LONDON (Reuters) - What would have been John Lennon’s 70th birthday on Saturday will be marked around the world with memorials, music and plenty of merchandise.
Yoko Ono, Lennon’s widow and the guardian of his commercial and musical legacy, will lead the tributes from Iceland, where she will light the Imagine Peace Tower in memory of Lennon and perform with their son Sean.
In the singer’s birthplace Liverpool, Lennon’s first wife Cynthia and their child Julian are expected to unveil a monument dedicated to the artist and funded by the Global Peace Initiative involving young artists.
“Nowhere Boy,” a film about Lennon’s early years before he found fame and fortune with the Beatles, hits U.S. theatres on Friday and on Saturday, the documentary “LennonNYC” will be screened in New York, where he was killed on December 8, 1980.
The 30th anniversary of his murder aged 40 is expected to launch a new wave of Lennon-mania in December.
“It’s a strange phenomenon in a way, but probably the Beatles are more popular now than they ever were,” said Jerry Goldman, managing director of the Beatles Story museum in Liverpool which will be custodian of the new $350,000 monument.
“Lennon is the most iconic of them. His activities for peace with Yoko, his ‘bed-ins’, perhaps don’t count quite so much as the music,” he added.
“‘Imagine’ is a world anthem, as is ‘Give Peace a Chance’. Whenever people gather to protest ... you are probably going to hear them singing a Lennon song. More than anything else it’s the music, and nobody has come close in recent years.”
Few would debate Lennon’s musical influence.
As one half of the key songwriting axis in the Beatles alongside Paul McCartney, Lennon was responsible for much of the band’s catalog, including seminal hits like “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “A Hard Day’s Night.”
As a solo artist after the group split in 1970, he went on to produce songs including Imagine, and became a symbol of opposition to the Vietnam War.
Lennon’s legacy is also big business. Critics have accused Ono and others of cashing in on his memory and betraying the ideals of a man who once sang “imagine no possessions.”
Ono has overseen the release of a digitally remastered Lennon catalog, including eight studio albums and several newly compiled titles, on the EMI Music label.
“Remastering was emotionally hard for me,” she wrote recently on Twitter.
“I felt John was at my side, and when I looked at my side, there was only an empty chair. I was crying, but still my job was to listen to John, like I used to ... So I am a lucky girl.”
Ono also authorized Gibson to make three special edition acoustic guitars priced between $4,700 and $15,000.
Montblanc has produced a Lennon-related pen, complete with sapphires and diamonds and retailing in luxury magazines for a cool $27,000.
“It’s easy to lose sight of the music with all the surrounding Lennonphilia that, over the next few weeks, will be particularly cloying and suffocating,” said Brian Boyd, music columnist for the Irish Times.
Ono has defended her decision to allow Lennon’s name to be used to endorse products, saying it is the most effective way to keep his name and music in the public consciousness.
And in response to complaints in Britain earlier this year when archive footage of the singer was used in a car advertisement, son Sean tweeted: “Having just seen ad I realize why people are mad. But intention was not financial, was simply wanting to keep him out there in the world.”
Editing by Steve Addison