Today is John Lennon’s birthday. One half of the greatest songwriting teams in the history of music would have turned 78 today, if he had not been felled by a lunatic’s bullet and had survived the ravages of early old age.
78 is an interesting number with a distinctive musical element to it, for those of us of a particular age. When I was growing up, and John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr were standing, alone and unchallenged, at the absolute pinnacle of popular music, we had a phonograph that had four speeds — 16, 33 1/3, 45, and 78 — so you could change the revolutions per minute of the turntable depending on the kind of record you were playing. My parents actually had some old swing era records that played at 78 rpm, but of course the Beatles singles were 45s, and the Beatles albums, where the band really broke through the barriers surrounding popular music and changed music forever, were played at 33 1/3. We played those Beatles records over and over, and even though I’ve heard every song more than a thousand times — no exaggeration — they all still sound as fresh and great as they did when I first heard them on an AM radio.
I never understood why turntables had variable speeds and why different records were recorded to be played at different speeds — but still, even today, 16, 33 1/3, 45, and 78 remain almost mystical musical numbers for me. I really would have liked for John Lennon to have made it to 78; unfortunately, he never had the chance to make it to 45.
As I mentioned when the ten candidates in the people’s vote were announced, I think Edison would be a very good choice. Inventors and businessmen are greatly underrepresented in Statuary Hall, and Edison was both. Indeed, his inventions of the phonograph, the incandescent light bulb, and motion pictures created entire industries that have made huge contributions to growth of the American economy, employed hundreds of thousands of people, and allowed for new forms of artistic expression. Edison also established the first commercial laboratory to facilitate experimentation and then the rapid and inexpensive realization of new inventions. Edison’s concept of commercializing the process of research and development helped to foster a culture of innovation that has allowed the American economy to continue to lead the world in devising new technology. Finally, Edison’s biography is a classic American success story and tribute to the value of hard work, risk-taking . . . and marketing and promotion.
Edison is a fine choice for Statuary Hall. Let’s hope the Committee and the General Assembly agree.