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Music

John Lennon decries the role of the artist in his final interview

@TomTaylorFO

“While there is life there is hope.” – John Lennon

John Lennon was a great many things to millions of people and his loss had a seismic impact. In the immediate hours following the attack, word began to spread. Stevie Wonder was performing at the Oakland Coliseum and was tasked with announcing the news. “I want you all to understand that I’m not a person who likes to be the [bearer of] bad news,” Wonder announced. 

Clearly shaken, he informed a shocked audience, “For those of you who don’t know this … it’s been really hard for me to do this show tonight but [I] did it in memory of people like this man. … He was shot tonight. … I’m talking about Mr. John Lennon. … I know that you would want me to continue to express the same feelings as he has in his life.”

His dumfounded and heartfelt reaction is one that was echoed by millions of people the world over. When the dust settled, it was Yoko Ono who poignantly reflected: “I saw John smiling in the sky. I saw sorrow changing into clarity. I saw all of us becoming one mind.” And it was Sean Ono Lennon who eulogised his father by focusing on his legacy rather than the tragedy of his passing, profoundly saying: “Now Daddy is part of God. I guess when you die you become much more bigger because you’re part of everything.”

A few hours earlier, on the morning of December 8th, John Lennon himself had been in a reflective mood. Following a brief photoshoot with Annie Leibovitz, Dave Sholin arrived to conduct a radio interview with the re-emergent superstar. Their chat lasted for a whopping three hours as Lennon mused on a range of subjects in purring and stirring form. 

Given what followed, the line: “We’re either going to live or we’re going to die. I consider that my work won’t be finished until I’m dead and buried – and I hope that’s a long time” remains a tragic piece of fate. However, within the interview, he also spoke of artistry—and as a musician who changed the world for the better, this celebratory notion is one that proves to be beautiful in its own way.  

“Any artist or poets’ role is to try and express what we all feel, not to tell people how to feel,” Lennon told Sholin. “Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all. That is the job of the artist in society, they are not some alienated being living on the outskirts of town, it’s fine to live on the outskirts of town, but artists must reflect what we all are, that is what it is about for artists.”

This sentiment is one that made Lennon at his best soar with exultant sincerity. From The Beatles to his final days he was always embodying the human side of art and, in the process, he connected with those who cared to listen. As David Bowie once said: “I’ll never forget something John Lennon told me, we were talking about writing and I had always admired the way he used to cut through so much of the bullshit, just come straight to the point with what he wanted to say.”

Lennon wouldn’t hold his secrets from his friend. Bowie continues: “He said: [adopting a perfect Lennon impression] ‘It’s very easy — all you have to do is say what you mean, make it rhyme and put a backbeat to it’, and I keep coming back to that principle”. This pertinent message, no matter how simple, is definitive of Lennon as an artist, and while he is sorely missed, his legacy lives in these final thoughts.