Wednesday, Oct. 9, is John Lennon’s birthday. It’s hard to believe that he would have been 73. If you know me, you know that I am a huge Beatles fan. When I was a teenager, I was absolutely fanatical about them. John, in particular, was my favorite Beatle. But it wasn’t just his music, both while with the group and during his solo career, that I loved. It was his story, his personal history.
Like me, John lived with his aunt and had an on again, off again relationship with his dysfunctional mother. Like me, John’s father abandoned him when he was a baby. And like me, John was a terrible student in high school, except when it came to art class.
I related so much to him as a person, and the songs he wrote about his painful past, that I clung to his celebrity in a—looking back on it now—most unhealthy way. Because I allowed myself to justify the poor choices I made back then—the poor grades, the daydreaming, the lack of any real motivation to make something of myself. I was convinced that because Lennon made it through the pain of his childhood, the fact that he found fame and fortune, that I would as well. But the difference is he had an uncanny musical talent and pursued his love of music. Me? I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to be. But I thought for sure that whenever I decided what it was, success would find me. And therein was the problem.
We all have heroes. And we all daydream. Both of these things are good for us. They are what make us hopeful for the future. They are what help us strive to be better people. They help us reach our goals. Inspire us. Motivate us. Lennon did that for me. I believed that whatever I was going to be, whenever I discovered my own true passion—the same passion Lennon had for music—that I would catapult to fame; no hard work required. I simply didn't get it.
When I was younger, despite having read books upon books about the Beatles, and watching documentaries and movies about the group and how they rose to fame, I chose to look at only their talent and ignore what truly made the Beatles, and Lennon, so truly good at what they did: practice.
The Beatles may have exploded onto American soil in 1964, but before they got famous, they spent from 1960 to 1962 playing dingy clubs in their hometown of Liverpool, and all over England, as well as Hamburg, Germany. The many times the Beatles toured Hamburg, they played for hours on end, seven days a week, for very little pay. They played for rough crowds and often stayed the night at the clubs they performed in, which smelled of beer, stale cigarettes and urine. Their sets lasted so long that they learned to improvise, honing their showmanship skills and mastering their instruments. Hamburg was, as George Harrison once put it, their “apprenticeship.”
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in my early 20s. I used to talk about it all the time. But I didn’t really do much about it. And part of me regrets that. But the other part of me realizes that perhaps I had to go through a variety of jobs in which I didn’t want to work, struggle a bit, let life kick me in the ass a few times, to really get a sense of who I am and what I’m capable of doing when it comes down to it. And it forced me to take a chance, to actually do some writing, submit it to a publication, and see what happened. I figured I could write myself out of a situation if I didn’t like it.
That was about seven years ago, And I’m still working at it. And I’m getting bolder; and more confident. I’ve maintained a weekly column for more than a year while working a full-time job, raising two boys, trying to be a devoted husband and maintain some sort of social life with my friends. And, at the same time, I’m freelancing for another publication and submitting pitches to prominent, national publications. And though I’m getting rejected, I’m learning from it. I’m honing my skills. Right now, this is my Hamburg. I don’t expect to be any sort of John Lennon in the literary or journalism world. That’s not realistic nor is it something I necessarily want. What I want is to be happy, to be able to be creative and express myself in the way I feel most comfortable doing, and that’s through writing. And I’m getting there, one dingy club at a time.
Happy Birthday John. Thanks for the life lesson. It only took me 20 years or so to figure it out.
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