Instant Karma is going to get you, gonna knock you right off your feet, better recognize your brothers, everyone you meet, why in the world are we here, surely not to live in pain and fear….
Today, October 9 is John Lennon’s birthday. If he had lived, he would have turned 68. For some reason in the USA, we seem to celebrate a famous person on the day of their death. In my humble way, I hope to be part of the solution to reverse that trend. If we love and admire a famous person, let’s commemorate and celebrate them on their birthday not the day they passed away. There is no other artist that I love more than John Lennon. I still listen to his music constantly; I hum his songs; I quote his and Yoko’s lyrics; I read books on him and Yoko; I watch films and documentaries… Musical genius, peace activist, innovator, artist, yes this is a blog to celebrate John Lennon.
Let’s start from the beginning…. although my father and I shared a love and connection to music, he didn’t like The Beatles. I grew up in a household devoid of the Beatles. It wasn’t until I began playing guitar (the subject perhaps of another blog) that as many budding guitar players will tell you, the Beatles entered my life for the simple reason that many of their *early* songs are perfect for learning to play the guitar. I suddenly realized I quite liked these “Beatles”, and I soon learned what I really liked was the John Lennon songs like “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Help!”, “In My Life”, “Come Together”, etc. It didn’t take long before I discovered Lennon’s solo material and I never left. Although I still listen to The Beatles now and then, it is John Lennon’s solo material, and later Yoko Ono’s material as well, that has remained strong in my life.
A brief note on Yoko: I understand that some people don’t like Yoko or her material. I am not one of them. I find her material to be brilliant and her complement to John perfect. If you’re up for it, give her a try. John Lennon often remarked that he felt Yoko’s music was simply far ahead of its time. I agree and we see her strong influence appear in the music of many bands today. She has a unique wit and vision that resonates in her songs and lyrics.
The next two books are not available at OWL but easily accessible through our shared network of library catalogs. They are two of the most important books to learn about John and Yoko’s thoughts on life and art.
The first is All We Are Saying: the Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono conducted by David Sheff (originally published under the title, The Playboy Interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono) was the first book I recall taking home from the library as a teenager during my “reluctant reader” years. It blew me away. I read it twice before I returned it. I’ve reread it several times. This along with The Ballad of John and Yoko by the editors of Rolling Stone are vital books for any Lennon fan. They are the last major discussions with both of them. John has matured and is, as always, brutally honest in his response to any question. The only place where I think sometimes he speaks for our benefit rather than what he truly believes may be when they talk specifically about Beatles music. In my opinion, he realized that it was extremely difficult to create music as they did and down deep inside, he was proud of what he had accomplished. However, I believe he did not understand or like the whole Beatles mystique and so some of what he says is to break that bubble. That’s my take on it at least.
One book in OWL’s collection I highly recommend is Bob Gruen’s John Lennon: the New York Years. Known as the world’s best Rock n Roll photograher, Gruen gives his spectacular shots of Lennon in NYC along with personal stories of his decade long close friendship with John and Yoko.
As you can imagine, I own all of Lennon’s CDs but today I will highlight some of those that can be found in OWL’s collection.
Imagine (released 1971): Although technically John’s Plastic Ono Band LP that includes such essentials as “Mother”, “God” and “Isolation” as released prior and in my opinion is his first “solo” work, Imagine is typically considered (for reasons lost on me) as John “first solo album”. It contains, of course, the infamous “Imagine”. Clearly after John wrote this song, he could have taken a bow and gone home for the night knowing that he had given the world such a gift that he need not worry about contributing anymore! Thankfully for all us Lennon fans, he kept on doing more. This is a spectacular album and it was the first one (along with an LP titled Shaved Fish) that were the first solo Lennon work I ever owned in my personal collection. Once again, John show his vulnerabilities with “Jealous Guy” and “Crippled Inside” as well as his rage against the political with “Just Give me Some Truth” and “I Don’t Want to be a Solider” and personal issues aimed with word-smithing brilliance at Paul McCartney with “How Do You Sleep”.
Sometime in New York City (originally released in 1972): This CD often receives mixed reviews. If you don’t agree with Lennon’s politics, then steer clear. If you do, then you’ll probably enjoy this CD. This live jam connects to the widespread political awareness and cultural consciousness of the time
Mind Games (released 1973): Often overlooked, there is so much to like in this CD. Favorites include, “Bring on the Lucie (Freda Peeple)”, “Tight As”, and “Meat City”. The release of this LP marked the beginning of John and Yoko’s separation. More on that in a moment…
Walls and Bridges (released 1974) this CD was made during the infamous “lost weekend” and includes his hit, “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”. My other favorites include, “#9 Dream” and “Scared”. This is the time period when Yoko throws John out of the house and essentially says, when you mature, come on back. This is reflected in the songs that are generated during this period as the titles noted here represent.
Double Fantasy (released 1980): As many know, with the birth of his son Sean, Lennon stepped away for music and the spotlight for five years to stay home and raise him. Double Fantasy was his and Yoko’s return to making music together. This is an outstanding collection for both John and Yoko, and proves that love and happiness can create brilliant art. Originally John and Yoko conceived this to the score for a play on their life. That is where some of the songs like, “I’m losing you” and “I’m moving on” fit in. There is only one song I can’t listen to because it makes me too sad, “Hard Times are Over”. Knowing that Yoko wrote that just before the hardest times of all were to come her way is too much to hear. That song aside, “Woman” is a masterpiece that John said he wrote for all women. Every song on this LP is outstanding.
Milk and Honey (released 1984). John and Yoko had so much material for Double Fantasy that they began working on Milk and Honey. After his murder, that project was stalled until Yoko began to work on it again. There are a couple tracks on this CD that John and Yoko wrote like “Grow Old Along with Me” that I find it difficult to enjoy knowing that they were not given that opportunity. But once again, brilliance reigns with songs like “Stepping Out”, “Nobody Told Me”, “I Don’t Want to Face It” and “Borrowed Time”. Yoko also shines here with “Sleepless Night”, “Don’t Be Scared”, “O’Sanity” and “Your Hands”. This CD is probably the best introduction to Yoko.
John and Yoko’s Year of Peace– This is a superb documentary. It stays on task and focused by detailing John and Yoko’s advertising campaign for peace in 1969 and includes excellent footage from the events, interviews, and commentary. It is an invaluable look at John and Yoko, as well as, the cultural history of the time.
The U.S. vs Lennon: this documentary chronicles the U.S. government’s attempt to have Lennon deported. The film is a mix of historic footage, commentary and interviews with Ono, Walter Cronkite, Senator George McGovern, Geraldo Rivera, and G. Gordon Liddy and others who discuss both viewpoints and thoughts at the time and in retrospect. Although this film is good and deserves viewership, I did feel that the opportunity was lost to be slightly more hard-hitting with known facts. I also felt that it would be helpful for viewers to know more about Lennon and this time period prior to watching the film because some aspects are not well explained.
“I’m Stepping Out.. just for awhile.. I’ll be in before 1 or 2 or 3…”
Yes! Ann Marie is the Library Director for the Oliver Wolcott Library and loves John and Yoko.