I’ve recently been listening to “Imagine” by John Lennon, and also reading “Lennon remembers” by Jann Wenner, which I bought in 1972. Lennon hypes his first solo album throughout the book, so I delved into the archive for my vinyl copy, and also found a bootleg cd of sessions for the John Lennon/Plastic Ono band album.
I suppose John Lennon was my first hero proper, after my Pa and Jed. Jed reminded me of Macca, with a touch of Lennon thrown in for good measure. The perfect human being! Of course there was Spiderman, the Hulk and Silver Surfer before John, but I digress……
John Lennon meant a great deal to me when he was in the Beatles. Not just his obvious musical genius, but also his humour, surely an inspiration and precursor to Monty Python, altho’ himself inspired by Spike Milligan and the Goons. I can still remember the delight of an impending Beatles album. Heart thumpingly exciting, what were they going to come up with this time? A wonderful and inspirational feeling, probably only topped by hearing “Heartbreak hotel” and the Rock’n’Roll revelation that was Elvis for the first time. And of course, Elvis was John’s biggest musical influence. When Elvis died John Lennon was quoted as saying “before Elvis there was nothing”.
He had to be the Beatle, right? The one with all the quips, the attitude and a Rock’n’Roll vocal style matched only by Jerry Lee or Little Richard. I remember hearing “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” from “Live in Toronto” album and thinking Lennon’s voice was at it’s most abrasive. That might be down to the projectile vomiting and Heroin snorting backstage prior to the gig……
The screams on the first solo album not only attest to his phenomenal vocal style and the influence of Yoko’s avant garde warblings(Lennon one said avant garde was French for bullshit), but his then current immersion in the Primal Scream therapy as popularised by Arthur Janov. Let it all out mate……it’s going to lighten your load, as Steve Marriot once told me.
John Lennon stood for everything that was fabulous about the counter culture. He was a very funny fellow, and as Brian Wilson intones in “She knows me too well”: “I think she’ll forgive me just by making her laugh”. As long as Lennon was looning, and making a joke, his radical statements were sneeked into your conciousness. And not only mine, but that of my far straighter Ma & Pa, who were essentially the product of a Victorian/Christian upbringing, God bless them. Lennon could initially get away with a great deal of weird/wild espousing because he sugar coated his caustic comments with surrealism. Then when he met Yoko and then Janov, his wild boy nature was given a totally free reign. Not that he denied his naughty boy persona in “Remembers”, and indeed he describes Beatle tours in Australia and the US as being like Satyricon. At the time the Beatles were the clean cut lovable moptops, but behind closed doors……?
He had a positively vicious sense of humour at times. I can’t recall if it was Macca who said he was walking down a street in Liverpool with Lennon pre fame, when a physically handicapped person passed them and Lennon quipped “some people will do anything to get out of the Army!” That kind of entered my directory of quips at an early age, a bit like a Python-ism. Well, nobody expected the Spanish inquisition……
He also made me laugh by calling the Maharishi the “Maharoonie”.
Post LSD Lennon’s persona was given no excuse by the general public. He admitted, confirming our parents worst suspicions, he was “on drugs”, even tho’ the band had always been on some sort of drug or other: Speed and booze in Hamburg and the early Cavern days(Gene Vincent had showed them how to extract the Benzedrine soaked cotton wool from Vic inhalers), then Marijuana from Hard Day’s night(courtesy of Dylan?) and LSD from late Rubber Soul era, with Cocaine and Heroin adding to the mix in the Sgt Pepper period. I found Ian Macdonald’s Revolution in the Head jammed full of revelations. The biggest one possibly being the picture painted by observers of the band post Pepper with Lennon being dangerously close to oblivion beyond even Syd Barret’s psychedelicosis. In “Remembers” Lennon said he’d just stopped taking Acid just before meeting Yoko, and had lost his ego, and was trying to get it back together. Prior to that, John said he’d taken literally thousand of trips, and took Acid everyday for several years. Again, those around him said John was in a psychedelic coma, and it’s a testament his his strength of will that he pulled out of it. It’s no doubt the reason Macca took the rudder in 1967 and beyond. He didn’t have a choice, his friend and leader was fried and incapable.
By the time the Plastic Ono band kicked in proper, Lennon had become a poster boy not just for the Glam girlies, (a bit like an NHS Cat Stevens,) but the radical left. Will and I worshipped John in the early ’70’s and hung on his every word. He was together maaan, and him and Yoko led various political and social protests. And of course most of the time, Lennon was morally right. He also took the pulse of the counter culture, and sniffed out what he called “fucking idiots” who didn’t appreciate his music or his message, which was basically give peace a chance, something no government has ever had balls enough to do.
As I’ve already said in http://terenceruffle.co.uk/20111003-glam-rock#more-3716 , I think Spector influenced that genre of music, certainly there are a ton of references soundwise. Spector loomed large in John’s career, from his “treatment” of “Let it be” to Lennon’s solo work in the Glam era. And I’ve been listening also to the BBC sessions, which is littered with Spector girl group covers. Spector and John Lennon were starcrossed before they met, such was Spector’s influence on music. From the Beatles, to the New York Dolls and Blondie and the Ramones too, if you took Spector out of popular music it could be argued the effect would be as dramatic as no Beatles.
Lennon mentions Dave Edmunds fabulous “I hear you knockin” as the best thing he’d heard for a while. Again we tip our hat to Phil, because Dave’s Rockfield was supposed to be Wales’ answer to Phil’s Gold Star. Indeed Dave covered numerous Spector classics. One of my all time fave bands the Flamin’ Groovies did their definative albums at Rockfield, and the studio suited them just fine, tho’ they recorded at Gold Star too.
I remember the day John Lennon was murdered, on Monday December 8th 1980. Pa and I were sitting at the kitchen table, bleary eyed and trying to get concious. It was a dull, cold overcast day, sullen and perfect for a death. When Jed walked in, his usual breezy self, I didn’t figure anything was wrong, until he prefaced the news of the murder with “I hate to be the bringer of bad news, but……” He knew how much I worshipped John, tho’ truth be told “Sometime in New York city” was the last album I’d bought of his. I thought his lost weekend period was pretty self indulgent and fey for the most part. But it had been announced John had been working on a new album and I awaited it’s release with baited if somewhat trepidant breath.
On hearing the news I started crying and just couldn’t believe it was real. I turned on the radio, whereupon Radio 1 had been turned over to Andy Peebles who’d interviewed John and Yoko mere hours prior to John’s shooting.
The day John Lennon died a lot of other things died too. Us Beatle freaks knew there simply couldn’t be a reunion now, John had gone. And the beautiful and beatific optimism of the 60’s died that day too. The man who’d sang “all you need is love” and “give peace a chance” was brutally gunned down. So much for music changing the world.
And I think the counter culture finally died that day too. We could always count on John as the fearless peacenik and social reformer(tho’ not in his househusband years, sadly), and there was no one to take his place. As the Eighties kicked in proper, Thatcher’s politics of greed and the “every man for himself” social attitude which prevails today began then. And aside from the brief Psychedelic flash of the Free festival and Rave cultures in the the Eighties and Nineties(mercilessly procecuted by the “straights”), the concept of an “Alternative” society, as espoused in songs like “Imagine”, became old fashioned and trite, save to a few true believers.
No one irked people, or ripped the piss or Rocked better than John Lennon. He was the influence behind Liam Gallagher’s two fingered salute, Punk Rock’s fuck you and the West coast Hippy lifestyle/dream of Peace and Love. He was the hippest man alive, possibly that has ever lived, and he wasn’t afraid to admit that he got it wrong when he did. He loved his Ma, and was able to articulate the pain and joy of just about every one on the planet.
I could say so much more about John Lennon, but what else can it be but truly “the dream is over……”.