A season of retrospectives, including the first-ever digital release, "Working Class Hero," celebrates the timeless legacy of the late, great artist By Alan Light
Among the A-list demigods in rock-and-roll history, John Lennon is the most human. Bob Dylan
is vaguely otherworldly, touched by grace ("You can just look at him and see that," said producer Bob Johnston in the recent "No Direction Home" documentary). Jimi Hendrix
-- R&B road veteran, paratrooper, instrumental visionary, dead at 27 -- was clearly not of this earth. Mick Jagger
feels untouchable, whereas Keith Richards
remains a perfect cartoon outlaw, brandishing his five-string Fender like a pirate's cutlass.
But Lennon never seemed out of reach. It's why his image -- and usually, though not always, his music -- has aged so well and why it's still so shocking to think about his murder. He introduced, or at least perfected, the whole idea of humanity, fallibility and individuality to rock songwriting. As far back as songs such as "Help" and "In My Life," he expressed genuine vulnerability -- not just teenage melodrama -- in ways that were previously impossible to imagine. Dylan opened the doors for unprecedented, experimental new lyrical directions, but he adamantly refused to ever reveal himself so directly. Lennon was all about letting us inside his head, and his world. It's no surprise, then, that Lennon craved and thrived on the democracy and chaos of New York City, and, horribly, it's somehow inevitable that such accessibility led to his death at the hands of a self-proclaimed fan.
This season marks two significant anniversaries. October 9 would have been John Lennon's 65th birthday. On December 8, 25 years will have passed since his murder, absurd and implausible as that sounds. Taking stock of Lennon is always a complicated task, because our human-scale relationship with his mythology renders him impossible to pin down. He tends to reflect whatever you choose to see in him. In Walt Whitman's over-quoted words, Lennon contradicted himself, and he contained multitudes. He was an activist and a homebody, a cynic and a romantic. His legacy is whatever you make it -- and he wouldn't have had it any other way.