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Column - Lennon songs will never die

John Lennon has jumped into my mind so many times in the 30 years since his death.

That's partly because in my house there is a large framed news sheet that proclaims in bold black headline letters: "JOHN LENNON SHOT DEAD." On the bottom, in a band of dusky blue, is the name of the newspaper: "The New Standard." That kind of newsprint sidewalk-ad poster is common at all London newsstands, which is where I got it. I was a student there when one morning I woke up to hear the news that Lennon had been murdered in New York. It didn't sink in; I simply didn't - or wouldn't - allow myself to believe it. On my long walk to school down busy Edgeware Street, I saw that poster, and only then - seeing that dreadful headline - did the enormity of that death hit me. It hit me hard.

The old woman working the newsstand said if I came back at end of day I could have the poster.

At that time, I was living on Sutherland Avenue, just six blocks from the EMI Abbey Road studio where the Beatles had recorded those unforgettable songs. The night after Lennon's murder, thousands of people gathered at Abbey Road for a candlelight vigil. I stayed home and brooded over the depressing fact that one of my deeply held wishes - an eventual Beatles' reunion - had just become impossible.

After all the years since that awful death, after all the long-and-winding roads of our lives, Lennon still matters. That poster in my house reminds me always of what a great man Lennon was. Oddly enough, that poster hasn't faded one whit, as newsprint usually does. It is still as new-looking as the day I got it, and I like to think that's magical proof that Lennon's music will never fade or die either.

In my opinion, he will still be cherished well into this century and beyond. Perhaps some distant day - who knows? - even on colonized planets.

Here are five reasons why I think Lennon will last:

1. He wrote and sang songs of such stunning originality that once you've heard them, they stay in your head, like brilliant tattoos you can't get rid of - not that you'd want to.

2. He was gutsy and asked all the right questions.

3. He had a pointed, yet gentle, sense of humor, which could puncture pretensions, like the time he told the audience at a Royal Command Performance in London, "You in the cheap seats can clap. The rest of you can rattle your jewelry."

4. A born rebel and a dreamer, Lennon often challenged authority, thereby causing others to question our knee-jerk acceptance of the conventional. He did that, most famously, in his classic song "Imagine."

5. Last, but most importantly, Lennon was a living turmoil of weaknesses and strengths. On the one hand, he was troubled, insecure, angry and vulnerable; on the other hand he was confident, courageous, gentle and compassionate. A blend of those emotions, often combined with his cheeky humor and strange images, is what makes his songs so enjoyable, insightful and enduring. Many of his finest works are infused with a feeling of world-weariness and tender resignation, such as "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Jealous Guy" and "A Day in the Life," but there is always a sense of hope, an irrepressible life force, pulsing through the sadder songs, the angrier songs and especially his hell-bent rockers.

That emotional honesty is why Lennon's music shines. He had the genius to share his vision nakedly, without resorting to worn-out musical cheap tricks. Lennon's songs, like all great art, make lucky listeners doubly glad to be alive.

It's hard to believe it's been 30 years since his death, but after all that time his songs sound better than ever, as fresh as if they'd just blown in newborn on an invigorating morning breeze. It's that kind of freshness that practically guarantees musical immortality.

Dennis Dalman, a former reporter for the Echo Press, is a regular contributing columnist to the Opinion page. He is currently the editor of the St. Joseph Newsleader. He can be reached via e-mail at dennisdalman@jetup