It may have been “twenty years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play,” as the Beatles sang about in their 1967 album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” but I in fact wish to go back one more decade. Old folks like me will well know what I am talking about here.
Exactly thirty years ago today, ex-Beatle John Lennon was shot to death outside of his New York apartment. It is always a great tragedy when anyone’s life is cut short prematurely. Undoubtedly his worldwide legion of fans will be especially saddened today.
He of course is not the only rock celebrity to die young. On occasion I give a talk on popular music. I point out just how many of these lives have been cut short. Indeed, it is incredible just how many rock stars and pop stars have died young. Here are just a few of the more well known cases:
Brian Jones (Rolling Stones), died July 1969, age 27, drug related
Jimi Hendrix, died September 1970, age 27, drug overdose
Jim Morrison (Doors), died July 1971, age 27, drug overdose
Janis Joplin, died October 1970, age 27, drug overdose
Duane Allman (Allman Brothers Band), died October 1971, age 25, motorcycle accident
Elvis Presley, died August 1977, age 42, drug related
Bon Scott (AC/DC), died February 1980, age 33, alcohol related
Stevie Ray Vaughan, died August 1990, age 35, helicopter crash, but drug and alcohol problems
Freddy Mercury (Queen), died November 1991, age 45, AIDS related
Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), died April 1994, age 27, suicide
Michael Hutchence (INXS), died November 1997, aged 37, drug and alcohol related suicide
Michael Jackson, died June 2009, age 50, drug related
There are in fact many hundreds of other such examples. One can ask just what it is about the rock scene that results in so many premature deaths. But let me get back to John Lennon. He was clearly a colourful figure, as well as part of one of the great pop song-writing teams of all time (Lennon and McCartney).
He certainly caused major waves back in 1966 when he said in an interview, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink … We’re more popular than Jesus now – I don’t know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity.” Well, he did not quite get that right. Christianity is still here, while he and the Beatles are not.
It seems that he never did come to know the one true God who created him, and the Redeemer who died to save him. Indeed, he is also noted for his rather silly atheist anthem, “Imagine”. It begins this way:
Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
Well sorry, but we don’t have to imagine what life would be like if people were simply “living for today”. It happens all the time. It is what life in the secular West is now all about. So we can see the fruit of all this. And it doesn’t look all that good to me.
The very fact that he longs for a world of peace simply shows that his proposal (a world with no God or religion) is the wrong answer. It is because John Lennon was a moral being, living in a moral universe, created by a personal moral God, that he could even have such longings. They certainly make no sense in a purely materialistic and chance universe. Why long for peace in such a world? Where and how would such longings arise?
So Lennon may have been a seeker, but it seems he never found what he was really looking for. I too was a seeker, trying drugs and eastern religions and radical politics, and so on – indeed, all the things Lennon was into. But thanks be to God, I did eventually find the object of my search. Or more accurately, I was found by Him.
In fact, we can contrast the life and death of Lennon with another former Beatle. Evidently drummer Ringo Starr has found God in his old age. Earlier this year a British newspaper had this headline: “Why I’ve turned to God at 70, by reformed Ringo Starr”.
The article goes on to say this: “The drummer says he has found God – after taking a long and winding road to enlightenment. He admitted he lost his way when he was younger, both as a Beatle experimenting with marijuana and LSD and afterwards when he suffered alcohol and cocaine problems in the late 1970s. But the musician, who has since become teetotal and quit his 60-a-day cigarette habit, says that religion now plays an important role in his life.
“Starr, who turns 70 later this year, said: ‘I feel the older I get, the more I’m learning to handle life. Being on this quest for a long time, it’s all about finding yourself. ‘For me, God is in my life. I don’t hide from that. I think the search has been on since the 1960s. ‘I stepped off the path there for many years and found my way back onto it, thank God.’ Starr was speaking at an event at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.”
Admittedly there is not enough information here to learn whether he is in fact a born-again Christian, or something else. But it is a good start. Of course he has had thirty more years than Lennon to get his act together. It is hoped that he keeps going until he is fully right with God through Christ.
Wherever he is now at spiritually, there is one thing that I can imagine however. If Starr and the other remaining Beatle, McCartney, do give their lives over to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith, they will indeed find what they have been looking for all along. When George Harrison sang about “My Sweet Lord,” he of course primarily had the gods of the East in mind.
Unfortunately those gods will not save. Only Jesus saves, and he is the only road back to God. Each of the four Beatles has been on various journeys. Two are now dead, and the other two may not be around that much longer – they are getting old.
Let us pray that they find the real deal. Not ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,’ nor ‘Lady Madonna,’ nor ‘Hey Jude,’ but the living Lord Jesus Christ, who made them, died for them, and will one day judge them – and all of us.