With the anniversary of John Lennon’s death (Dec. 8, 1980) still in the rear-view mirror, it makes me smile trying to imagine what the founder of the Beatles — a master of word-play and sarcasm — would have to say about this year’s mind-boggling changes. How would Lennon’s music have changed in 28 years, had […]
With the anniversary of John Lennon’s death (Dec. 8, 1980) still in the rear-view mirror, it makes me smile trying to imagine what the founder of the Beatles — a master of word-play and sarcasm — would have to say about this year’s mind-boggling changes. How would Lennon’s music have changed in 28 years, had he dodged the bullets that killed him?
In November, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the release of the Beatles’ White Album, the Vatican newspaper praised the British band for its body of work and forgave Lennon for his flippant 1966 quip about sudden success, “[We’re] more popular than Jesus.”
Even the Vatican has changed.
In February of 1964, Lennon’s band was introduced to America with two live television appearances on Ed Sullivan’s variety show. At the time, most people didn’t connect the events, but that earthshaking introduction to Liverpool’s Fab Four happened less than three months after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The singularly somber mood of the nation surely had something to do with why those early Beatles songs cut through the black and white airwaves with such verve.
Fast-forwarding through the Beatles pop star psychedelic years and Lennon’s career on his own, his murder in 1980 had a stunning impact on the public. It was as if a beloved world leader had been gunned down on the street in Manhattan.
Lennon’s obvious contributions as a songwriter and musician were huge. However, it was his oblique sincerity, his tart sense of humor and delight in taking all sorts of risks that set Lennon apart from his peers, many of whom toyed with politics and social causes, as if they were hairdos or dance crazes.
In the early 1970s, President Richard Nixon, whose ancient secret White House tapes are once again in the news, looked at Lennon and saw the raw power to galvanize a generation’s anti-establishment sentiments. Fearful of that potential, the Nixon administration threw its dirty tricks book at Lennon, trying to hound him out of the country. The details of that nasty little campaign are just as bewildering as some of the better known abuses that flowed from the White House during those scandal-ridden days.
While he properly read Lennon’s unique charisma, Nixon’s mistake was in miscalculating motive. What the soon-to-be-disgraced president didn’t grasp was that Lennon, in spite of his mischievous streak, was really more interested in promoting peace than fomenting revolution.
Yet, with nearly three decades of perspective on Lennon’s death, it’s easy to see that even if that particular crazed assassin (a man whose name will not be written in this space to add in any way to his celebrity) hadn’t pulled the trigger, it could easily have been another one. Like the comets of each generation are bound to do, sometimes Lennon burned too brightly for his own good.
On Feb. 24, 1987, an article with Lennon’s murderer at the center of it appeared in the Nashville Banner. It began with this:
Two Nashville musicians remained free on $500 bond today after they went on a magazine-shredding tear …to protest People magazine’s current cover story.
The two musicians were Gregg Wetzel, and Mike McAdam. As members of the then-Richmond-based Good Humor Band, they were familiar figures in the East Coast rock ‘n’ roll scene in the late-1970s/early 1980s. McAdam founded the GHB.
By the time the story mentioned above was published, the pair had established themselves as respected sidemen in Nashville — Wetzel on piano and McAdam on guitar. In a nutshell, they became incensed at seeing the magazine with a cover story about the man whose only notoriety was that he killed John Lennon. They felt spotlighting Lennon’s assassin in that way might encourage another deranged wannabe to take gun in hand to go after whoever.
So, the peeved musicians fortified themselves with adequate doses of whatever they were drinking out of a special Elvis decanter. Properly inspired, the pair set out in the wee hours to destroy the covers of every single copy of the offensive publication they could find on the strip.
In the course of their fifth raid, at a Nashville convenience store, the avenging angels were stopped by the cops and charged with “malicious mischief.” (more…)