I just read about the death of Marshall Grant, the bassist and close friend of Johnny Cash. Together with Luther Perkins, this trio set the stage for rockabilly music that swept the country in the 1950's. Grant was eighty-three at his passing. The following is about three different men named John, including Mr. Cash. It is from December of 2005.
Something about death, especially premature death, encourages us to make the deceased larger than life. With the recent, in a historical sense, availability of film and video, we feed our fascination with those who departed much before their life expectancy predicted. If the death was violent, mysterious, or unexpected, so much the better. How many documentaries have we seen on the demises of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, and Princess Di? The deaths that haunt us seem to be those talented, tortured souls who possess everything we think would make us happy. Everything obviously is not the answer.
This morning on ABC, I saw a piece on John Lennon's death. His murder at the hands of Mark David Chapman marks its 25th anniversary this Thursday. Lennon, only forty years old and long past his Beatle days, was living in New York with his wife, Yoko Ono, and their son. This was before burly body guards cleared paths for celebrities to keep them from lurking, obsessive fans. Lennon had earlier in the day signed an album for Chapman, even asking his would-be killer if there were anything else he could do for him. Chapman responded to the singer's kindness by shooting him four times in the back, then sitting down to read J.D. Salinger's Catcher In The Rye. For his crime, Chapman received life in prison. Three appeals for parole have all been denied.
This afternoon on PBS, I saw a documentary on John Denver. I despised Denver and his music as a youngster. I thought each song he wrote was a takeoff on the previous one and every other phrase he uttered was "Far out!" Getting older, I appreciate his tremendous writing ability; many of his songs have withstood the test of time. Now, I am a John Denver fan. Like Lennon, Denver died early at fifty-three, being killed in 1997 as the experimental aircraft he was piloting plunged into California's Monterey Bay. In the PBS presentation, accompanied by the mandatory pleas for donations, there was a clip of Denver performing a duet of his standard, Take Me Home, Country Roads. Guess who his singing partner was? None other than one more guitar playing song writer who died recently, Johnny Cash. Cash, whose life was chronicled in a recent movie was known for his black ensemble and poignant lyrics, reflecting a tough Arkansas upbringing and personal tragedy. I object to the graphic nature of rap music but has any lyric been more violent than Cash's "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die?" (From Folsom Prison Blues.)
Lennon, Denver, and Cash remain popular posthumously. Something in their personas connects with Americans across a spectrum of ages, ideologies, and tastes. I'd just embarked in teaching when Lennon was gunned down. One student was beside herself and wrote me the longest letter of my life, describing her devastation at the death of one of the Fab Four. The young lady was touched by Lennon's working class roots and peace efforts. I felt no connection with any of those men. I know little about their views on God except the Beatles were condemned for Lennon's statement that they were more popular than Jesus. (His explanation: he meant no disrespect and thought it was sad that it was the case.) My three favorite Johns are in the Bible- First, Second, and Third John, epistles penned by the 'apostle whom Jesus loved.' Second and Third John are very short, totalling twenty-seven verses. First John is more comprehensive and written in the simplest Greek- it's often used as the first translation assignment for seminary students. John, an old man and probably the only survivor of the Twelve, discourses on the nature of the Father and Son and how Christians should love each other. The other Johns wrote some great stuff. My favorites:
John Lennon-If I Fell
John Denver-How Can I Leave You Again?
Johnny Cash-I Walk The LineBut those songs pale when compared to these words of my favorite John in First John 1:7:
"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin."
Talk about standing the test of time- two thousand years and still heard in the reading of scripture on every continent and in every language! His words carry the force of the Holy Spirit and the power of the Lord. John Lennon penned All You Need Is Love but there was no mention of God. The apostle John summed love up by writing, "God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him." (First John 4:16) That's it. The poets of the world can rhyme but they have limited vocabularies. The poets of God write with the language and wisdom that comes from heaven. Heaven's words will last. Like those three singers, our words will pass away.
Applicable quote of the day:
"The biggest problem in the world is that we have a generation of young people and maybe two who don't think it's going to get any better."
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org