Death, John Lennon, and Nostalgia

I don’t want to seem heartless when it comes to the death of John Lennon. While I was only 8 years old when the musical legend was gunned down, I remember it as a sad event, mostly for others, but also for me.

That said, as the 30th anniversary of his murder is being commemorated today in both the mainstream press and blogosphere alike, the thing I can’t get out of my head has little to do with the man and his death and so much more to do with the dominant generational culture.

It’s widely understood that the assassination of John Lennon represented a critical introspective moment for the Baby Boom generation. One follow-through of this line of thought is that the primary significance of his death was for them.

This is simplistic analysis, to be sure. In the big cosmic scheme of things, the story of John Lennon is nothing more than the the story of a man being shot dead in New York city on December 9, 1980. I doubt he was the only man shot dead in New York, or the world, that day. But I am also sure that it was more than one generation’s personal interest that turned this routine death into a story of significance. He had an expansive reach, having lived a life and participated in crafting a culture that touched millions (and continues to do so today).

But the heart of the Baby Boom analysis is, I think, true. His death meant something particular to them, this meaning was critically significant at that moment in history–both our collective one and their generational one.

I don’t begrudge them their nostalgia on this day, nor do I lump all those who are nostalgic and sorrowful today as being Baby Boomers. But the way this commemoration is unfolding says a lot more to me today about that generation than it does the man they remember.

If you read my blog often, you know one of my current obsessions is the way the Baby Boomer generation continues to construct themselves and their sensibilities as something that stand in stark contrast to their actions over the past 30 years. This isn’t about hippies becoming Reaganites as much as it is a core of white, upper class Americans projecting their experience onto the lives of millions who were not them but lived with them; of a generation of senior citizens who continue to live and think in ways that allow them to not confront the fact that they are senior citizens; and a ruling plurality who continues to see themselves as the marginal players in a system they have built and maintained but continue to pretend was dropped in their laps.

This hybridity of amnesia and nostalgia are all over the place today in Boomers’ reflections on the death of John Lennon. In some ways I wonder if their frame of reference and expression aren’t so dominant that many of us outside the generation have no conscious choice other than to recycle it further.

I don’t know.

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