People tend to see Lennon as some sort of divine guru of peace and love because of his political activities in the early 1970s. The truth is that most of Lennon’s reputation as a political activist is based on photos of him with various ‘60s radicals and his own press statements. He never actually did anything whatsoever of note in the political realm, and most of the radicals he cultivated thought he was an ignorant poseur. The few things he did actually do, like giving money and publicity to violent groups like the Black Panthers, are nothing to be proud of.
4. Follower Not a Leader
This is true of pretty much all the Beatles, but with Lennon it’s particularly obvious. In the beginning he was following the American rhythm and blues tradition with a smattering of Roy Orbison-style pop ballads. Later he’s obviously trying to channel Bob Dylan. Then he’s aping the psychedelic stylings of the California drug bands. After that, he gloms on to avant-garde, John Cage-influenced (above) modern art music. Truth be told, there wasn’t much Lennon did that hadn’t been done before by more original and talented artists.
3. Mindless Conformist
Despite his reputation as a freethinker following his own path, Lennon was an obvious case of someone desperate to fit in. Yes, he was trying to fit in with groups that were considered non-conformist, but conformism is conformism. Right from the beginning, Lennon was posing. Back in the day, the teddy-boy look was the in thing, so he shows up in leather jackets and a pompadour. Then its the cute pop look. Then the psychedelic hippie thing. Then the angry avant-garde hipster. It never ends. Everything about Lennon, from his music and politics to the way he dressed, was an attempt to fit in with sub- or counter-cultures that already existed.
2. Desperate for Money and Fame
As much he liked to pretend to be a misunderstood artist following his own uncompromising vision, the truth is that Lennon pursued fame and fortune from the beginning. Even in the early days when the Beatles were a struggling bar band, he used to extol them by saying they would go “to the topper most of the popper most.” He happily went along with the Beatles’ haircuts, suits, and calculated image; as well as the band’s innumerable media appearances; only denouncing it all as shallow and empty later in life, when he was cultivating an avant-garde reputation. His relentless antics with Yoko Ono in the early ‘70s now seem to be such a blatant plea for attention that one wonders how anyone took them seriously back then. And of course, he never turned down any of the fat paychecks that came his way as a result of his fame and success.
This is the toughest one and the hardest to say in public, mainly because Lennon’s murderer (above) cited it as his primary motive, but that doesn’t make it any less true: Lennon was a perfect example of someone who lived by the hypocritical dictum of “do as I say, not as I do.” As his critics sometimes point out, all you have to do is go straight to his songs. The man who sang “imagine no possessions” lived a millionaire’s life in a posh New York hotel. The man who sang “imagine no religion” was obsessed with every spiritual and New Age fad that came his way, including Hindu meditation, the I-Ching, and astrology of all kinds. The man who sang “all you need is love” was a bitter, violent, and angry man who abused his family and friends. The man who praised having “nothing to kill or die for” helped finance and publicize radical groups who extolled the use of violence. Quite literally everything his fans see personified in the icon of John Lennon are ideals the man himself either couldn’t or wouldn’t live up to.