Imagine - How the World Would be Different had John Lennon Lived

October 9, 2010 marked what would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday.

Born in 1940 in Liverpool, England during a lull in the German Luftwaffe’s bombardment of the city, the musician, writer and political activist who would go on to become one of the 20th century's most iconic figures entered the world amidst the ruin of the Second World War .

His life - and death - is the stuff of legend. In his early twenties, Lennon, along with fellow Beatles Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, would score their first number one record in England. America – and the so-called British Invasion – came next.

What followed was nothing short of world domination. In less than ten years, the Beatles went from provincial rock and roll combo to global cultural force majeure.

“I declare that the Beatles are mutants,” counter-culture prophet Timothy Leary once said.

“Prototypes of evolutionary agents sent by God, endowed with a mysterious power to create a new human species, a young race of laughing freemen,” he said.

Almost 50 years after they wrote most of their music, there’s enough perspective on the Beatles legacy to see that Leary’s acid-tinged logic may have had some merit.

The world has never seen – and will likely never see again – a group of musicians who exercised such a profound influence over the sensibilities of an entire generation.

With the Beatles break-up in January 1970 and Lennon’s subsequent self-imposed exile into the world of domesticity, his influence waned. 

But as the '70s drew to a close, he re-entered the public sphere with a vigorous mandate and a new collection of songs. His album-length recording Double Fantasy announced his return to music with a mature works like ‘Watching the Wheels’ and ‘Woman’.

Tragically, Lennon's creative revival came to an end on December 8, 1980 when a deranged fan shot the musician on his way home from the recording studio.

The senselessness of the musician's death was seared into the public’s collective consciousness, and his passing was mourned as much as any great statesman or religious figure.

How might the world have been different if John Lennon had lived? In the playful, creative spirit of the man himself, let’s imagine…

1. Michael Jackson would have never gotten his hands on the Beatles publishing rights

Like many songwriters, John Lennon and Paul McCartney had to learn about the music business the hard way.

One tale often told is how McCartney recommended that Michael Jackson acquire song publishing rights as a way of bolstering his income. In 1984, Jackson did just that, purchasing much of the Beatles catalogue for $47 million.

At the time, McCartney and Lennon’s estate were unable – or unwilling – to outbid the self-proclaimed Prince of Pop.

For all his talk of peace, John Lennon had a fighting spirit, and there’s reason to believe he would have marshalled his and McCartney’s considerable financial resources in order to ensure the songs’ publishing rights returned to the hands of their creators.

2. The Beatles would have reunited for Live Aid or Glastonbury

It’s well-documented that John Lennon and Paul McCartney considered playing on Saturday Night Live in 1976 after impresario Lorne Michaels offered the band $3,000 to reunite on the show.

This fact – coupled with the reality that the Beatles had resolved many of their outstanding personal and business differences by the 1980s – suggests that they may have been amenable to performing together again.

The likelihood of this prospect increases exponentially when charitable causes are thrown into the mix, since both John and George were well-known social activists prior to 1980.

The natural setting for this triumphant return would have been the first Live Aid concert in 1985 but failing that, it’s certainly possible that the group would have reunited for Glastonbury – the world’s largest green field, open-air festival – since an eclectic and varied list of artists have performed there since the event's inception in the 1970s.

3. Kurt Cobain wouldn’t have committed suicide

Alternative rock’s patron saint Kurt Cobain was never happy with the media’s treatment of wife Courtney Love, or with being pigeon-holed as a grunge musician. Along with his taste for heroin, a pre-disposition towards depression and a litany of other health problems, Cobain seemed destined to burn bright then fade away.

But with the intervention of a figure like John Lennon – who would have seen in Kurt a murky reflection of himself as a young man caught in the throes of global celebrity – Cobain might have gotten the therapy he needed and gone on to mature into the pre-eminent musician and songwriter he had the potential to become.

4. Liverpool would have had a Beatle for mayor

Paul McCartney may have had the musical chops and a natural way with melody, but if it wasn’t for John Lennon’s charisma and native intelligence, the Beatles would never have ascended to the heights they did.

Indeed, Lennon’s powerful personality seemed made for political life and the strength of his convictions would have found suitable expression in the realm of public service.

Lennon's love of America and New York City notwithstanding, it’s not hard to imagine him returning to Liverpool around his 50th birthday to run for municipal government.

For all of his artistic, “liberal” posturing, Lennon was also deeply nostalgic and quintessentially English in temperament – for all that entails. It’s likely he would have been happy to serve a term or two in the town that gave him his start. For John, it would have - quite literally - felt like coming home.

5. Bono and Bob Geldolf would have had a political mentor

No two individuals over the past 30 years have done more to advance the idea of rock and roll activism than U2 frontman Bono and Live Aid organizer Bob Geldolf.

Yet both men owe a debt of gratitude to John and Yoko, whose highly publicized peace campaigns in the late 1960s became the prototype for a modern style of cultural activism unique from the traditional troubadour approach that had been prevalent in protest music to that point. 

With their embrace of contemporary media techniques like spectacle and advertising, John and Yoko created a context for the efforts of every musician-cum-activist that would follow.

Had Lennon lived, he undoubtedly would have been consulted by Bono and Geldolf on numerous occasions, and would have had the opportunity to share his hard-won wisdom by mentoring the younger musicians.

6. He would have written a best-selling autobiography

Of course he would have, but only after outliving his biographers.

7. He would have gotten old.

Something that’s often lost in the glorification of dead rock stars - whether John Lennon, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison or Kurt Cobain – is that, had they lived, they would have gotten old.

Like his contemporaries, Lennon would have fallen in and out of fashion, struggled with health issues, family discord or substance abuse problems, released records to lukewarm reception, and found himself at the mercy of an apathetic public hungry for the next distraction. 

Sure, he may have hit his stride late in life, like Dylan has over the past decade or like Johnny Cash prior to his death, but there’s no guarantee that Lennon’s confessional style of songwriting would have found favour with new audiences.

One thing is for certain though, as Lennon would have aged - and his mortality made plain - his human vulnerabilities would have been evident for all to see.

But as he demonstrated with the music he made, Lennon wasn't afraid to confront the vulnerabilities in himself, or anyone else.