Lennon Lives

The former Beatle's 70th birthday is marked by films, albums, concerts and more. Why we still can't let John go

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Jane Bown / Camera Press / Retna

John Lennon photographed backstage before a Beatles gig at the Granada in East Ham, England. March 9, 1963.

We still miss John Lennon. The late Beatle would have turned 70 on Oct. 9, and while it's been 30 years since that cold December evening when he was gunned down by a deranged fan outside his New York City apartment, the music world is still throwing him a party. Several parties, in fact. Not to mention two movies, a Grammy Museum exhibit, a limited-edition Gibson guitar, reunions by both the Quarrymen (his band before the Beatles) and the Plastic Ono Band (the one that came after), a performance by Yoko Ono and Lady Gaga on Oct. 2 and a $200 box set of all of his solo albums, remastered and packaged with a collection of his personal photos and home recordings. John Lennon may no longer be with us, but try as we might, we just can't let him go.

In the 30 years since his death, Lennon has gone from star to icon to legend. Fans have spent decades poring over every detail of his life, fueling a rich trade in bootlegs, ticket stubs and autographs. Even his toilet sold for $14,700 at auction this year. The Beatles' 1 — a 2000 compilation album featuring all 27 of the group's No. 1 hits — has sold 11.7 million copies, making it the best-selling album of the decade. Not bad for a band that hasn't existed since 1970.

The Man
Here is what we know about John Lennon: He lived for 40 years and two months. He had three bands, two wives and two sons. Per the 2009 British biopic Nowhere Boy, out in the U.S. Oct. 8, Lennon (played by Kick-Ass star Aaron Johnson) had an unhappy childhood — his father was absent, and his mother left his upbringing largely up to his aunt — and joined his first band at 15. He released 13 albums with the Beatles and between seven and 11 on his own, depending on whether you count his live recordings and projects such as 1969's Wedding Album, for which he and Ono collected tapes of random noises and their own voices. He acted in films, wrote poetry and drew a number of crude yet evocative pen-and-ink scribbles that sell for thousands of dollars. Today he has more than 600,000 fans on Facebook. (The Beatles have 8 million.)

Lennon responded to fame with an appreciative but often apprehensive attitude, and his dry sense of humor sometimes got him into trouble. On good days, he was funny. When asked in 1964 what it was about the Beatles that made kids go wild, he replied, "If we knew, we'd form another group and be managers." On bad days, he made provocative remarks like the one in 1966 that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus," which caused U.S. radio stations to ban the group from the airwaves. Lennon apologized and was forgiven. Also overlooked were his brief heroin addiction, his inconsistent relationship with his first son, his 18-month-long break from Ono and that one night in the 1970s when he ran around Los Angeles with a Kotex tampon stuck to his head.

The Myth
Lennon was the unpredictable beatle, the one it felt a little dangerous to like. Paul McCartney retained the same doe-eyed, approachable demeanor throughout the Beatles' incandescent career and beyond. But Lennon kept changing. He became artsy, political, bohemian, an ardent supporter of peace. When he and Ono hosted their 1969 honeymoon bed-ins, declared "War Is Over! (If You Want It)" on billboards or sang "Imagine," it didn't matter that the hopeful messages would never really come true. What mattered was the way he made people feel connected — and that many still yearn to feel that way today.

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