I was a college student studying in Germany the year John Lennon was killed — and remember seeing the news unfold on a tiny television mounted on the wall of a restaurant I frequented for German fare like “wiener schnitzel mit pommes frites.”
Lennon was twenty years my senior, and it was his death that first raised my consciousness of his music and other art. “Before he was a Beatle,” reports the New York Daily News, “John Lennon was an art student.” Many consider him artist, poet and philosopher.
Today (Sat, Oct 9) I’m heading to the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix to join others in celebrating Lennon’s life and work. This would have been Lennon’s 70th birthday, and I’m eager to reflect alongside the Lennon piano on exhibit at the MIM.
It’s an upright Steinway piano — a humble brown instrument that looks remarkably similar to the upright Steinway I bought for my children after my mother’s death more than a decade ago. I hadn’t considered the similarities until today.
The Lennon piano displayed at the MIM is part of a larger collection of Steinway instruments and other keyboards, but this piano has special significance for Lennon fans and peace advocates the world over.
Sitting at this piano, Lennon composed the song “Imagine.”
I first heard the music of Lennon, and McCartney, at some point along that nebulous transition from toddler to preschooler. The first record album I ever owned was The Beatles’ “Please Please Me.”
I remember dancing to the simple, upbeat tunes atop a stage of sorts in a hip-at-the-time sunken living room. I don’t recall whether the house was our own or one of many I toured with my father, who did both residential and commercial real estate in Denver.
At some point an electric guitar, since passed down from my father to my oldest daughter, came into the picture. I used to sit and play it atop the muddy blue hard shell case that doubled as an amp and speaker. I don’t think I was much bigger than that case at the time.
I recall writing the words to several of the love songs from that first record down on school notebook paper so I could try to share them with Eric, an elementary school crush who had more interest in running around a baseball diamond than pretending to walk down the aisle.
We were all too young at the time to appreciate the power of Lennon’s music — but I have to wonder if he’s out there somewhere remembering the little girl with long braids who recognized the romantic qualities of The Beatles’ music early on.
More recently, I’ve grown to admire Lennon’s activism — though I suppose one could argue that art and activism are one and the same.
I went with my son Christopher to see the movie “The U.S. vs. John Lennon” at Harkins Camelview 5 in Scottsdale soon after its 2006 release. It was a fine film, and a timely tool for talking with Christopher about issues of war and peace.
Movie-related materials refer to “exploring Vietnam-era struggles that remain relevent today.” Maybe that’s what keeps so many of us feeling connected to John Lennon even today.
Imagine. Act. Repeat. This, perhaps, is Lennon’s most enduring legacy.