Category Archives: John Lennon

Paul McCartney was/is overrated.

In the immediate wake of the 9/11 unpleasantness, the most successful songwriter in the history of the world by almost any metric put pen to paper and spake thus to a waiting world:

This is my right, a right given by God 
To live a free life, to live in freedom 

Talking about freedom 
I’m talking about freedom 
I will fight, for the right 
To live in freedom 

Anyone, tries to take it away 
Will have to answer ’cause this is my right 

Has there ever been a more shallow, depressing response from such a canonized figure about such a galvanizing event? What pandering! God? Really? And the little allusion to potential bloodshed. Oh, you don’t think so? What does “will have to answer” mean to you in this context? A stern finger-wagging? Perhaps a fourth-hand reference on a b-side of one of his boutique singles? No, this was a shrewd re-immersion into the crass banalities which have defined his solo career. A man who talked about love while impregnating half of Australia. A man who could have told his partner in the biggest business music has ever known to shut the fuck up, lose the studio pet, and understand that the drugs and shit are ruining everything they had built up to that point, and that perhaps there’s a bigger picture. A currency to all the hard work. Instead, he hummed and hawed and approached that conflict much like Nick Mason would approach a 16th note. Silent, simmering sadness partnered with a withering fear of/aversion to conflict. The English Way. I hate him because he, in his way, deprived us of so much.

Paul McCartney is overrated. He, like his partner John Lennon, suffered mightily outside the hothouse of musical excellence that was “The Beatles 1962-1969”. But they all did, of course. His craft was melody. His music-hall tendencies and gift for a tune were free to flourish at first, then rot. He had nothing to say, because having something to say would require a stance. If Lennon chickened out over and over (two examples off-hand “You can count me out…in” and his complaints about Dylan making openly religious recordings while at the same time chiding his audience for believing a single word he was saying were things the contemporary Lennon kicked himself for not doing when he was more than equipped to privately, and yet his tantrums were moot exercises in house-husbandly petulance, as he never found the nerve to express his real beliefs), McCartney had nothing substantive to say. Ever. Had he died in 1980, the subsequent generations of lost youth might feel compelled to sift through his rock and roll detritus to find some deeper meaning in his silly love songs, but there will be none. No deeper meaning.

While Lennon’s needle moved from politics of peace to war to utopia to fascism to atheism to karma, McCartney was always careful to stand for nothing. I don’t know which solo career infuriates me more. At least George Harrison’s pontificating was somewhat consistent in its boorish self-righteousness.

Look at his attempts at engaging the political/social realm beyond the studio clock. “Give Ireland To The Irish” could have been a provocative indictment of Bloody Sunday. But after having initiated this potentially devastating, even career-defining leadership role, he proceeded to come off as some entitled school teacher.

Great Britain you are tremendous 
And nobody knows like me 
But really what are you doin’ 
In the land across the sea 

But really, Great Britain. What are you doing? Really? You are tremendous. But really…pish posh and all that. As ham-handed as Lennon’s ode to a political cause in which he himself was conveniently remote was, this little soiree into politics is embarrassing.  And it would happen a few more times. See, my theory is that the concept of meaningful, thoughtful lyrics are a total afterthought to this man. And he, like Lennon, was the beneficiary of nose-to-nose, men in white shirts and ties quality control like that of no other group, before or since. His gift for melody was unsurpassed. No one, not Arlen, Richard Rodgers, Hoagy Carmichael, Beethoven, no one created more enduring, more pleasing melodies than Paul McCartney. But he would and could create a pretty melody from the sound of  turkey being sliced. It’s anything deeper than that that makes me think that he’s overrated. He wrote a song called “Bip Bop”. “Morse Moose and the Grey Goose”.  He crafted immaculate arrangements and deeply moving lines and covered them with shit. Listen to “Motor of Love” off Flowers in the Dirt.  The production is a little dated with the electronic drums and airy synths and whatnot, but a fine melody. It’s when he sings “Turn on your motor of love..heavenly father look down from above…” that I realize that in his oeuvre, there’s no such thing as writing yourself into a lyrical corner.  He’s gonna blast his way out, come hell or high water, regardless of how that might compromise the effectiveness of the song itself.

What does “Jet” really mean? I think he just came up with a good melody, and thought up a one-word chorus. It could have been “puke” or “cup” or “plum”. Did it really matter? Even “Hey Jude” is the sort of song where you have to accept that he’s speaking in some sort of code, and your interpretation of that code depends on acceptance of the nonsensical. You and I have been TOLD what it’s about, but for poetic license to be given, one must understand what he’s saying. Lennon, in the deepest throes of his heroin addiction and incessant egotistical ramblings, somehow thought the song was about HIM.

Of course, it wasn’t always that way. When the machine was running on all cylinders, there was a built-in cull of the worst of his tendencies. This faded as time went on. But he sang these meaningless couplets with such conviction and such authority that you could not help being pulled in.

And while he’s no Anvil, he’s not that far off.

——————————————————————————–

You and me together
Nothing feels so good
Even if I get a medal from my local neighbourhood

———————————————————————————-

When you’re wide awake
Say it for goodness sake
It’s gonna be a great day
While you’re standing there
Get up and grab a chair
It’s gonna be a great day

———————————————————-———————

From “Jet” to “Rough Ride” to “Press” to “Beautiful Night”, even his pre-solo work. songs like “Get Back” start out as little political screeds. Pakistanis taking British jobs, etc.  Fine. You agree or don’t. But like Lennon, he backs off for the sake of some kind of impulsive need to be universal by being vague. Like a politician. No point in alienating half the population by standing for something when the people who don’t stand for that thing will never buy your records again. As if that were true. It’s ridiculous. I’m an atheist, but I still buy Stevie Wonder’s music and am moved by HIS conviction. Earth Wind and Fire. When McCartney mentions god, it’s a cheap means of writing himself out of a corner. I used to cringe when i’d listen to “Living in the Material World” because Harrison was preaching to me. At least he was PREACHING something. At least there was no question where he stood. In his lyrics, at least. In life he was just as filthy as anyone else in showbiz. But better that then the endlessly nebulous quicksand that is and always has been Paul McCartney’s lyrics.

If Paul McCartney ever decided to write music for Scott Walker, I wonder what would happen. Or Leonard Cohen. That would be something.

I leave you with:

That would be something 
Really would be something 
That would be something 
To meet you in the fallin’ rain momma 
To meet you in the fallin’ rain

No, all music doesn’t have to “mean something” but after all this time, wouldn’t it be nice to know that under all that sugar coating beat the heart of a real revolutionary?  A hardened criminal? A pervert? He did sing about animal rights once. Here’s that:

I saw a cat with a machine in his brain
The man who fed him said he didn’t feel any pain
I’d like to see that man take out that machine
And stick it in his own brain, you know what I mean

I saw a rabbit with its eyes full of tears
The lab that owned her had been doing it for years
Why don’t we make them pay for every last eye?
That couldn’t cry its own tears, do you know what I mean?

When I tell you that we’ll all be looking for changes
Changes in the way we treat our fellow creatures
And we will learn how to grow
(Learn how to grow)

Well, I tell you that we’ll all be looking for changes
Changes in the way we treat our fellow creatures
And we will learn how to grow, yeah
When we’re looking for changes

I saw a monkey that was learning to choke
A guy beside him gave him cigarettes to smoke
And every time that monkey started to cough
The bastard laughed his head off, do you know what I mean?

Really makes you think.

 

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The Pointer Sisters and Fanny will never be in the RRHOF.

First black vocal group to perform at the Grand Ole Opry? They wrote and performed this:

I love the coda with the bell ride. Always a sucker for the bell ride.

They had another hit with this:

This version kicks the ass of the original, which was recorded by…Lee Dorsey! Still pretty good.

Lee Dorset, as you all know, had had a big hit with “Ya Ya” 9 years previously. I case you never heard what pop music sounded like between Elvis in the Army and The Beatles, here’s about the best of it:

This song was covered by John Lennon on his “Walls and Bridges” album in 1974. Julian (his 11 year old son) on drums.

Here’s the story of why this brief recording exists.

The guy that produced all those slick Pointer Sisters hits in the 80’s (Neutron Dance, Automatic, Jump For My Love, all that shit) was Richard Perry, who also produced Ringo Starr’s biggest solo successes. He also produced the first all-female band signed to a major label, Fanny. You never heard of Fanny?

“Badge” was Eric Clapton misreading the word “bridge” on the lead sheet provided by George Harrison.  More Fanny doing The Beatles.

Not bad. Not great. But important.

David Bowie said (Rolling Stone, 29 December 1999):
“One of the most important female bands in American rock has been buried without a trace. And that is Fanny. They were one of the finest… rock bands of their time, in about 1973. They were extraordinary… they’re as important as anybody else who’s ever been, ever; it just wasn’t their time.”

When you email someone, the least they can do is respond with a cursory acknowledgement, right? I mean there IS a protocol. How is it that people have not grasped this yet? What the fuck is wrong with people? I bet Bonnie Pointer would have returned my emails. I know I’m no one. I know I am creepy to strangers. I know women are put off by me. But I’m not fucking threat. I’m just trying to be nice. What the fuck is wrong with people? You don’t care. This is all a cry for help. Man I need something to do.

Fanny could play:

Maybe 999 dances.

Written by the same guy who wrote one of my favorite R&B tunes.

The Beatles, as you know, performed some ferocious covers of obscure R&B tunes when they were earning their stripes in some of the shittiest bars/clubs in the world. One of their contemporaries didn’t fare too badly with the same strategy:

Damn. Mike Smith was a singer.

I love love love this blog, “Rockaeology“. The guy goes deep, and it’s always fascinating. Check it out.

As women everywhere are having their reproductive rights threatened by a powerful, well-financed minority, it reminds me of what John Lennon said all those years ago. “Woman IS the nigger of the world.”  The same erosion of rights affected freed slaves, and immigrants throughout history in this, the land of the free. It took guts to put a song like that on an ex-Beatle record, but no one ever said he didn’t have guts. Wait, did I?

This SAME backing band, Elephant’s Memory, included a female vocalist on their first record, and had a song featured in one of my favorite films, Midnight Cowboy.

So check out that blog. There’s a quote on it from one of the guys who wrote “867-5309 (Jenny)” that has recently become rather prescient in my own life:

“There was always a dagger in someone’s hand, and it was usually a friend’s hand…Sometimes, it’s your best buddy”…

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Land of the Lost

Woke up, made the kids breakfast, and then lunch. Drove them the Weaver Street Market to buy some half and half for the guest who was arriving at my home (who cancelled as I was heading home due to a headache) at 7:45. Dropped the kids off at 7:30. Got the cancellation, went home. Made coffee and drank it while watching The Sopranos on A & E. When that was over, watched DVR’d The Daily Show. I don’t like John Oliver. Went back to sleep until 10:45. Panicked, wondering where the day had gone or was going. Went to make a ham sandwich. Noticed some large black ants were being swatted around by the cats. Used deli mustard and swiss cheese. Drank a Coke Zero. Watched Relapse and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Made another cup of coffee. I could use a therapist for a week solid. It struck me that people need to pay other people to listen unconditionally.

Thought about recording some music. Didn’t. Won’t. Why bother? I have about five different unresolved conflicts with family and friends that just don’t seem to be moving. Played Soccer Bashi on the Wii. When I think about Soccer Bashi I feel a weird sort of anxiety.

I wish I had a job.

That ham sammy is just sitting there. I feel a scratch in my throat.

Olivia thinks the song “In My Life” might be about a soldier.

Sometimes I think I show signs of an addict. I feel like I burned so many bridges that now people won’t come near me, like an addict.

Get out. Take a walk!

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Where were you when John Lennon died?

My alibi is that I was upstairs sleeping. I couldn’t make it through the Monday night game so I hit the sack early.

When I woke up, my mother gave me the bad news and some lunch money. I liked the ice cream sandwiches. So I had this black Beatles t-shirt I bought myself for a Christmas gift. And I put it on in honor of the bewilderment and sadness I was feeling, depriving myself of the one Christmas gift I can recall. We must always honor our sad bewilderment. The t-shirt was a good size too small for my blossoming abdomen, stuffed with poorly digested frozen clam strips and french fries from the evening before. And cheap. Thin. I think the thread count was 5.

I wandered up and down the halls that day, as ever smelling of teenager B.O., trying not to get beat up, spat on, or mocked. And I felt the lukewarm line of defense that was afforded me by the allegiance I felt with my no doubt made-in-Taiwan shirt. I wondered if the slaves and tweens that manufactured the shirt knew what a fucking Beatle was. Were they bewildered and sad too? The picture on the front didn’t really look like the Beatles much at all, come to think of it.  More like the 1965 New York Knicks or the Manson Family pre-head shave.

So, in the words of the great man himself:

“Well- I been Meat City to see for myself…”

Let’s all visit Meat City today. In our own elegant way. Won’t we?

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John Lennon was overrated.

My love for the Beatles is almost organic. Almost cellular. In fact, it’s like loving one’s own arm or leg to say that one loves The Beatles. Not that everyone should. Just that it seems somehow unnatural not to. Impractical. However, I think that the way people fawn over John Lennon and his “idealism” is a bit out of place. If only because it all seems so fake. So contrived.

If you look at his solo career, you find that his one brilliant statement, his one irrefutable masterpiece, “Plastic Ono Band” (1970), was recorded and released when the wounds from his battles with McCartney were still raw, when he had the most chips in the game, and when the one emotion he was trained (and equipped) to facilitate (anger) was at its peak, justifiably or not. After that, the only thing he “done” was “Imagine”, a noble turn of a phrase, but ultimately as meaningless and empty as his other forays into passive politics.

Once that anger subsided, once the battle had clearly no chance to be revisited, he, like all of his brothers in arms, came out with some really regrettable dirges. In fact, pretty much the entirety of his solo career was a sort of winking apology to his own dissipating muse.

Why?

I’ve read countless books on the subject, seen and read copious volumes of interviews, and of course, devoured every record he ever put out. And it seems as if he signed a deal with the devil somewhere in Germany or before, to be a big man, to be untouchable, to be a soldier in a war on his own restlessness, fought unknowingly by his four partners, soon to be three, soon to be one. And once that dream came true (primarily due to his unwillingness to accept defeat, and of course because of his talent, and whithering good luck), there he was on the mountain top, fucking anything and everything he wanted to. Seeing the world, not as a sailor or a fighting man, but as a rock and roll Oscar Wilde, getting it up for his required 25 minutes of ringmaster to chaos, and then to the shelter of his concrete bunker once more.

I think Lennon was telling the truth when he said that he was thinking of quitting as early as 1965, and why not? What was there to achieve? He was doing what only Elvis had done before him, only more-so and with three people who could absolutely understand what he was talking about when and if he should ever try to explain what his life was like. I think the reason he didn’t quit is because he found himself in direct and needless competition with Paul McCartney, his only real peer on Earth. And as McCartney’s powers as a musician and songwriter grew, Lennon simply could not bring himself to follow his instincts to stop, as if the group he started could have gone on without him. He probably believed they could, but that’s because he was one insecure puppy. All McCartney ever wanted was a band, that band, and to tour like a normal band of the time.

Even after Manilla, even after Brian Epstein died, they could have toured, augmented their line-up, and played stuff from their most creative period, but I think McCartney demurred in deference to his clearly unstable partner, in an effort to keep the group a going concern.

Lennon did heroin because of his inability to stop those voices that told him that his partner had surpassed him in every way. He was roused to greatness in the psychedelic period not out of ambition or whimsy, but out of fear. He had admitted as much when he bemoaned McCartney’s ever-increasing output. It’s like he was only motivated in order to not be left behind. Which is why once his anger (at himself, no doubt, having never been anything but a whip-smart intellect) subsided, he was left with what can only be termed arrested development as a songwriter.  No more innovative or profound than George Harrison at his nadir, he quit after 1975. He gave the line that he was happy to relegate himself a “house husband” but I don’t buy it. His partner was literally conquering the world of music with an entirely unknown group of players. “What does that make me?” he must have thought more than once.

Yet history shows that all he had to do was pick up the phone and all the world would have been able to behold what they were waiting for, circa 1974. It was his frailty as an adult, and his pettiness in the face of almost universal admiration and respect that he chose to make an excuse and leave the party when he could have truly made the biggest difference. All the bed-in, David Peel, Yoko Ono stuff would have been but a strange diversion in the life of a fully formed adult, but that was what Lennon ceased to be when he reached the top of the mountain.

The reason I say all this stuff is because, as my good friend Dan and I were discussing online the other day, Paul McCartney is either an expert at hiding (well-deserved) righteous anger at how his career has been overlooked in favor of the maddeningly inconsistent Lennon canon, or he’s a fucking saint. When was the last time someone was walking around with a McCartney t-shirt?

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