My younger son, Chris, was born five years after John Lennon’s death. As a kid he listened to Beatles music, forced into it by his parents’ musical taste, but it meant little to him. They were a generation ago and kids don’t care about the past, only the future.
Chris is a man with his own unique style, not just musically, but in appearance. According to his social media bio, he’s ‘The Prince of Strange’. His ever-changing hairstyles generate comment, much as the Beatles’ did, and he’s heavily inked. Tattoos are now mainstream, but in my youth, had I introduced a boy with a tatt to my parents, I wouldn’t have been allowed to speak to any boy again. Ever. Tatts were for thugs, wharfies, gang members, and those with dubious, drunken judgment.
But I love my son’s tattoos. The full ‘sleeves’ on both arms tell layered stories. Each image is thoughtful, representing a crafted tribute to family or to one of his passions. The art is intricate, executed by skilled practitioners. The sleeves are completed in stages over many years and at 22, Chris shows me the latest addition, the word imagine on his right upper arm. With little colour around it, it’s distinct from all the other art.
John Lennon? I ask. Didn’t know you were a fan. He answers:
It’s not about being a fan of Lennon’s specifically. It’s about the simplicity and value of the song’s message. My tatt isn’t just about Lennon’s call to action, but for me it has a triple meaning: that imagination is our greatest asset, that there’s always hope for the possible, that imagination will beat ruthless power. It’s what will remove boundaries and reminds us that we have to imagine what that looks like before we can make it a reality.
It casts me back to when I was 16, and first heard the gentle piano intro of Imagine. Full of adolescent angst, like the rest of my generation, I worry about the state of the world, especially the ongoing Vietnam War. Conscription in Australia with its potential to swallow up all the boys in my circle, won’t end until late 1972. Having little power over all that, Imagine is the perfect song to play on rotation while my friends and I ponder where our elders have screwed up. For us it says, “See oldies? That’s how things should be.”
Chris is a long way removed from my historic concerns, but the world he inhabits faces equal challenges. He works in the demanding sphere of mental health services, often with people caught between huge societal divides. He holds strong opinions about the state of politics, the environment, organised religion, social justice, and the inequitable distribution of wealth. His idealist spirit echoes Lennon’s lyrics of nearly a half-century ago, reinforcing the enduring essence of their message. Chris tells me:
The song’s a sit-down pep talk. Even Lennon admitted to a dark side, got himself involved in too many substances and some questionable choices, but did that diminish his message? He changed and tried to live out what he was asking of us all. If we want peace, we need to focus on our common humanity; on what’s similar between us, not what’s different.
I ask him if he has a favourite line. Immediately he says:
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one”. There’s a lot of us trying to make a difference.
Again, I hear the voice of youth say, “See oldies? That’s how things should be”, and I’m glad he’s one of those dreamers, aspiring to make the world “be as one”.
Now 34, Chris towers over me. He’s boisterous and affectionate, teasing me as he hugs me tightly. In one of those many embraces, my head rests near the word imagine and I think about our connection. Like the ink on his arm, it’s indelible. I look up at him, contemplating the passionate man he’s become and wonder how, despite stumbling through motherhood, I managed to get some of it so right. It makes me believe I’m leaving my tiny piece of the planet in safe arms.
Lucia is presenting an Introduction to Creative Writing at the Newport Community Hub on Saturday morning 22 February 2020. More details via Hobsons Bay Libraries.