John Lennon: Still The Stuff We Itch For

By Leo Sadorf

Brer Pig didn’t post anything for Lennon’s birthday. Instead, he handed the job to me.  I turn to Jinx and the damn cat goes off chasing one of those invisible somethings that only cats see.  Thanks, buddy. I guess the Pondering Pig will be posting this a day late.

John and I grew up together, albeit thousands of miles and a good part of a generation apart. Me in the Eisenhower midwest of the late ‘50’s and 60’s and him in the bombing raids on Liverpool in the early ‘40s. Yeah, me and John had a lot in common.

Lots of us loved John, but probably an equal number were pushed away or pissed by him. Love and hate are, after all, the same coin.  John’s mission, if you will, was to rile people and enliven their responses. He probably craved acceptance as much or maybe more than we do. But he saw that he was gonna piss off everyone eventually and he accepted that, pushing forward in spite of how much it may have hurt.

John succeeded and screwed up. He laughed and cried and screamed. He made millions that didn’t matter, imagining a larger cause than popularity.  Or did he?  What I’m more concerned with is the way he felt and the ways we’ve felt as a result.  Sometimes it seems like we live in soulless times.  But, yeah, so did John.  A quick listen to a scratchy vinyl “Working Class Hero” confirmed that quickly with the words, “But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see.” Yeah, go Johnnie.

John wasn’t in the friend making business, I guess.

So, why do we listen to the guy? I guess because he touches us. Even dead, he speaks of stuff we itch for or struggle to come to grips with or spit out completely.  Man, I listen to John and I hear love and hate and pathos and tragedy and cynicism and anger and fear.

But through it all, I still hear love.  Love for that one illusive girl, love for his kids, love for Yoko, even a frustrated love for his former bandmates at times. The man stomped on the terra, that’s for sure.

In 1978, I met a guy named Nick Topping.  He was a Milwaukee promoter/entrepreneur/shopkeeper. Old Nick was the guy that brought the Beatles to Milwaukee, September 4, 1964.   That was a new kind of gig for Nick. He was usually promoting the likes of Cisco Houston or Odetta or Pete Seeger. The Beatles show was definitely a stretch.

Nick had a weird sort of menagerie of a shop, selling goat cheese, imported wines and Weaver albums, pushing Socialist causes, open housing and antiwar organizations.  One day, my pal Larry and I wandered into his shop looking for stories and Nick had ‘em. He told us about the show and how, when it was over, he spent some time with the boys, especially John.  Seems John was particularly gregarious that evening and he and Nick emptied a bottle of Ouzo together. 

Nick remembered a sad but still laughing Lennon who was concerned that the people liked the show. Nick said the boy was looking for acceptance and love, that he was tender and ornery at the same time.  Nick thought he was, at 24, “the oldest young man I’d ever met.” It was a short time he and John had together, but John touched him none the less.

Lennon lived, that’s for certain. He beat a path on his own terms and succeeded and suffered for it at the same time. I hope someday I can say the same.

“War is over, if you want it. War is over now.”

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4 thoughts on “John Lennon: Still The Stuff We Itch For

  1. Excellent piece, Leo. Lennon was, and always will be, my favorite Beatle – We all had a ‘favorite’ one, didn’t we? – as well as one of my personal heroes because, not only because of his enormous talent, but also because of the stances he embraced and the chances he took.

    I well remember the night in February 1964 when the boys first appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” It was a huge, monumental event…and I missed it. I was a high school senior who was working as a bus boy at The Denver Drumstick on Colorado Blvd at the time and my cruel, vicious boss wouldn’t, despite my tearful begging, give me the night off. Consequently, I spent several miserable hours pouting in a mostly empty chicken joint while everyone else was planted in front of a TV.

    I think that’s part of the reason I’m so screwed up.

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  2. Thanks Greg.

    When they were on Sullivan in’64, I was a wee bit younger than you old guys, but the impact was still the same. The difference was I saw it and , alas, you didn’t.

    Sure, I’d seen Elvis and Buddy Holly, but the Beatles were different. It wasn’t just a performance. No, it was the beginning of a group mind, a corporate venture. Ok, maybe Ringo and George weren’t songwriters, but I doubt that John and Paul could have done it the same without them. It really was a group mind, and that was something new in popular music. I could go on and on about how that works, but I think you old mugs already know about that.

    It doesn’t happen often enough but, when it does, the world seems to be turned on end, doesn’t it? I can only count a handful of times that’s happened in my short life and I’ll bet the old guys out there can’t count too many more.

    leo

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  3. Good stuff, Leo. Of course I wasn’t anywhere near being born at that big event, but we had enough Beatles blasting on the LP at our house growing up for me to feel like they were part of my generation. They seemed to be requirement background music for Saturday morning cleaning. And Steeleye Span for painting, wallpaper scraping and other odd house-fixing jobs the Olde Pig might undertake in his time off.

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