You Are Me &
We’re All Together
The other day, when 400,000 people marched in front of your New York City home, I couldn’t help it but think how much you would’ve enjoyed seeing so many taking the streets for a cause – this time to fight Climate Change – just like you, marching against the war.
It also helped that it was the International Peace Day, but what was particularly poignant about Sept. 21st was to realize that many in the crowd had probably been there before, on a cold December night of 1980, to mourn your assassination on the steps of The Dakota.
You would’ve been 74 today, and almost certainly, equally as engaged in progressive causes as you were some forty years ago. And that’s what makes us so sad, that we can no longer hear your voice, and how much the crowd misses the guidance of people like you, and Pete Seeger, to name a like-minded artist.
The fact is, even at that time, such head-first dive into political activism and explicit protesting was not what many musicians considered the best way to go about seeking change. Bob Dylan comes to mind as another influential star who, like many of your contemporaries, was just not into singing songs, carrying slogans, and parading for peace.
But while they may have been a tad too concerned about the impact that an explicit anti-establishment attitude would’ve had on their careers, you were simply not in the same level of showbiz calculation. To you, it seemed only natural to be part of what the people in the streets were protesting about, warts and criticism notwithstanding.
And there were a lot of put-downs about your over-exposure to the media, your peace and bed-in campaigns, your stunts which, to a small segment of the intelligentsia, were perceived as opportunistic and self-promoting. Never mind that your efforts, as off-the-kilt as they were, became somewhat effective.
In perspective, all that fiery anti-war poster and newspaper ad placing, your tireless advocating and support of people such as Angela Davis, John Sinclair, Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and others, are now an inextricably part of the historical record about mass movements that helped put an end to the Vietnam War.
You should’ve seen how many young, high-school kids were there too, possibly making that beautiful Sunday (more)
the beginning of something transcendental. Or not. As you said it yourself, ‘war is over IF you want it.’ And boy, how many more people do not want it now any better than during the 1970s.
For you should’ve also seen how high the odds are stacked against peace and environment protection. What, with a new doctrine around, that of the ‘Permanent War,’ to which we’ve been signed on, even without being consulted about, for the next 30 years, according to the more optimist estimates.
And about the environment, according to the WWF, since the time you marched on the streets of Manhattan, the Earth has lost half of its wildlife, can you imagine? Despite the bad pun, this is such a staggering number, I’m not even sure it’d have made sense to anyone living at that time.
Our consumption has multiplied so much, that we’ve reached a terrible milestone a year ago: for the first time in 800,000 years, carbon dioxide makes up for 400 parts-per-million of the air we breathe. That means the ice is melting all over, ocean levels rising, a whole shebang of bad news to go along with it.
Which brings us to something that happened the other day, whose subtle irony you’d surely appreciate: 35,000 walruses, of all animals, wound up stranded on an Alaskan beach. You know why? Because there’s no ice left for them to float about. Would your song be heard in the background, when you’d say something about it on CNN?
Well, if ‘Walrus Was Paul,’ you’d be proud of your mates too, he fully engaged in promoting a vegan lifestyle, and your pal Ringo fighting for tougher gun regulations. For the ‘world’s greatest drummer’ especially, it’s all in a good-humored, art-infused way.
George has been in the news lately, too, with some of his best work being re-released. And you’d be happy to know that Sean is doing great, and along Yoko, active against fracking in New York state. And so is Julian, too, recording and painting. In other words, we’re all doing fine down here, just missing you very much, always.
It’s still amazing that the legacy of your music easily informs both our species’ survival on this planet and right to live in peace, just like so many have said it before you. But that you repeated it anyway, in your own inspired way, and made us sing along in the process. That was the voice missing among those 400 thousand.
I’ll probably take some time today to visit Strawberry Fields, in Central Park, as I’ve done on and off for all these years. And will probably still feel the pull from inside to think about the things that could have been but never were. But mostly it’ll be to recharge me on the stuff you’ve accomplished in only four decades.
That in just a few years, the time since your passing will be longer than what you’ve spent on Earth really doesn’t matter. You made it count, and that’s what those still believing they can stop the wars and take care of the planet keep in mind and draw inspiration from.
It’s been a rough going, to tell you the truth, and hardly anyone is springly and sprightly about the prospects ahead of us all. But we’ve carried on so far, so what’s else is there to do? This was supposed to be a more personal letter to you, but somehow got sidestepped.
I’m also taking some chances here, writing this post in the first-person, which to many, reeks of self-importance and insufferable pretension. But it’s called for, as I join my own voice to many others sure to be aired about you today, to a varying degree of relevance.
It also serves the purpose of marking the date, which I much rather celebrate than that of your death, two months from now. Happy Birthday, John. From the great beyond, your art still speaks to us with kind and truthful words. Fortunately, year after year, more people join us, and we can always thank you for the memories.
(*) Originally published on Oct. 9, 2014.