By David Perry
Forty years after John Lennon was gunned down outside his New York City apartment, his enduring legacy as a Beatle, peace activist and solo artist drew fans from UML’s community together for a panel discussion, “I Read the News Today, Oh Boy: Remembering John Lennon.”
For two hours, the panel − John Wooding, professor emeritus of political science and former provost; Paul Marion ’76, ‘05, retired executive director of community relations for UML; and a pair of Distinguished University Professors, Robert Forrant (history) and William Moylan (sound recording technology) — discussed their recollections of Lennon and their perspective on his impact on music and culture. They were joined by an audience of more than 120 at the Dec. 8 event, which was held via Zoom.
The evening began with a photo/video music montage prepared by Moylan 30 years ago, for a program on the 10th anniversary of Lennon’s death.
Each talked about their favorite Beatle and Lennon songs. Their remembrances were deeply personal, even emotional.
Forrant was a big fan of the music, but he recalled Lennon’s legacy in terms of his activism. Marion remembered the group’s “spaceship-like” descent onto American soil on Feb. 9, 1964, and its instant infusion into American culture. British-born Wooding spoke of growing up in England as a working-class kid and finding these musicians – particularly Lennon − who spoke for him.
Both Moylan and Wooding credited Lennon with leading them to lives as committed pacifists.
Moylan, as a musician, recording engineer and producer, spoke with authority of Lennon’s musical contributions. He said he couldn’t listen to the song “Come Together” for a decade after the shooting because of the “shhh” sound Lennon makes at the beginning of the song.
“If you listen carefully with a trained ear and on a quality playback system,” Moylan noted, Lennon actually says “shoot me.”
Forrant recalled singing “Give Peace A Chance” at anti-war protests in the late ‘60s. He spoke of Lennon’s awareness that music could be a force in politics, and his willingness to use it. He said Lennon’s activism earned him FBI surveillance, and delayed him from getting U.S. citizenship.
Marion was 10 when the Beatles made their live U.S. television debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
“My life changed in a night. Something happened to me being exposed to that sound. The look was important, too,” Marion said. “They had the key to my emotional lockbox. The sheer joy of their music was something new to me.” And it has never left him.
Wooding recalled how the Beatles gave working-class kids like him pride.
“Lennon in particular was such a refreshing role model for us,” he said.
Lennon’s iconic round glasses helped many people see more clearly, Wooding said.
“In the 1960s in England, if you were a kid and needed glasses, you got them through the National Health Care system,” he said. “The little round glasses sort of marked you out as being poor or not very wealthy.”
But Lennon wearing those glasses made it possible for working-class kids to wear them and be cool.
“I don’t know if that was deliberate on his part, but it certainly changed how people think,” Wooding said.
The program was sponsored by Lowell City of Learning, UML’s Department of Music and the university’s alumni Virtual Village.