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Mäkelä, Janne 1955-

Mäkelä, Janne 1955-


Born July 10, 1955. Education: University of Turku, Finland, M.A., 1995, Phil. Lic., 1998, Ph.D., 2002.


Home—Finland. Office—Renvall Institute for Area and Cultural Studies, P.O. Box 59 (Unioninkatu 38 A), University of Helsinki, Helsinki 00014, Finland. E-mail—[email protected]


University of Turku, Turku, Finland, assistant, 1997, 2003-04, research fellow, Graduate School on Cultural Interaction and Integration, 1997-98, 2000, docent of history of popular culture, Department of Cultural History, 2007—; Renvall Institute, University of Helsinki, Finland, postdoctoral researcher, 2004-07.


Starnet (research project).


TOP Foundation research grant, 1995; Erasmus Student Exchange grant, 1996; Finnish Ministry of Education publication grant, 1997; Finnish Cultural Foundation research grant, 2001, Ella & Georg Ehrnrooth Foundation publication grant, 2002.


John Lennon Imagined: Cultural History of a Rock Star, P. Lang (New York, NY), 2004.


Cultural historian Janne Mäkelä has written extensively about popular music and musicians' pursuit of fame. His special interest in the Beatles resulted in his book John Lennon Imagined: Cultural History of a Rock Star. Though much has been written about Lennon's life and work, Mäkelä takes a perspective that is less biographical than cultural. As Michael W. Thomas explained in an assessment of the book in the Chapter & Verse Review, Mäkelä "assesses the changes wrought upon Lennon's image by what he terms ‘the starnet’: that collocation of elements—sometimes uneasily at peace but never in total harmony—which include music production, the star publicity machine and, crucially important, the view from the fan-base." This approach, added Thomas, presents "analyses of Lennon's progress and work in the context of such cultural studies issues as constructions of stardom, competing claims upon public figures and the often vexed questions of class and gender."

Mäkelä discusses the roots of Lennon's musical development, from English music-hall tunes to early Elvis; the chronology of his rise to fame; his interactions with fans; and his evolving political awareness. Mäkelä notes that the art school culture in which Lennon was involved as a student played a significant role in bringing serious themes into pop music. He also writes about Lennon's conflicting identities as a pop-culture icon and as a rebel. Lennon's Rolls Royce, for example, which was painted in psychedelic colors and designs, is both a symbol of financial success and a mockery of that type of ostentatious luxury. Lennon's trademark granny glasses and the cover art of the Sergeant Pepper album are also analyzed for their symbolic meanings. "Mäkelä does a fine job of connecting Lennon and the Beatles to the social and cultural currents throughout all the successive eras" of their careers, observed Popular Music and Society critic Vince Prygoski.

The book's chapters on Lennon's post-Beatle life, according to many reviewers, are especially interesting. Mäkelä offers intriguing analyses of Lennon's songs "The Ballad of John and Yoko" and "Working-Class Hero." He points out the upbeat energy in the first song, seemingly at odds with its subject of messianism and martyrdom, and the deeper sadness of the latter song's recognition of personal failings. For Thomas, Mäkelä's discussion of the theme of survival is particularly insightful. As Mäkelä points out, many rock and pop musicians in the early 1970s talked about having "survived." But what they meant is unclear. They could have been referring to political dangers or racism, or more personal perils such as alcohol or drug addiction. Lennon, too, wrote songs about survival, including "Intuition," "Scare," and "Whatever Gets You thru the Night." In Mäkelä's view, these songs—which likely refer at least in part to the stress of the "starnet"—are deeper and more self-aware than other similarly themed songs.

The final chapters of John Lennon Imagined discusses the star's role as a leftist political icon. Lennon engaged in various political actions, including two "bed-ins for peace" with his wife, Yoko Ono, as well as appearances in support of controversial figures such as Black Panther leader Bobby Seale and poet and activist John Sinclair. Lennon also put a lot of political awareness into his songs. He and Yoko recorded "Give Peace a Chance" at their second bed-in. His album Sometime in New York City included songs about women's rights, racism, political oppression in Northern Ireland, and Lennon's difficulties in obtaining legal status to live permanently in the United States. And "Imagine," which Mäkelä references in the book's title, remains one of the most acclaimed and popular songs of recent decades about world peace.

Mäkelä, who is a member of a research group known as Starnet, is docent of the History of Popular Culture in the department of cultural history at the University of Turku, Finland.



Mäkelä, Janne, John Lennon Imagined: Cultural History of a Rock Star, P. Lang (New York, NY), 2004.


Popular Music, May, 2007, Yrjo Heinonen, review of John Lennon Imagined: Cultural History of a Rock Star, p. 373.

Popular Music and Society, February, 2006, Vince Prygoski, review of John Lennon Imagined, p. 132.

Reference & Research Book News, August, 2004, review of John Lennon Imagined, p. 233.


Chapter & Verse Review, (March 18, 2008), Michael W. Thomas, review of John Lennon Imagined.

University of Helsinki Web site, (March 18, 2008), author profile.

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