Dead Englishmen

John Lennon and JRR Tolkien, that is.

They died many years apart. Tolkien died in England, peacefully, smelling the ocean air. Lennon died in New York City on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. I don’t know what he was smelling: perhaps city air, or his own blood.

Lennon and Tolkien are an unlikely combination. Two obvious commonalities: they were Limeys, and artists. Tolkien had a greater creative imagination, in my opinion, and was a scholar. Lennon was a rabble-rouser who rode the tide of his generation and then escaped it, before – or perhaps, after – it engulfed him. His death was a rude anticlimax to a rude career.

I was reading Tolkien for the first time the year John Lennon was murdered. I had moved out west and was working, oddly enough, as a printer;  like Mark Chapman. I thought I was running towards my life but ended up feeling like I was running away from it. I was gathering myself to head back home. But Tolkien had captured me: my mind, my heart, my imagination.  I had almost finished the trilogy when the news hit about Lennon’s murder.

I was in my room on Pacific Beach. I finished the trilogy the day of John Lennon’s death, and started crying. I wept because the best story I’ve ever read was over. I wept because life goes on whether you win or lose, whether you live or die. Epic battles, like musical careers, come and go like the tide. Everything passes, whether in death or beyond the gray havens. Everything passes. Hmmm, this is starting to sound like a George Harrison song…

My time out west passed, and a dream died. It wasn’t the first dream, it would not be the last. Lennon’s death was the end of a generation’s dream, leaving John’s mavens dead, but too dumb to lie down. The end of Middle Earth was equally bittersweet. And then there was my life…

I’m a Limey too. And an artist, though obviously on a much smaller scale. And I’m still alive, unless I’m dead and too dumb – or stubborn – to lie down. JRR Tolkien, requiescat in pacem. John Lennon, may Mother Mary call to you and bring you to your true home.

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