So farewell then, John Lennon

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The Independent Online
I can't remember what I was doing or where I was the day I heard that John Lennon had been shot, but I do remember what I thought when I heard the news, which was: "Serve him right."

It seems a shocking reaction now and I was vaguely shocked by myself at the time, which is why I don't mention it often, but although I liked all the books he wrote and some of the songs he wrote, I always thought John Lennon was also a traitor to music, in the nicest possible way, and I'd like to explain why.

The fact was that I grew up in North Wales and I fell in love with jazz early on, which placed me in an impossible situation because North Wales was not a good place in which to be a jazz-lover; there was no jazz being played in North Wales then, and there was nowhere I could buy jazz records. Well, there was Crane's in Wrexham and there was Hilda Catherall's record shop in Chester, but the nearest really good place was NEMS record shop in Liverpool, which meant I had to travel abroad, from Wales to England, to get a good jazz record.

They had a wonderful selection of the latest American jazz LPs at NEMS. You could get to Liverpool from Wrexham by direct train, and I did, whenever possible, and headed straight for NEMS record shop, jazz department, to get the latest Art Blakey, or Miles Davis, or Gerry Mulligan, blissfully ignorant of the fact that NEMS record shop was owned by Brian Epstein ...

Except that one day I became aware, as I shuffled through the jazz racks, that they were playing a pop record over and over again in the shop.

Pop I never paid attention to. How could I? I was a jazz snob. Jazz was exciting and adventurous. Pop was dull and repetitive and sweaty and adolescent, and I, too, was dull and repetitive and sweaty and adolescent, which was why I wanted to get away from all that, and why I was into jazz.

I asked the girl, as I bought my Sonny Rollins LP, who this pop record was by.

"It's a local group," she said, "called the Beatles. We think they're going to be very big. This is their first single."

I listened to the record. I looked at the photo of the group. I studied the name of the group. The Beatles. I said to myself, "This is one group that is never going to make it", and forgot all about them.

A year later they were the biggest thing since shoelaces, and the jazz record selection at NEMS had shrunk appreciably.

Now, this in itself is not an adequate reason to wish John Lennon dead. The reason I resented him was that the group he played for was responsible for the eclipsing of the music I loved, jazz.

Until the pop revolution ushered in by the Beatles, jazz really was the respectable alternative to classical music. Most students had records by Miles Davis or Dave Brubeck or the MJQ in their collection. Most of them knew that MJQ stood for Modern Jazz Quartet. Then along came the Beatles and everyone suddenly saw that pop could be quality and jazz went into the doldrums. They didn't buy it any more, and jazz musicians starved in the wonderful Sixties.

John Lennon even said he hated jazz. "Jazz," he said, "is just a lot of old blokes drinking beer at the bar, smoking pipes and not listening to the music."

This was dreadfully unfair. Not only was it dreadfully unfair, it was true of certain sorts of jazz. John Lennon was probably the guy after whom the group Johnny Hates Jazz was named. He had to die.

Don't get me wrong, as I think I may have said already, I didn't dislike the Beatles. I bought most of their records as they came out. I went to a concert of theirs at the Odeon Hammersmith in the mid-Sixties and saw them, even if I couldn't hear them, owing to the thousands of screaming teenage girls round me. I gave Paul McCartney a job, when I was literary editor of Punch, and persuaded him to review a book for our book pages. It was the Paul Simon Songbook, and he quite liked it.

I even saw Yoko Ono singing at the Albert Hall during an Ornette Coleman concert in the late Sixties, and if you have never heard Yoko Ono sing, then I can tell you that she is every bit as terrible as you can imagine, and John Lennon deserved her.

Anyway, that's why I cheered guiltily and silently when John Lennon was obituarised. So die all enemies of jazz, I thought.

Jazz used to be the nonconformist music. I think it still is. There is nothing more boringly mainstream than rock music, these days. Perhaps there never was.