Tag Archives: John

John Lennon – Imagine – Classic Music Review

imagine-4f5537817d3d3

Putrid . . . putrid . . . yes, let’s go with putrid.

I always try to vary my vocabulary to make things more interesting for my readers (and for me as well). I performed a word search of over 200 posts and found, much to my delight, that I had never used the word “putrid” in a review, not even for David Bowie’s The Next Day or the Grammy-winning joke Some Nights by Fun. That’s good, because “putrid” perfectly captures how I feel about Imagine, one of the most mean-spirited, narcissistic and egomaniacal displays I’ve ever heard. The combination of John Lennon, Yoko Ono and Phil Spector, all of whom are charter members of the Hall of Fame for the Self-Important, was bound to yield two complementary results: phenomenal sales and artistic disaster. Imagine proves that P. T. Barnum was right, and there are no suckers on earth as gullible as Beatles fans who refused to let go of their heroes even when their heroes failed to produce anything worthy of the epithet.

The album opens with what Yoko called, “John’s vision for the world,” the song “Imagine.” I realize that the song is revered the world over and has been elevated to sacred status since his assassination. This is remarkable because there’s nothing in this song that is the least bit original; it’s essentially a rehash of Marxist socialism: religion is the opium of the masses, the vision of a worldwide socialist order without territorial boundaries, and an economy based on need rather than greed. As a committed socialist living in a socialist country, I’m in tune with most of the message, though I think the “no possessions” verse, which mingles Buddhist tenets of ridding ourselves of entanglements with Marxian economics, is both naïve and impractical. I’m not giving up my leather lingerie, whips or sex toys and it would be both unsafe and unsanitary to share them with the leather community!

The real problem is with the author, who displays a brazen hypocrisy that takes one’s breath away. “Imagine no possessions,” he sings while comfortably recording the proceedings in his fully-equipped recording studio on his 72-acre estate, Tittenhurst Park. Here’s John Lennon’s socialism in action:

Lennon purchased the property after the sale of Kenwood in Surrey, his earlier home with first wife Cynthia Lennon, because of its resemblance to Calderstones Park in Liverpool, where he had spent time as a child. Lennon bought the house for £145,000 from Peter Cadbury. The estate included spectacular gardens, a Tudor cottage and servants’ cottages. He and Ono spent twice the purchase price on renovations, transforming the interior of the house to their liking, commissioning a set of hand-woven Oriental rugs, and installing a man-made lake without planning permission which they could see from their bedroom window.

(Source: Wikipedia)

You can catch the self-appointed royalty of the avant-garde taking in the royal grounds in the video below.

He and Yoko would leave the place to relocate in hardly proletarian Manhattan, eventually buying not one, not two, but five apartments in the exclusive Dakota building. Imagine no possessions, my ass. “Do I as I say, not as I do, because you’ll buy my fucking records anyway,” says the self-proclaimed anti-establishment leader. He sounded much more believable when he screamed out the words to “Money,” especially the lines, “Money don’t get everything, it’s true/What it don’t get, I can’t use.”

The song itself is a musical bore made worse by Phil Spector’s terrible penchant for angelic string arrangements, as he demonstrated in his wanton destruction of Let It Be. The strings he overdubbed to “Long and Winding Road” were so sappy that they offended even the sap-friendly ears of Paul McCartney. Instead of giving the piece the intended spiritual aura, the strings make “Imagine” sound like the pompous piece of pap that it is . . . how deliciously ironic!

Lennon the Hypocrite becomes Lennon the Almighty Judge of Human Value in “Crippled Inside” where he makes fun of the “straights” and attacks them for their hypocrisy seconds after revealing his. I would argue that his us-against-them attitude here not only calls into question his belief in his vision that “the world will live as one,” but clearly reveals his identity as a card-carrying elitist. Once again, the music is predictable and trite.

The only song on Imagine worth the 99 cents for the download is the relatively honest and melodically interesting, “Jealous Guy,” which is strong enough to overcome Phil Spector’s usual heavy-handedness. The lyrics aren’t a complete transformation from the possessive adolescent who wrote “Run for Your Life,” but at least it’s an admission that he has a problem. The whistling was a very good idea .  .  . whatever happened to whistling, anyway? People used to do it all the time in those movies from the 30’s and 40’s. Let’s bring back whistling!

Sorry for the detour, but the next song is the unpleasant “It’s So Hard,” and I was trying to avoid it. Lennon tries to regain rock cred through distorted voice and raunchy guitar and fails miserably. Oh, and it’s such a hassle to keep your woman satisfied, is it? Fuck you. King Curtis is by far the best thing on this track, as well as the next, the unlistenable “I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier,” where Lennon put exactly zero effort into the lyrics . . . a feature that characterizes nearly every song on Imagine.

“Gimme Some Truth” shows John trying to exploit the politically-aware crowd by engaging in childish name-calling and accusing politicians of being hypocrites. Takes one to know one! He repeats his pointless, unoriginal venom over and over again, making sure that the American market gets the point that he’s really anti-Nixon and therefore seriously aware of the American political scene, you dig? Harrison slips in with the same fucking guitar style he used on nearly every song on All Things Must Pass, reflecting the complete lack of effort involved in recording this mess.

“Oh My Love” is one of his boring Yoko-worship songs, with a tune a fifth-grader could have written if she’d allowed her fingers to slip and hit the black keys every now and then. The lyrics fawn over Yoko, provider of enlightenment, who has caused the scales to fall from John’s eyes to enable him to see the . . . trees. Shit, how could he miss all those fucking trees on his 72-acre estate? He needed Yoko for that?

We now come to the meanest, most pathetic song I think I’ve ever heard, “How Do You Sleep?” Man, I thought the Gallagher brothers had the inside track on public displays of assholity, but they’re pikers compared to this. Overreacting to a couplet in McCartney’s “Too Many People” (“Too many people going underground/Too many reaching for a piece of cake”), Lennon let his ex-mate have it with both barrels. In both words (“You live with straights who tell you, you was king”) and pictures (the postcard insert showing Lennon holding a pig by the ears to mock the cover of Ram), John slips in another plug for his role as anti-establishment guru while classifying McCartney as a pro-establishment pig. In former times, that would have qualified as an insult worthy of a duel; to call someone a pig was the ultimate hippie put-down. In the next line, he accuses Paul of being pussy-whipped (“Jump when your mama tell you anything”), as if Yoko’s lapdog had the right to call anyone pussy-whipped. Lennon wraps up his fit of vitriol by insulting Paul’s muzak and his cherubic face for good measure.

What was the fucking point of this song? I asked my dad and he said he couldn’t figure it out either, and lost a great deal of respect for John Lennon as a result. My mother summed it up in two words: “No class.” Having lived through the drama of the Gallagher brothers, one thing I noticed is whenever they heaped insults at each other or left the other holding the bag in the middle of a concert, the music press would make a big deal about it; they were always in the news for their antics. My theory is that this was a cheap and tawdry publicity stunt, likely encouraged by Yoko (who apparently helped with the lyrics). Harrison added slide guitar, so I consider him an accomplice and a jerk as well.

Meanwhile, John goes on as if nothing has happened, and gives us another ode to self-absorption and self-pity, the song “How.” The lines “And the world is so tough/Sometimes I feel I’ve had enough” send me through the fucking roof. Poor baby with all his first-world problems piling up all around him in his big spacious estate!

To end the album with the lyrically and musically lazy “Oh, Yoko” is the ultimate coup de grâce. It’s quite obvious that what mattered to John Lennon was the insular world he and Yoko created; why he felt the need to share a reality that no one else in the world could possibly identify with only reinforces the overriding sense of narcissism that dominates Imagine. Echoes of “I just believe in me, Yoko and me, and that’s reality” fill the empty spaces in this empty album.

All I want to say when this turkey finally ends is, “Well, fuck you, John. And fuck you, too, Yoko.” I won’t say it though, because my mother would look at me sternly and say, “No class.”

And she would be right. Instead, I’ll take the high road and say that Imagine is not my cuppa tea . . . and that’s reality.

John Lennon – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – Classic Music Review

John-Lennon-Plastic-Ono-Band

After my mom and dad got married, they rented a tiny flat in the cold, foggy, windy Richmond district of San Francisco. Both were graduate students supporting themselves on stipends and they had no television, leaving their in-home entertainment options limited to studying, fucking and listening to music.

What else do you need when you’re in love?

They didn’t have much money for Christmas presents, so they made an agreement that they would get each other one album and one article of clothing. My dad knew exactly what he was going to get my mother: a good wool scarf to fight off the fog and the new John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album that had come out just in time for the holiday season. One day after classes he took the bus over to Tower Records, saw the stacks of albums showing John and Yoko relaxing under a tree and grabbed a copy. He took it to the clerk and sprung for a gift sleeve, feeling pretty fucking proud of himself.

Unbeknownst to him, he had made a fatal mistake: he hadn’t looked at the back cover.

They had invited another starving couple over to share a modest Christmas Eve repast and open presents (friends were family back then). This couple had also brought their pet beagle with them. After feasting on my mother’s crêpes (superbe!) and sharing wine and joints, they all gathered ’round the midget Christmas tree to open presents. My dad was delighted to receive a copy of Lola Vs. The Powerman and the Moneygoround and a new belt to hold up his sagging grad student trousers. My mother was equally delighted with her new scarf, but puzzled by her other gift because the album had no lettering on the cover to show what it was. She turned it over and saw an old picture of a little Japanese girl and was even more confused.

“It’s the new Lennon album,” my dad explained. He peeled off the wrapping, carefully pulled the record out of the jacket and put it on the turntable.

Soon the room was filled with horrible noise and banshee-like screaming. The beagle ran up to the speakers and started scratching at them and howling like the house was on fire. My dad rushed over to try to quiet the squirming beagle, for pets weren’t allowed in the apartment and he was terrified that the old bitch next door would turn them in to the landlord and they’d have to spend Christmas on the streets. My mother took control of the situation and did the sensible thing: she lifted the needle from the record. An eerie silence hung over the assembly.

“What the fuck was that?” my dad cried.

The male half of the visiting couple picked up the sleeve and started laughing. “You idiot! You bought Yoko’s album, not John’s.” He held up the picture of the Japanese girl as evidence and explained that the covers for both albums were almost identical except for the back picture and who was resting on whom on the front cover.

My dad apologized profusely to my mother, who by this time was laughing her ass off. The day after Christmas he returned to Tower Records, ripped the clerk a new one and exchanged the piece of avant-garde shit for an album that Rolling Stone rated #23 on its list of greatest albums: a ridiculously generous rating from the rag that continues to do stupid shit to this day, like trying to turn a murderous terrorist into a sex symbol for the teenage angst crowd.

Like all post-Beatles solo efforts, this album is deeply flawed. It has some great moments, some awful moments and several that fall somewhere in the middle. I will give Lennon credit for displaying a much clearer artistic direction than he revealed in his late-Beatles efforts, but his “poor me” narcissism is also on full display here, as are many of his unresolved personality conflicts. The best quality of Plastic Ono Band is the sparse and simple approach that he would regrettably abandon in the iconic follow-up Imagine, where Phil Spector encouraged Lennon’s grandiosity and produced an album marked by excess without the depth to back it up.

The other quality of Plastic Ono Band that I admire—to a degree—is the artist’s willingness to take emotional and artistic risks. The clearest example of this can be found on the opening track, “Mother,” where he abandons the poetic approach he took to the subject in “Julia” and opts for raw expression of deep emotion, released by his experience with primal-scream therapy. While some may think this is over the top self-indulgence, I find the song quite powerful because of the combination of lyrical simplicity and the blessedly simple arrangement: John on piano, Ringo on drums, Klaus Voorman on bass. Lennon was abandoned by both parents, a situation so contrary to my personal experience that I feel terrible and almost guilty for what he went through. I also understand completely that all the fame and adulation in the world could have never filled the deep hole in his heart. While the song may make some people uncomfortable, it’s a stark and honest expression of a core cause of Lennon’s lifelong insecurity, and I admire him for having the courage to try to deal with it.

Ah, but as it is with McCartney, so shall it be with Lennon: one good song rarely deserves another. “Hold On” is one of those “Yoko songs” where John donates free advertising to his low-talent spouse and throws in a plug for himself in the bargain. Others have argued that the constant references to Yoko do not detract from the universality of his message in his Yoko songs, but I disagree: I consider it a symptom of shared narcissism. The guitar riff is faintly reminiscent of the one in “Don’t Let Me Down,” and all in all, the lyrics about emotional fragility in a cold, mean world do not ring true for me. He sure doesn’t sound emotionally fragile in the next song, “I Found Out,” where his irritating claim of superior knowledge is tempered by a pretty strong groove and really nasty guitar tone.

All the songs up to this point have been about ME-ME-ME, so shifting the attention elsewhere comes as something of a relief. “Working Class Hero” is obviously more Dylan than Lennon, but that does not detract from the strength of the narrative, which describes how we’re all packaged for processing into the empty dream of a middle class existence. The way modern capitalist societies develop their young is exposed in all its senseless brutality:

They hurt you at home and they hit you at school

They hate you if you’re clever and they despise a fool

Till you’re so crazy you can’t follow their rules . . .

When they’ve tortured and scared you for twenty odd years

Then they expect you to pick a career

When you can’t really function you’re so full of fear

A working class hero is something to be

A working class hero is something to be

Thank God iTunes allows you to adjust the start and stop time of a given track, because I absolutely hate the way this song ends: “If you want to be hero, well, just follow me.” Meant literally or ironically, Lennon has turned the focus of the song back on himself to continue the ME-ME-ME theme. Sigh.

The narcissism continues in “Isolation,” which is actually a pretty good song from a musical perspective. However, the lines “Just a boy and little girl/Trying to change the whole wide world” bring up images of John and Yoko’s billboards advertising themselves as the saviors of the human race. It makes one question both their sincerity about saving the world and the conditions attached to it, which probably included a plan to force their followers to listen to Two Virgins three times a day while facing in the direction of the mansion where John kept his Rolls.

So much for dawning self-awareness.

“Remember” is probably my favorite song on the album, again featuring the trio of Lennon-Starr-Voorman. The lyrics, an interesting combination of references to Guy Fawkes Day and Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home to Me,” do not interfere with the steady intensity and the building, tempo-shifting rhythms. When Lennon was in the mood, he was still one of the best lead singers in history, and I love listening to his varied attack on this number. It’s followed by “Love,” a quiet song written in the same fragment-based lyrical style as “Because,” but lacking the exceptional harmonies that made that song so special.

“Well Well Well” gets Lennon back to rough rock ‘n’ roll, and like “Isolation,” I like the music but I don’t need any more fucking songs about Yoko. “Look at Me” repeats the fragment-heavy lyrical style of “Love,” and adds a guitar pattern that is very much “Dear Prudence,” which makes perfect sense when you learn that this one originated in The White Album Sessions. It is a pretty song, though, and the references to Yoko are less obvious.

Apparently, the song that got everyone’s attention back in the day was “God,” where John crushed the hopes of millions of Beatle fans by telling them that the dream was over. I admire him for doing that, and I even think the message was absolutely necessary: fans often want to live in the past and never let their heroes grow up and move on. I also like the message of calling bullshit on all the human saviors and crutches the human race has created to avoid dealing with reality, from the various religious traditions to the deification of political leaders and pop stars. The opening line, “God is a concept by which we measure our pain” is something I can agree with if the proper interpretation is “the strength of our belief in a God is largely dependent on the amount of fear within us.” Musically, the song has fabulous drama, building up slowly and dramatically to the stop-time at the end of the line, “I don’t believe in Beatles.”

And then he fucking ruins it. “I just believe in me, Yoko and me.” Wait. I thought he said they were trying to save the whole wide world. Later on “Imagine,” he invited the world to “join us.” Shouldn’t he then have had some belief in the other people they were trying to lead, or were they just pawns for John and Yoko to exploit with their iconic status that they constantly claimed was meaningless to them? Sorry, but “I just believe in me, Yoko and me” is plain, old-fashioned narcissistic bullshit.

To kick a dead horse (no pun intended), the album ends with the brief lo-fi lament, “My Mummy’s Dead,” which dampens the impact of “Mother” by a hundredfold.

In the end, I get as frustrated with Lennon as I do with McCartney. Perhaps the incredible adulation they received from Beatlemania and the phenomenal riches they earned from that experience warped their sensibilities. “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me,” said F. Scott Fitzgerald, the only thing that man ever said that I agree with. More to the point, I think both suffered from the lack of the other. The healthy competition between Lennon and McCartney forced them both to try to do their best. Without it, the flaws became more obvious.

I think the last word on this album should go to Tony Hendra, who satirized Lennon on the National Lampoon Radio Dinner album, using direct quotes from Lennon’s famous interview with Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone, (which may explain why this album wound up so high on that rag’s all-time list). And yes, folks, John Lennon actually said these things.

%d bloggers like this: