John Lennon, Man of the Year

When the Beatle turned from pop to politics, he started making the most beautiful music

John Lennon in March of 1969. Credit: Keystone Features/Getty Images

Since 1965, the Beatles have been the single dominant force in the new social thought and style for which the Sixties will forever be remembered, just as Charlie Chaplin was the public figure of the Twenties.

The Beatles have said that they are four parts of the same person, and ironically, that part among them — –Paul– — who most looked like Chaplin, has, like Chaplin, gone into seclusion. Ringo has– — as another part of that reflection — –elevated his career from singer to actor. George, the third quarter, is that part of them which is the eternal musician. always jamming and always doing a gig.

But the most magnificent change, the most profound evolution, the maker of motion since the beginning, the leader, has been John. He signs it himself:

Here come old flattop he come groovin' up slowly
He got jew-jew eyeballs, he want holly roller
He's got hair down to his knees
Got to be a joker, he just do what he please....

John, the old flat-topped duck-tailed rocker of Liverpool who ten years later has got hair down to his knees, is again singing of himself. And he says: Come together, right now, over me.

John began 1969 at what must have been the lowest point of his public career; the awkward and embarrassing unfolding of his private life with Yoko Ono, the tiny Japanese artist who was born in "bird year," and as a child "collected skys, collected sea-weed and gave birth to a grapefruit."

Their Two Virgins album cover portrait was thought to be one of the most dumb episodes any reasonably intelligent public person had ever involved himself in. His closest friends, his most loving audience, thought him to be a fool, and thought Yoko to be worse.

But, as it turns out, the naked couple totally symbolized– — in the most elegant, classical and graceful way– — the liberation of the human body and mind that we saw so frequently (and usually so luridly) begin in the Sixties. One looks at the portrait today with much less surprise and finds it tender and moving.

It has become impossible to speak of John without at once speaking of Yoko — –truly the fifth Beatle, in an era when it sometimes appears that there are no longer even four Beatles. Thus, when we speak of John as the "Man of the Year," we also mean Yoko. but feel a little foolish saying "Couple of the Year," although they surely were.

In the spring, March, the time of beginning, they were married. On the Rock of Gibraltar, one of the world's more significant monuments. "It's quiet, British and friendly," John said when asked why an hour later in Paris. They were married in a white stone house, both wearing white tennis shoes and John carrying a coat of human hair.

They spent their honeymoon in an Amsterdam bed, saying "We're happy to be called a couple of freaks as long as we are happy and can make other people happy." They took the Bed-In Hair-Peace to other capitols and to Canada, as close as they were allowed to come to the center of the world vibration. America.

It was an activity many found to be totally frivolous.

Phil Spector, that eminently young granddaddy of what we do today, in his Rolling Stone interview last year, said something which echoed what many people, including myself, felt about John and Yoko at that time:

"I don't know where he's at now. But I have the feeling that Yoko may not be the greatest influence on him. You know, a multimillionaire in his position just doesn't get caught in an English apartment house by the cops on a dope charge unless you're just blowing your mind or someone is giving you a real fucking.... It's almost like a weird thing to see just how bizarre he can get before he really blows it or just teaches everybody something."

Now we know how bizarre it gets, and John has taught us much. Spector spoke of Lenny Bruce in the same breath. In so many ways, John is like a modern day Lenny Bruce. Only this time it is for the Seventies, and John brings a different karma.

Yes, I still think it, John said on the summer solstice day last year, Kids are more influenced by us than Jesus.

They carried the Bed-In/Hair Peace to North America where they phoned radio sations over the continent, where they held court and conferences from their Toronto hotel room, where they were interviewed and confronted by one of the most bizarre collection of publicity-maniacs, arrogant avatars, and loving hangers-on in human history. Each person to whom they spoke and each person whom they touched, whether in eyesight or through a sometimes unresponsive media, was moved and began to move with them.

"We both think alike," John is saying. "And we've both been alone. We both had these dreams, the same kind of dreams. I had this dream of this woman comin.' "

"John's art is social," Yoko explains, as she always explains after John, "and my art has always been social. I do not believe in examining the navel. Now that we love each other, we show that love to the world. It is an art too."

Thus, their private lives became public lives. John always tells it so well in press conferences and in interviews, and in these pages in the past, in these pages in this issue. On their beautiful Wedding LP is the recording of a press conference they held in Amsterdam.

Listen to it; listen to it with Yoko chanting/singing her pitch/poem to peace with John's occasional harmonies; listen to John say it in his own voice. And no matter how serious he says it, he always says it with humor– — a final proof if any is now needed — –that he is John and that he is still sane.

The ten dollar wedding album, released as 1969 ended, is a classical package with a booklet of press clippings and wedding photos, with a wedding certificate and a strip of four-for-a-quarter snapshots. One side of the album within, titled, "John and Yoko," is an impressively well-put together breath/speak/rhythm soundpiece of the oldest and most impressive ritual, love.

Part of public life was speaking openly of the Beatles, of Beatle business and Beatle life. In the first place, it was the admitting of mistakes, and the exposure of some of the many wounds and open breaks in the lives of the fabulous four. They didn't get along. They might breakup, they couldn't get themsleves together enough to appear live, to make more albums, and might already be broken up.

We have depended for such a long time on the Beatles for our public and private amusements, for styles and attitudes, that such a prospect is frightening. In a fragmenting world, where the quick dissolve has replaced the slow fade, the Beatles Forever has been something that has kept us together. We are afraid of their coming apart, because if they did, we might as well.

Breaking up is hard to do, as Neil Sedaka once sang before the Beatles appeared, and they have always been breaking up at various points in the history of the group. There are still a few more mistakes to admit and clear up; there's every expectation that it will be done. Mistakes will be made, and errors will be discarded and they will still be The Beatles.

In the last months of the year, John and/or Yoko: •

Returned the M.B.E., a gesture of outrageous beauty, going beyond what was expected of him to do what he expected of himself, protesting what he felt was wrong –— his latest single dropping down the charts and the killing in Biafra — –and casting off the medallion/symbol (a "button," the manager of the subscription department called it), of an early, long-forgotten sell-out. •

Purchased billboard space in major world cities declaring "War Is Over If You Want It," putting into the most secular possible method their theory that– — just as the propaganda governments force war on us, and the television commercials persuade us to stop smoking– — Peace, too, can be sold and entered into competition on the open market in hopes that it will prove a superior product. •

Brought the Beatles back together on stage, as much as was currently possible, for a United Nations Children's Fund benefit in London with George playing guitar as John sang. •

Formed the Plastic Ono Band, which appeared in Toronto, from which appearance the Live Peace At Toronto album was made, one of the best of all the Beatle albums, the one which tells us better than any of them what they were like in Liverpool and in the Star Club. A beautiful album, in any case, one of the best dozen or so rock and roll records of the last year. They made music, and for that we are first and always grateful.

There are other good works not mentioned; buying a schoolhouse in England for gypsies: a protest in London against the 1962 government hanging of an apparently innocent "murderer," young James Hanratty.

The closer we come to it– — and reading this issue's account of their latest journey to Canada is coming close to it– — the more real it seems. At one level, you can see it already working: two people appeared at Hyde Park Corner in London in early December in a bag, a protest against the state murder. They never showed their faces or revealed who they were. Many assumed it was John and Yoko, and it made all the London papers, but maybe it wasn't. It could have been someone else– — maybe you?

One wonders if any of this will work? Do John and Yoko really have a chance of helping to bring peace in our time, and the social and natural justice which is a part of any peace?

"There is an unfortunate image of hippy earnestness directing liberal causes from the deep upholstery of a Beatle's income," wrote the London Times four days before Christmas 1969.

It looks a little like that. However, as John has stated, he is not a millionaire– — none of the Beatles is– — "only those in circles around us." And we have seen plenty of "hippy earnestness" in our day to know what is bullshit and to know when someone is really trying– — not out of hippy earnestness– — but with a dedication of his body, his wife, his will and his life.

That's why John is our Man of the Year.

It has taken us a year, but we are convinced. It is a desperate age: Who is to say anymore what is the right way and what is the wrong way, what will work and what will not? The movement in the United States is split a dozen different ways and we have no peace. Who is to say John and Yoko won't be able to do it? All they are saying, is "Give peace a chance."

John spent the end of his year meeting with the Prime Minister of the Dominion of Canada, Pierre Trudeau, in a move totally unprecedented both for a Prime Minister and for a Popular Entertainer.

(Remember that the stereotype of the politician and performer is the Diana Ross/Hubert Humphrey mold.) And John also met with members of a commission which will decide whether marijuana is to be legalized in Canada.

A five-hour private meeting between John Lennon and Richard Nixon would be a more significant summit than any Geneva Summit Conference between the USA and Russia. The latter is more like the Democrats meeting with the Republicans whereas the former would be a meeting of two worlds.

Maybe it won't work. Maybe it will. The record ends: And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make....