Artists Speak Truth To Power

We cans sure use some can’t we?


John Lennon would have turned 80 this week.

That’s kind of a jarring fact. It’s also jarring that he has been gone as long as he lived, having been murdered outside his home in 1980. He was only 40 years old.
I was 16 when John Lennon died and his shocking loss was a traumatic experience for me and my friends.
It was so hard to fathom—how someone so young, so accomplished, so brilliant and so important could be taken away in an instant.
How could John be gone? He was a Beatle. He had just made a comeback with an album tragically and sadly called “Starting Over.”
How could someone so amazing and important be gone forever?
Forty years later, we all know how fragile life is. Tomorrow never knows, as The Beatles song goes.
When John died, we ventured to Central Park to attend a vigil. It’s a memory I will never forget, hundreds of thousands of grief stricken people gathering to pay tribute to an artist who touched their lives deeply.
And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.
Truer words have never been spoken.
The great ones touch our minds and our hearts. Great music and  great art can make us happy or sad, it can force us to confront truths we are sometimes uncomfortable to acknowledge.
The best artists hang it all out there. John Lennon was not afraid to take risks, he was not content to be trapped in a box and labeled as one of four cute mop tops.
John wanted more. He was daring and that spoke to me even if I winced at some of his work. That’s another characteristic of the truly great. They push their audience. We won’t like everything they do, but it will surely be interesting.
I wonder what John would have been like at 80; what he would have made of today’s scene.
2020 has been quite a year.
We are fighting a pandemic, a recession and confronting racism, inequality and calamitous climate change all at once.
These are the times that we turn to our great artists for insights.
Art can be clarifying, but it seems in 2020 we are lacking clarity.
I may be too old to be be current, but I just don’t see the artists leading the way these days.
They don’t seem to have the cultural relevance that they did back in John Lennon’s day. If I’m wrong, I’d love to know.
Recently, the social critic Bob Lefsetz wrote a piece about artists. It was fascinating.
An artist, Lefsetz wrote:

Endures negative feedback.

Takes risks on a regular basis.

Does not create to satiate the audience but themselves.

Creates because they need to.

Works without the audience in mind.

Knows that they will oftentimes be ahead of the audience.

Knows to ignore their most vocal critics. It’s usually more about the person who is criticizing than the work.

John Lennon did all of those things—-all those years ago.
All I know is we miss that kind of leadership and artistry and we need artists/leaders more now than maybe ever.


  1. Felix Fusco says

    Jeff, once again enjoyed the read, the insights and reflections on a different time. Truth be told I like many am frustrated with the what we have become as a country and society. But I now have unfortunately moved on to becoming angry, hurt and fearful.

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Thanks my friend.
      I’m hoping we can heal as a country. I don’t think the current state is sustainable and I sense that most of us want a return to civility and caring.

  2. Jeff. If I may give a “shout out” to a wonderful artist of my day. Eddie Van Halen passed away yesterday. He may not have had the social impact of John Lennon, but from everything I’ve read, he was well respected as a kind human being as well as one of the greatest guitar players this world has ever seen. His biggest influence and hero was his father, also a musician. Maybe if we look towards our parents as our “guiding light”, and move away from the real housewives and “reality” culture that desecrates our youth, then we will head in the right direction. R.I.P Eddie.

    • Jeff Perlman says

      I agree. Eddie was an exceptional musician and by all accounts a very special person. I listened to Van Halen all day today and was reminded of how gifted he was. What a loss. And so young…

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