Here is where the lessons of Rolling Stone and The Village Voice are most instructive. One reason these publications fired the public imagination, and why they are still cited and debated, is because they possessed an identifiable theory of the significance of pop music. In each instance, their politics drove their critical appraisals. Perhaps the first task in reestablishing the value of the critical perspective is to reverse that equation—to announce the authority of the critical method first, and then grapple with the political implications of the work. That would be an insurgency to reckon with. Would the pretensions of such an enterprise put it at odds with the populist instinct that first sparked pop-music criticism? Perhaps. Can writers be trusted not to be blinkered by its conceits? Probably not. Then again, all the fun of writing and reading about a figure as resonant and infinitely malleable as John Lennon lies in the distinct possibility of being wrong.

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Jacob Levenson is a writer who lives in Brooklyn. He is the author of The Secret Epidemic: The Story of AIDS and Black America.