Each of the Beatles had his special constituency. Paul was the cute one, the one you'd most want to look like. George was the shy one, the one you'd most want to brother. Ringo was the sad one, the one you'd most like to mother.

John, of course, was the smart one, the one you'd most want to be.

John was the one to talk to, to hang around with. He, above all, pressed the button of your generation. He made it all right to smirk. He was the one who didn't take it seriously. Not the status. Not the money. Not the adoration. Not even himself. He was the one cool enough to somehow stay above it. He was the rebel.

When your parents made the argument that all the Beatles were longhairs, and all they made was noise, it was John, ultimately, you threw back at them. John, with his art school sketches and his Alice in Wonderland prose. John, with his smartaleck shove-it attitude. It was John who spoke for your soul and your highest inspiration.

And, of course, it was John, like Humpty-Dumpty, who took the biggest fall.

Paul, he was a music machine. He was able to go through as if nothing happened. George turned into a mystic and few understood where he went or why it mattered. Ringo, with his movie bit-parts and sugary singles, became the Fabian of the '70s.

But John suffered, really, artistically, heroically, suffered. And somehow through it all -- through the "We are bigger than Jesus" phrase, through the Ballad of John and Yoko phase, through the threat of deportation phase, through the Plastic Ono Band "All We Are Saying Is Give Peace a Chance" phase, through the lean years and the mean years and the inbetween years -- through it all, John was the one looking through the glass darkly. The Mad Prophet perhaps, going relentlessly after the minds without sufficient care from the hearts of his congregation.

Even when he was the most accessible in the post-Beatle years, he remained the most distant. An ideologue. Too strident. Never a compromise. Everything he did was read as a political statement, a cause that demanded following. With the others, the music was enough, but with John, there had to be commitment.

There is an ultimate irony in his sudden comeback to the top of the charts now. There have been magazine covers, and in-depth interviews, a coming out for him, a purging of the isilationist impulses that kept him hidden these past few years. At the time of his death, he had one of the top 10 records in the country, a song called "Starting Over." A silly love song, the kind Paul always wrote so well. CAPTION:

Picture, John Lennon in 1971, by Matthew Lewis -- The Washington Post