Thursday, October 14, 2010

John Lennon - "Meat City" from the LP Mind Games

John Lennon Mind Games album coverSo you might have noticed that the other day would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday.

Maybe you missed the news, if you didn't use a search engine on the 9th or you had smashed your clock radio with a sledgehammer by accident that morning, and then kicked in your WEGA for good measure. Oh, and if you live in New York, Hollywood, Reykjavik, or Liverpool, you would have had to have locked yourself in a soundproof closet for the duration of the day.

So, yeah, you probably heard, one way or the other.

Me myself I found myself savvy through my libero-techno-scifi-artsy-craftsy-civlib blog of choice, Boing Boing. Sort of a stripped down post, it was, that I'd stumbled across. Pescovitz had posted a drawing of Lennon linked to a place where you could buy a print of said drawing for a hundred and fifty bucks next to two words of text: "Imagine Peace."

Pretty poignant, is what I'm saying.

OK, no I'm not. I'm not saying that at all. But at least when I scanned the post I instantly knew the cheap sentiment that had been targeted.

So then, because I was under the weather, on the weekend no less, and feeling therefore a little grouchy, and also because I happen to believe it's true, I submitted my comment to the discussion of the man that had sprung up thereunder, which was in its entirety: "Overrated."

It was a sort of perverse thing to do, I know, posting such a cynical contribution to a thread that had been all Peaceburger and Genius before I arrived. Like I said, I was feeling sort of grumpy and--alright, guilty as charged--maybe wanted to spread it. I figured I'd be shouted down quickly, but since I had no intention of defending what I'd written--being headed for bed instead--no biggie.

So I verified my comment had posted and went to my sickbed.

I think it was Monday before I went back to Boing Boing again, and of course I couldn't help myself, I decided I should check out the post and see what the reaction to my provocative comment had been.

And a mod had deleted it. I saw the thing post, and there I was, same bat-time, same bat-channel, two days later, and it was as if I'd never even answered that Captcha challenge.

Now I was pissed. I hadn't been rude, I hadn't been antagonistic, yet here my comment had been deleted as if it were racist screed, as if it were obscenity.

Of course, it had been neither of these things. What my comment had been, now that I think of it, was sacrilegious. The Weekly World News convinced us long ago that Elvis had the whacko cultsters, but now I find it's been Lennon all the time.

Hair Peace, everyone!"Imagine" was a trifle, people, a barely pleasant ditty cloaked in vapid platitudes. "Give Peace a Chance" is at the least fun --you certainly feel as if you are in that Toronto hotel room with John and Yoko and Tom and Dick and everybody else, buzzed and smelling of incense--but it's not much more, a child's singalong, is this all that Lennon, on inspection, had?

No, of course not. He'd been in The Beatles of course, and I can't discount that too much, though that the Beatles were, are, have been, and must forever after be overrated is an unassailable truism. They were pretty fucking good, but no-one is that good, and if you disagree, consider for a moment the atrocity that is "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da."

Or if a McCartney song seems incongrous, consider "Revolution # 9."

Anyway, my point, beyond the obvious one that the most popular band in the history of the planet can't help but be overrated, is that you can't judge the members by the band. It was all chemistry. It's impossible to say what influence Lennon had on "Yesterday," and impossible to say what influence McCartney had on "Across the Universe."

So if you believe as I do that you can't judge Lennon by The Beatles, what do you have left?

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album coverWell, you have Plastic Ono Band, a stark masterpiece in which you hear the layers of Lennon's personality being peeled away until you've reached his raw inner core.

And that's certainly something. Don't take me wrong: in the masterpiece department, the score stands

Lennon In His Own Write 1
rastronomicals 0.

But some of the scores from those faves listened to here at La Historia are a bit higher. King Crimson has two, possibly three, masterpieces to their credit, and Pink Floyd certainly have that many. Eno made three, then realized he didn't even like making them. Neil Young's probably tossed off five.

And I don't see Neil Young's self-drawn mug on Google, or Bob Fripp's.

Plastic Ono Band is awesome, but make no mistake: Lennon never followed it up with anything remotely as good. In this respect, Lennon is as a solo artist more like Joseph Heller than William Faulkner, more like Night Ranger than Black Sabbath. He did good work, but not enough of it, and you don't get the feeling that his murder, as tragic and reasonless as it was, really deprived us of anything vital he needed to express, not if you're straight up about what Double Fantasy truly was.

John Lennon Double Fantasy album coverAnd yet somehow it is Lennon alone who has been selected for sanctification. Lennon was at core a rock star like any other, perhaps most like Lou Reed in that he played guitar in a great band that broke up and his best song is about heroin.

Or perhaps he's more like Ozzy, in that he found a kind of contentment in being marketed by his dominant wife.

A rock star like any other is what he was, prey to the same pecadilloes and fetishes and hedonisms as all the ones you read about in the tabloids. If you doubt that, you might read up on his lost weekend one day. Yet we find he's been canonized to the point where muttering "overrated" under your breath at a major website will get you censored.

Yikes. I guess if you've gotta get murdered, you might as well be made into a saint.

Anyway, another characteristic of Lennon's original solo work is its frequent failure to rock, witness "Imagine" and Double Fantasy again, if you'd like. Presented for you here--and to show I bear no ill will--is perhaps John's rockinest solo tune, the tape loops don't bother me at all.

File Under: (Just gotta give me some) Rock and roll


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your fun post. I totally agree, though when trying to make a best of tape I managed to put together 30 minutes of decent music, 'meat city' included as a favourite. And later on never played the tape.

But with the help of George Martin he was great sometimes.

But that's the trouble with ex-Beatles - the only one who got better was Yoko Ono ;)

tad said...

Rastro: I'm surprised about the censorship.
You make some good points here. Lennon was just a guy like the rest of us, lots of talent & a big ego, but lotsa doubts & insecurities, prone to anger & acting out, & always searching for the Mother he lost.
You might "enjoy" reading Albert Goldman's THE MANY LIVES OF JOHN LENNON, which shows just how human Lennon was -- Goldman always digs for the dirt. Goldman wrote a pretty great book on Lenny Bruce, & I was riveted by his book on Elvis, even while I was disgusted.
But w/ the Lennon book, I just Didn't Want To Know. I could only take a few chapters -- I started w/ the "Lost Weekend," cos I wanted 2 know more about the Lennon/Nilsson PUSSY CATS album, but Goldman's version of that story wasn't worth reading.
Goldman makes the worst out of everything, & also depicts Yoko as a heavily dominating, no-talent publicity-hungry bitch. How accurate this is I wouldn't know -- I DO know that when I saw a commercial 4 Yoko's JL/70th Birthday Interview on CNN, the 1st thing I thot was "Oh no -- Is Yoko doing ANOTHER interview about John?!"
I think Lennon was pretty lost in the '70s, veering from primal scream therapy to radicalism to cranking-out a singer-songwriterish album a year to doing an oldies album ... joining Elton John on-stage in NYC probably realizing that Elton was doing HIM a favor.... & then 5 years' retirement in the Dakota. I don't doubt this made him happier, but by then he didn't have much of an ongoing career to leave behind.
I remember when "Imagine" came out it was pleasant enuf but not stunning, everybody seemed to think so -- it didn't become a hymn til later. "Instant Karma" rocked harder. & I was always a sucker for "#9 Dream" & "Happy Xmas (War is Over)." & I can testify that DOUBLE FANTASY sold only moderately until Lennon was killed, & THEN it exploded -- the record store I worked at sold 200 copies of DF that day, & my boss told me that record-biz truism: "Death is good for business."
I'm sure Lennon's probly laffing somewhere at the thot that people still wonder what he might've done if he'd had another 30 years. But he wasn't a very sentimental guy, & he woulda wanted everybody to Get On With It.
...& what are Crimson's 2 or 3 masterpieces, in your opinion? -- TAD.

rastronomicals said...

Anon and Tad--thanks for your comments. Sometimes I seem so curmudgeonly to myself that I wonder if my cynical whining will resonate with anyone.

Anon, I don't think anyone expected any of The Beatles to get better in their solo careers, but simply maintaining would have been nice. If I believe that Lennon's solo legacy is overrated, I also believe that McCartney's is under-rated. Not to defend McCartney II or anything, but I do believe that Band on the Run and Venus and Mars both hang with some of The Beatles' output.

How's that for sacrilege?

Tad, think I'll pass on the Albert Goldman. Let's go with Lark's Tongues in Aspic and Discipline as KC's masterpieces, and if you catch me on the right day, I might add In the Court of the Crimson King: An Observation

Anonymous said...

Hi Rastro:
I was not too serious about the 'getting better' part though 'Yoko' is indeed my favourite answer to the eternal 'best beatle' question. And, yes, me too: far from being a fan I prefer McCartney's solo work.

By the way: I never thought of comparing King Crimson to The Beatles (though I like them both) but - funny coincidence - 'Court of the CK' and 'Lark's tongues' are my favourites too (I might prefer Lizard, but Discipline - why not).


tad said...

R: LARKS & DISCIPLINE are solid choices -- tho I've always thot LARKS sounded really shrill & sharp, like John Wetton's bass got lost, Xcept on "Easy Money." The live versions of the rest of the LARKS songs on the GREAT DECEIVER box sound so much stronger 2 me -- as do a couple trax from STARLESS & BIBLE BLACK. The GD box is probly my fave KC set ever, in fact. Tho YOUNG PERSON'S GUIDE blew my ears open back in '78 after I thot I'd given up on KC. I think COURT's 1/2 a great album. DISCIPLINE has a brilliant 1st side, & RED's got some great stuff....
Paul was as lost as John 4 the 1st couple yrs of the '70s, but I couldn't do w/o VENUS & MARS or BAND ON THE RUN. Good call. -- TAD.