protocol negotiations, and has spent over $5 billion researching climate change. And, after all, the President has always claimed to be a problem-solver, and the delegates are eager to talk about how to solve this problem. Surely the  U.S. would want to be part of that discussion.

The problem is, the Bush administration refuses to be drawn into any discussion that includes emissions limits, no matter how vaguely stated.

Which is to say that despite all the diplomatic palaver, the Bush administration has no interest in solving the problem or even in confronting the problem; only in pretending to do so.

This is why I think the kids are right to say that Lennon would stand with them on this issue, though I think the man himself might shock them a little. In the wake of the hideous injustice of his death, we tend to forget the darker side of Lennon; a man who could be as cynical, as despairing, and as bitter as anyone. (He was no saint, and probably would the first–maybe after Paul–to say so.)

But this much we know: He was a believer in confrontation. This comes out undeniably in the most trustworthy of his biographies (by Ray Coleman, who reported on the Beatles’ early in their career, and came to know the group quite well). Coleman reports that in school, Lennon had a way of confronting every new kid and new teacher and new administrator who showed up. He’d give new kids a long penetrating stare, and ask a few sharp questions. He wasn’t hostile, and usually asked in a teasing sort of way, but he had a purpose. He wanted to know every new person for himself.

I saw this myself once for myself (speaking of believe it or don’t). It was the fall of l980, shortly after the release of Lennon and Yoko Ono’s "Double Fantasy." I was going to see a Clash concert at the Hollywood Paladium, and had made plans to meet a screenwriting friend who had an office on Hollwyood Boulevard. But the door to the street was locked, so I had to find someplace to go and call him, and tell him to come down and let me in. I walked down the street to a Howard Johnson’s at Hollywood and Vine, which–back in those pre-cellphone days–had a small bank of pay phones right by the door. I sat at the counter and had some coffee and read the paper and went over every few minutes to call my friend. Suddenly in a big rush someone came through the door; I looked up, and saw a man well-dressed in a subtle way, with suede shoes and a new haircut, and recognized him instantly, though he wasn’t wearing his glasses. He went straight to a phone. That’s John Lennon, I thought. I sat frozen, stupidly, and no one else noticed, but I stared at him so intently as he talked on the phone that he turned his back. He had a long talk and then hung up. He went for the door, but before he went out, he whirled to stare directly into my eyes, long and hard, as if to say–yes, it’s me–before he spun around on his heels and hurried out.

This is why I think the kids are right. Lennon could not stand to see this threat to the planet pass unnoticed. He would come by to join their bed-in; probably have a wonderful time joking with everyone, and–who knows–perhaps make up another anthem on the spot, as he did with the original "Give Peace a Chance." We look back to Lennon not so much for hippie-ish "peace and flowers" as for hope, sheer unadulterated hope for the future, for love, for the possibilities around us. In person he was a notorious loudmouth, a jokester, a cynic, and often completely uncontrollable, but in public he became open, funny, and joyous. (An excellent recent essay in Reason by Charles Paul Freund takes us back to the roots of the Beatles’ popularity in this country and shows that although we think of them as a rock band, they owed at least as much to pop as to rock.)

We love the lightness of Lennon. We think of "Imagine," a plea in song for belief, and forget about his endless screed of disbelief in "God," of all the things he didn’t believe in, including the Bible, Kennedy, Buddha, mantra, kings, Presley…all things in which at one time he had believed totally.

But that’s as it should be. As much as he loved confrontation, Lennon couldn’t stand despair for long, and always–inevitably–came back to the sheer power of the human imagination. "There are no problems; only solutions," he liked to say, when he wasn’t demanding the truth.

My daughter once admitted that she likes to think that if Lennon hadn’t been gunned down, that the whole pro-money, anti-environment nightmare of the last twenty-five years might not have happened. That’s wishful thinking, we all know, but as Wilco reminds us: Where would we be without wishful thinking? Also known as dreaming?

We miss you, John…

Lennon

2 thoughts on “If John Lennon Were Still Here…

  1. I was so glad to see that moving photo of John Lennon on your website. When I saw it in the L.A. Times on Dec. 8th,
    I wanted to save it for my son, who is currently discovering the Beatles at age 11. But my mother-in-law took the paper and that section was in the fire before I could retreive it.
    I’ve been in minor mourning mode for John Lennon for the past few weeks, having gone to New York — including a visit to the Dakota — just before Thanksgiving. His death for me (when I was 18) was the JFK moment of my life. And the 25th anniversary was on my mind for months leading up to it.
    How wonderful that there is music and there are photos, that can’t be murdered.

    Like

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