September 6, 2018

What John Lennon Taught Me About Thinking

Undated file photo of former Beatle John Lennon. (AP Photo)

People say I’m crazy doing what I’m doing

Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin

When I say that I’m okay they look at me kind of strange

Surely you’re not happy now you no longer play the game

The opening stanza from John Lennon’s classic song, “Watching the Wheels,” is a biting introduction into the haves and have-nots of slow thinking.

Recorded the week of August 6 in 1980 and released on the Double Fantasy album that same year, the song might as well be a modern-day assessment of our current state of thinking. We’ve become rather busy, distracted, and many of us are far too stressed to be creative. The effort required for critical thinking is waning as well.

We could learn something from Lennon even after the gaping 38 years since the song’s release.

The “what I’m doing” bit was Lennon’s withdrawal from society’s busyness entrapment. Around the birth of his second son, Sean, Lennon consciously chose to pull back from his somewhat hectic life as a rock star. In 1975 he purposely slowed down, deliberately acknowledging that the way in which he was living his life had to change. The pundits—be them friends or otherwise—were questioning his sanity, asking whether he was happy no longer living the life of a fast-paced, famous musician and former Beatle.

At the time, musicians were expected to release a new album at least once a year. (The Beatles averaged one every nine months.) That’s an incredible amount of energy required to employ both creative and critical thinking in coming up with the songs, let alone recording them and then touring.

However, it reminds me of what is happening today. Far too many of us are taking on too many tasks, and not enough creative or critical thinking time is left. Furthermore, we are spending too much of our precious “spare time” glued to a device, scrolling our way through life. Consequently, we are burning out and becoming increasingly more disengaged.

The next stanza sees Lennon mock his naysayers.

People say I’m lazy dreaming my life away

Well they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me

When I tell them that I’m doing fine watching shadows on the wall

Don’t you miss the big time boy you’re no longer on the ball

Lennon wanted nothing to do with their advice or feedback. Granted he had all the money in the world in which to make such a decision, for Lennon to gain meaning and sanity again he made a change. He was perfectly fine to begin “dreaming” and “watching shadows on the wall.”

It’s in the chorus where he subtly encourages us to dream a little more, rather than getting caught up in the merry-go-round of life’s intoxicating quest for constant action.

I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round

I really love to watch them roll

No longer riding on the merry-go-round

I just had to let it go

As the song progresses, Lennon wonders why there are not more people slowing things down. He imagines them exhibiting looks of disgust—indeed a shake of disapproval—as he leaves the freneticism of a rock star’s life for one with more thinking space. Time is now his friend. He answers their objecting looks with a cunning observation:

Well they shake their heads and they look at me

As if I’ve lost my mind

I tell them there’s no hurry

I’m just sitting here doing time

I was in England and a young nine-year-old lad when Lennon was gunned down in New York City. I distinctly remember playing the Double Fantasy album after we heard the news. “Lennon’s last album,” my dad remarked. “How sad is that?”

Of course, it’s still sad some 38 years later, but this past weekend I played the album a few more times. I kept thinking about this song, “Watching the Wheels,” and wondering to myself, “What would John think about today’s incredibly busy and distracted society?”

No doubt he might chuckle, and sing the chorus to his beautiful song.

I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round

I really love to watch them roll

No longer riding on the merry-go-round

I just had to let it go

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