Of course, the big question for music fans would be if Lennon would ever consider working with Paul McCartney again. Linda McCartney noted that her husband was “desperate” to write with Lennon, and it came close to happening in early 1975, when Wings settled in New Orleans to work on their “Venus and Mars” album. Lennon planned to join them in February, but his sudden reconciliation with Ono (the couple had split in the fall of 1973) curtailed those plans.
Though Lennon tended to dismiss the idea of a Beatles reunion as akin to “going back to high school” — something he had no interest in doing — he declined to say it would never happen. “Nobody wanted to be the one to say ‘Never,’” he explained to Graustark. “And nobody wanted to be the one to say ‘Maybe,’ because every time you said ‘Maybe’ somebody took an ad out in the paper saying ‘I’m the one who’s bringing them back together’ … It came to a point where you couldn’t say a damn thing — whatever you said was something wrong.”
After Lennon’s death, it was learned that as part of a court case Apple Corp. was bringing against the producers of the impersonator show “Beatlemania,” Lennon had sworn out an affidavit saying that he and the other Beatles “have plans to stage a reunion concert, to be recorded, filmed and marketed around the world.” In his book “You Never Give Me Your Money: The Beatles After The Breakup,” Peter Doggett speculates that the affidavit was “little less than perjury,” as there were no plans for such a concert, Lennon’s statement being more to shore up the case against the show.
But Apple’s CEO, and The Beatles’ longtime friend Neil Aspinall, was in the process of preparing a feature-length documentary on the group, then entitled “The Long And Winding Road”; had it come out in the ’80s, it’s not unthinkable that the group would have done some kind of reunion as part of the promotion. Instead, the film morphed into the TV show (and later video set) “The Beatles Anthology” — which did have an “audio” reunion of sorts, with the remaining Beatles creating two songs using Lennon’s demos of “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love.”
Or perhaps a reunion might have taken place at a charity event, though Lennon was more outspoken about not participating in such shows again. “I don’t want to have anything to do with benefits,” he told “Playboy” journalist David Sheff. “Because they’re always rip-offs … There’s always this terrible atmosphere … It’s an absolute rip-off, but it makes the artist look good. ‘Isn’t he a good boy!’”
But if Lennon wouldn’t have played a Live Aid (or a Live 8), he would certainly have continued his involvement with various causes. The week after he was murdered, Lennon and Ono were planning to take time out from promoting “Double Fantasy” to fly to San Francisco and join a protest organized by the Japanese employees of various local food importers, who were striking for higher pay. The couple had already sent the group a note of support, which read in part: “We are with you in spirit. Both of us are subjected to prejudice and abuse as an Oriental family in the Western world.”
Lennon’s concern about the food Sean was eating as a child would have fit in neatly with the growing environmental movement. He’d consistently spoken out in favor of civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights, and would no doubt have continued to do so. And changes in technology were about to make that easier to do. The rise of the Internet would have been perfect for someone like Lennon, who dabbled in writing, but invariably put his efforts aside when he grew bored. But blog entries don’t have to be long or in-depth. On his own personal Web site — LenOnoBlog.com perhaps? — Lennon could have commented on the news of the day, posted links to stories that caught his eye, and rallied supporters to whatever cause he was currently involved with. Virtual billboards could be launched on the anniversary of Lennon and Ono’s “War Is Over (If You Want It)” event. Webcams would have expanded the audience of any live events, with viewers invited to post comments as the event was going on; Lennon always encouraged dialogues, and audience participation of some sort was a regular feature of Ono’s work.
Though the couple might not have gone so far as to have their own reality TV show, they’d been documenting their own lives on camera for so long they could easily have set up a channel on YouTube showcasing excerpts from their impressive archives. Lennon was also an avid collector of bootlegs. As streaming and digital downloads became more of a part of music distribution, Lennon may well have become interested in making rarities available through his own Web site, as countless musicians do today.
Lennon also spoke about getting involved in other creative endeavors. There was the idea for a musical based on their lives, entitled (what else?) “The Ballad of John and Yoko.” Or perhaps a non-autobiographical story could have been created using Lennon’s songs, a la “Mamma Mia,” which draws on ABBA’s songs. He spoke to David Sheff about doing a series of books about his mother and her four sisters, along the lines of “The Forsyte Saga” series of novels that chronicled the lives of a well-off British family. Lennon had continued to draw and write poems during his “house husband” years, works sometimes left uncompleted because of a lack of direction and focus. With his creativity now newly recharged, he could have continued work along these lines, perhaps hosting exhibitions of his work. The advent of digital photography would also have excited a man always interested in “instant” results.
Would he have been knighted? McCartney managed to become Sir Paul despite being a convicted drug user, and a songwriter who’d once blithely sung about the Queen, “Her majesty’s a pretty nice girl/but she doesn’t have a lot to say.” Lennon’s having returned his M.B.E. in 1969 might have scuppered his chances, but had he gone on to do good works that might have changed.
Especially if he had returned to live in England. Toward the end of his life, he’d become increasingly nostalgic about the land of his birth, asking his aunt Mimi to send over his old school tie, among other possessions. Though he loved the energy of New York City, he also felt the world was open to him. On his 40th birthday, Bob Gruen asked Lennon if he’d consider becoming an American citizen. “I’m British,” Lennon had replied. “It’s an Englishman’s right to live wherever he pleases.” He did plan on visiting Britain in 1981, and perhaps would have been inspired to buy a home there. As he grew older, and Sean left school, he might have returned to his native land while maintaining homes in America (as the other Beatles did). He’d already imagined retiring there, telling Rolling Stone’s Jann Wenner he hoped he and Ono would be “a nice old couple living off the coast of Ireland or something like that, looking at our scrapbook of madness.”
“Life Begins At 40” was one of the last songs Lennon wrote. It was intended for Ringo Starr, who also turned 40 in 1980. And Lennon fully believed in the sentiment; turning 40 at the dawn of a new decade meant the chance to make a fresh start. “God willing, there are another 40 years of productivity to go,” he optimistically told David Sheff. But fate, sadly, had other plans.
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