October & the City Link
the Walrus & the Raven
Edgar Allan Poe (d. Oct. 7, 1849, Boston) and John Lennon (b. Oct.9, 1940, Liverpool) would’ve likely enjoyed each other’s company. One could even picture them sharing a coffee in Greenwich Village, just a few blocks from where they both lived briefly in New York.
Sharing a certain sensibility, they’ve twisted rules and noses with their talent and non-conformism. While Poe’s genius was acknowledged mostly after death, Lennon’s was still shaping his own times when life was brutally taken away from him. Despite their enormous sway over our era, they’ve both died at 40.
Their status as two of the world’s most recognized pop icons often obscures the depth of their art and endurance of their legacy. And maybe their irresistible appeal owes more to a contemporary deficit of revolutionary artists than to their particular take on human expression.
Or it may be that we’re so desperate to find paradigms upon which to pile our frustration about the world, that a walking wound such as Poe, or a talking head like Lennon, may offer the conduit we seek to connect and placate our own shortcomings. Just like it ever was.
They couldn’t help it but being such tragic heroes, either, with terrible upbringings and disturbing deaths to boot. But that’s when shallow similarities between the two begin to falter, and no longer serve us to rescue their relevance out of the amber it’s been encased.
THE MESMERIC & THE MAUDIT
Poe, who lived in three separate places in Greenwich Village, New York City, before moving to a farmhouse uptown where he wrote The Raven at age 36, is the only American writer routinely mentioned along the French poètes maudits.
The Paul Verlaine-concocted term encapsulated the romantic ideal of the artist as a tragic hero, not suited to this world, who inevitably self-immolates. We won’t get into how flawed and self-indulgent it is such a notion, but the literature the group produced transcended it all.
Perhaps the best known among those poets was Charles Baudelaire, who championed, translated, and wrote essays about Poe, (more)
* Murder & Unkindness
* Dear John
* Hallowed Ground
who he considered an equal. Even as his opinion is as flawed as the label, it was one of the few high-caliber vindications Poe has ever known in life.
ON THE COVER OF ANOTHER TIME
Perhaps intuitively, or because he always detested that phony dead poet myth, Lennon included him in one of the most intriguing lyrics in rock music. Years later, he too would move to New York, initially to the Village, just a few blocks of Poe’s old hangouts.
The Beatles had already included Poe, along with Lewis Carroll, Dylan Thomas, James Joyce, and others, on the cover of their 1967 masterpiece, Sgt. Pepper, but it was I’m the Walrus that became identified with the poor old sod of Baltimore.
It was probably all a play with words, but judging by the way Poe was despised by critics and mostly ignored by readers during his life, singing, Man, You Should’ve Seen Them Kicking Edgar Allan Poe, has some of the pointed poignancy Lennon was known for as a writer and lyricist.
THEY’RE GONNA CRUCIFY ME
The irony was that Lennon used the same sharp eye to somehow foresee his own demise, in the kind of morbid exercise better associated with Poe. It’s arguable that he was being seriously afraid of being killed violently, as he did in New York in 1980, and his life till the end was a boost of optimism, peace, and faith in the future.
That’s exactly where their legacies split wide open, for Poe was very much aware that the sum of his expression was hitched forever to a boat suffused with premonitions and visions of what was not yet there. Or never was. In that view, Lennon was the Sun and Poe, the Moon.
Nothing will ever be that simple about these two, or anybody, though. Throughout the world, between today and Friday, people will be holding seances and saraus, feverish praying, and full-throated singing to celebrate the lives of two extraordinarily gifted artists.
So, Happy Birthday & Anniversary, John & Poe.
(*) Originally published on Oct. 7, 2015.