Sixty-six years ago, a small plane took off from southern England for Paris. It never made it. On board was a 40 year old Army Air Force major, who before the war had been the most popular musician in America. His music is still listened to and enjoyed today, even though popular music has since moved in a dramatically different direction. The young major was, of course, Glenn Miller.
Last week, much attention was given to the 30th anniversary of the death of another popular 40 year old musician. This musician was gunned down outside his apartment in Manhattan. His music is still listened to and enjoyed today, and will likely be listened to and enjoyed many years from now. The young musician was, of course, John Lennon.
Among the places noting the anniversary of Lennon's death was the American Conservative, which ran a provocative piece by Jordan Michael Smith making the case that Lennon had moved away from the New Left and toward a kind of non-political conservatism by the time of his death, based largely on the final interview Lennon gave, to Playboy. Smith's piece is a good read, and I suppose it gives conservatives who like Lennon's music a reason to feel less ashamed. But a comparison of these two popular musicians who died young shows just how fatuous it is to claim any rock star, much less John Lennon, for any type of conservatism.
Unlike Lennon, Miller never presumed that his musical talent gave him political insight. He wore a jacket and tie in public, and he was neatly groomed. He did not use drugs or stage "bed-ins" or thrust the bizarre Yoko Ono (or anyone like her) into the spotlight. He never wrote a song as strange as "Revolution 9" or as evil as "Imagine." He did not use drugs or follow the Maharishi or say "We're more popular than Jesus now." Nor did Miller ever give an interview to a magazine like Playboy.
It may be objected, of course, that Miller was merely following the mores of his time. I don't deny that. Indeed, for all I know, Miller was a New Deal Democrat. But Lennon did more than follow the mores of his time. He helped to establish those mores, and to bring down the more civilized mores that shaped Miller's generation. There is no denying Lennon's great skill as a musician, but conservatives should not pretend that Lennon's influence was a positive one. As for me, I'll go on listening to "Moonlight Serenade."
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.