It's strange to think about what some of music's great icons would have been like had they not been taken from us too soon. What would Kurt Cobain's new album sound like in 2010? How would we treat Jimi Hendrix today? How would Brad Nowell's career have advanced? Which producers would Tupac and Biggie Smalls be working with today? It's a fascinating game of "What If?" that ultimately has no resolution (which is part of what makes it so tragic and frustrating).
Had John Lennon not been taken from the world far too soon on a cold day in the winter of 1980, the former Beatle would have celebrated his 70th birthday on Saturday (October 9). Lennon's legacy was already set in stone by the time of his passing, as both his work with the Beatles and his solo projects produced some of the greatest musical moments in the history of rock and roll. But to only think about Lennon as a musician is a mistake, as he was also deeply involved in the worlds of art, literature, politics and television, lending his insightful perspective on the universe (as well as his celebrity) to all of the above venues. He was a singular icon who established what it was to be a worldly rock star, and he has never been (nor will he ever be) replaced.
But just because one person can't fill his shoes doesn't mean that his legacy can't be carried on by a small army of people. In fact, there are 10 current music stars who embody one segment or another of Lennon's personality.
Inspiring Teenage Lunacy: Justin Bieber
Though most people remember Lennon for the socially aware latter part of his life, he spent the better part of his early career as a teen icon. The term "Beatlemania" was an accurate creation — there was actual madness when the Fab Four were around. That same kind of excitement follows around Justin Bieber today.
Making Music A Family Business: Jay-Z
She didn't actually break up the Beatles, but Yoko Ono did become a star in her own right when she married Lennon. While Beyoncé was already a massive superstar before she married Jay-Z, they still represent the music world's definitive power couple in the current pop landscape.
Trading Art For Politics: Lady Gaga
Lennon was passionate about a number of social and political issues, and were he still alive today, you would have to assume that he would have been at Lady Gaga's side trying to get "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" taken off the books.
Making Statements With The Human Body: Erykah Badu
Lennon most definitely made it OK for music stars to be naked, as it seemed like he was constantly stripping down. But for Lennon, there was always a purpose, just as there was when Badu doffed her clothes in the "Window Seat" video earlier this year.
Being British And Focusing On Career: Chris Martin
Lennon once got into a ton of trouble for declaring the Beatles "bigger than Jesus." He later apologized, but really, he was kind of accurate. Coldplay frontman Chris Martin always comes across as a low-key rock star, but make no mistake: Coldplay have become a gigantic worldwide force because Martin wanted to make it that way.
Writing Prolifically: Rivers Cuomo
Writer's block was not something that was in Lennon's vocabulary, as he was constantly churning out new songs and working on new projects. Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo knows all about that, as his band has kept up a steady release schedule with hundreds of other unreleased songs packed away somewhere.
Finding A Life On Television Too: Justin Timberlake
Lennon was a favorite among television talk show hosts (especially Tom Snyder). In today's landscape, Justin Timberlake has gone from member of a beloved group to an envelope-pushing solo artist who often shows up on television. Does that sound familiar?
Pressing Controversial Buttons: Eminem
People who didn't understand John Lennon were afraid of him because of his bold outspoken nature. He wasn't afraid to tackle issues about race, sex and war with an honest and clear mind. Eminem may not have as many social issues keeping him up at night, but he is unfiltered and honest in his work (and that's part of what scares people away).
Carving Out A Second Life: Dave Grohl
When the Beatles broke up, nobody was certain what would become of each member. But Lennon ended up developing his own work (as well as his collaborations with wife Yoko Ono) and probably would have been a superstar even if the Beatles never existed. When Nirvana came to a sudden end, drummer Dave Grohl could have easily disappeared into the footnotes of rock history. But he picked himself up and developed his own thing, and today Foo Fighters are one of the biggest bands in the world.
Developing A Unique Fashion Sense: Ke$ha
When he wasn't naked, Lennon developed a wild fashion sense that included lots of military duds and sharp, almost foppish suits. While Ke$ha's approach to fashion is certainly even more out there than Lennon ever wandered, they both have the same kind of "everything all the time" approach to clothes that makes them both unpredictable and thrilling.