Wednesday, September 29, 2010

John Lennon and the 70s

John Lennon turns 70 this October.  Two people that never died for me are John Lennon and Prasad Guha.  Like Elvis’ ghost, they pop up at every turn of my life, in my hours of darkness and in my cloudy nights, and show me the way.  Among the posters from my teen den at Regent Estate that I regret not having with me today is the B&W Lennon 1940-1980 commemorative one.  The other is a collage of portraits of Hendrix, Joplin and Jim Morrison against a starlit purple sky.  Lennon was a visionary with a quest, to bring to all of mankind the simple truth that we are one, and that life was too precious to be wasted on mundane pursuits of personal gain, power and prestige.
Lennon Legend: The Very Best Of John LennonAcousticDouble Fantasy
John is better known for being a part of The Beatles.  It is foolish of anyone to claim the ability to successfully capture the what, why and how of the Beatles phenomenon, since apart from their profound influence on modern music, much of modern thinking has been irrevocably altered by the impact they created, and it is a herculean task to comprehensively assess their import.  I am not talking about the Woodstock or protest music type of influence, but that of changing the way song itself is perceived.  And instrumental in this was Lennon.  One needs to listen to the early years to appreciate their songwriting, melodic structures, arrangements, and harmonics that brought out the the best of their young spirited voices, voices and spirits that stayed young for a long time, well, maybe seven or eight years.  Their mastery of form became more apparent with time, and to date, Sgt. Peppers (the first and the best concept album ever) and two years later Abbey Road, remain unparalleled in their tightness, and set the standards for all bands to follow, from Pink Floyd to Nazia Hassan and Biddu, from Clapton to Amy Winehouse, and from Queen to Oasis.   Almost all the Beatles songs are written by Lennon and Paul McCartney.  It is universally acknowledged that the wordsmith among the two was Lennon.  The work that Lennon did after The Beatles is testimony to his brilliance as a writer.  Imagine was a song that became the anthem of the peace movement of the 70s.  Give peace a chance, Dear Yoko, Mother, God,  and Mind Games are the first songs that come to mind when considering his solo songwriting career.  

In order to understand what shaped the mind of the man who wrote, Yes is the answer/And you know that for sure/Yes is surrender/You got to let it, you got to let it go, while also writing songs like Imagine, it is important to look at how his life played out.  He had to choose between his mother and father at the age of five, and till he was 25 he had no contact with his father, and was brought up by his aunt, Mimi and his longing for his mother, Julia, who was a flitting presence in his growing years, is captured in the haunting lyrics of his song of the same name, Julia.  The lyrics of Mother (Mama dont go/ Daddy come home) compete with his seminal works like Strawberry Fields Forever and Norwegian Wood in communicating his anguish over his tortured childhood. Describing his childhood, he says, “I did my best to disrupt every friend's home ... partly, maybe, it was out of envy that I didn't have this so-called home.”  At college, he was recognized more as a troublemaker than as a creative artist (he studied at the Liverpool College of Art).  From this difficult and modest background, he and his friends went on to become The Beatles, a worldwide megagroup with fan following and commercial success, the likes of which were unheard for musicians at the time.  With this came the insanity that follows mass adulation and rapid stardom, an insanity that seemed to be the answer that he had sought all his youth.  Drugs, spirituality, sex, arrogance, politics, persecution, and defiance all came together like a jigsaw puzzle.  His struggle with relationships and his challenge in processing his childhood are evidenced in his relationship with Julian Lennon, his first born, with whom he was unable to share a meaningful parental relationship, the pain of which can be found in the two songs Good Night (written for Julian) and the ending of Beautiful Boy (for Sean Lennon, his son with Yoko) where he reproduces the Ringo Starr whispered lines of the earlier song.

The entry of Yoko Ono and the arrival of the breaking point in the tensions between the Fab Four made his forays into avant garde and the dissolution of the magic that was The Beatles inevitable.  A lot has been written and said about Yoko Ono and her role in the breakup of the Beatles, but it is useful to see it in perspective.  The band had reached its creative zenith, and like Pink Floyd, not only were they bickering and mismanaging themselves, but also writing substandard and inconsequential songs.  (Do look up Brian Epstein and his role not only in their success and failures but also as an anchor for their unfettered creativity, a politically correct term for madness.)  Their vision was becoming increasingly clouded, arrogant and irrational.  Additionally, and this is my personal view, Lennon was in need of venturing into avenues that the Beatles could not offer him.  Although all four of them shared the vision of being agents of change and subscribed to trying to make the world a better place, his philosophical search was one that could not be found in the realm of rock and roll music alone.  It was essential for him to break free, and mystically that is precisely what happened, and even though at the time it seemed born more out of bitterness and rivalry, it freed all of them up to pursue their unique destinies without diluting the immensity of what they had achieved as a foursome.

His post Beatles years continued to see him churning out material that showcased not only his creativity but also his universal humanism and genuine concern for the future of civilization.  He wrote Imagine two years after The Beatles disbanded.  It is one of those songs that will never fade away and will only lose its relevance after we as a people fulfill our vow to establish peace on this planet.  Still bearing the messianic halo from the Beatles years, he began to turn his life into a creative statement, setting benchmarks for popular artists to use their medium as social commentary.  Technically too, he set new standards in the realms of avant garde and underground music with his collaborations.

There is no better way to capture the essence of this prophet of peace, who went from abandonment to the heights of acceptance, from violence and aggression to giving peace a chance, and who lost his life to a jealous fan’s bullet, than to let him speak for himself.  

Imagine there's no Heaven, It's easy if you try, No hell below us, Above us only sky
Imagine all the people, Living for today

Imagine there's no country, It isn't hard to do, Nothing to kill or die for, And no religion too
Imagine all the people, Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer, But I'm not the only one.  I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can, No need for greed or hunger, A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people, Sharing all the world

You may say that I'm a dreamer, But I'm not the only one.  I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will be as one

If you liked this post, you may also want to read 
what I wrote about Bob Dylan.

1 comment:

  1. He is truly great and liked your insight of their influence. Beautiful post.


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