Song Of The Day - 07 Aug 2008: Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)


Ago 15 2008, 19:07

John Lennon / Instant Karma! / Feb 1970

It's Beatles Week! Day 5: John Winston Ono Lennon, MBE (Yes, still an MBE. He sent back the medal, but no one can "give back" the honor once it's bestowed.)

(This is my favorite picture of Lennon. I'd love to have it framed just like this.)

I continue my salute to the individual members by the one who is most like me! Or rather, the one to whom I most compare: the same wry sense of skepticism, the constant sarcasm, cruel wit - especially for those he knew and loved best, the inability to suffer fools easily. In fact, I see so much of myself in him that it's probably what keeps him from being my favorite Beatle, seeing as how I get on my own nerves so much.

To me, after the Beatles era, the most interesting periods of his work are (1) the immediate post-Beatles work, as he was using it as an outlet for everything that had built up during the latter years and breakup, and for processing what was coming out of his therapy sessions with Dr. Arthur Janov, and (2) the work that came out of his rejuvenation from being away from music for the second half of the 70s to be stay-at-home husband and father.

Less interesting are the roughly four years from mid-late 1971 when he & Yoko moved to NYC through early 1975 when they reunited after the "lost weekend" separation. The political activism "Instant Radical!" period fulfilled John's continual need to channel his energies: music, drugs, music, Yoko, music...this seemed to be the latest means for John to channel his energies and surround himself with a circle beyond Yoko in the absence of his former bandmates. An easy path to an immediate spotlight, John was prone to co-opting causes and ideologies that weren't necessarily his. He wasn't phony about it, but I think he felt he could lend his status to help further these causes - not a bad thing and certainly worse ways to use one's fame - and in return it became something of a muse, though not necessarily with the best results.

The "lost weekend" provided even less interesting results. A man cut loose from a relationship that had turned from being a bit co-dependent to being completely open. The alcohol and "help" from Phil Spector turned out what IMHO is the weakest material of his entire career. On the other hand, it was an era when Yoko's contributions* were absent. Much of what he recorded with Spector disappeared and had to be re-recorded after his reconciliation with Yoko, and that resulted in Rock 'N' Roll in early 1975. That's an album I even now have yet to listen to.

Story of the Day: This is my memory dedicated to my childhood friend MH. When John was shot, I was only vaguely aware of who he was. I knew he had been in The Beatles, knew somewhat what he looked like from Sgt. Pepper's and the other albums, knew he lived in America. Other than that, the only things I knew were whatever my friend MH would tell me. MH had a big jones for Lennon. He, like Lennon, had an absent father in his life and was an only child. He lived down the street from me with his single mother, who was less his mother than she was his friend. He was a deep, quiet kid that sorta kept to himself, played a lot of Atari, and had some strange hobbies. He also had all of Lennon's albums and lots of The Beatles, too, and was happy to let anyone know that and play them for anybody that cared to listen. I did. Although I had played Sgt. Pepper's quite a bit at home, it's when I was with MH that I really heard most of it for the first time beyond anything that was on the radio. I wasn't old enough in those days to really consider the music and what it said, living more of a sheltered life in a happy home. But MH had a lot of time to himself, with his own thoughts, and making his own sense of the world. Alone a lot, too, given how much his mom worked. Knowing what I know now, I'm sure the things he heard in Lennon's music really resonated with him.

I was long asleep on the night of Lennon's death, and my mother said nothing to me the next morning that I can recall. I always walked to school alone, so when I arrived I still didn't know and greeted MH in the usual rambunctious way fifth grade boys do. He was actually a bit pissed at me and I could tell he was in a real funk. "Whatsa matter with you?" I still remember how ashen his face was when he told me, "John Lennon is dead. Somebody shot him last night and he died. I don't even have his new album yet..." His mother had woken him that night to tell him what had happened so he wouldn't have to find out at breakfast before school. Lennon didn't mean much to me at all in those days, but to this day I still feel so bad for MH because Lennon was such a big hero to him. He had a favorite John Lennon shirt that he used to wear a lot; he wore it every single day until Christmas break. MH and I kind of drifted apart once we got into 7th grade, and he moved away the following summer. I still don't know where he and his mother moved to, and I never heard from him again, but to this day I think of him when I remember the passing of John.

"We're pacifists, but I'm not sure what it means when you're such a pacifist that you get shot. I can never understand that."

Selection of the Day:
The first solo work, written and recorded in a single day and released in the weeks before the imminent split of The Beatles. I've always been a big believer in the concept of karma, and that might have something to do with why I like this song so much, but I also like the loose, rough assemblage of the motley crew that was put together for this.

Additional Favorite Tracks:
Revolution 9: "Number 9...number 9...number 9..." Lennon always had an obsession about that number. Though it's on side 4 of The Beatles, it's not so much a Beatles song, and is probably one of the best examples of the preposterousness of assigning authorship of all Lennon or McCartney Beatles songs to "Lennon-McCartney" In fact, it's not even a song, for that matter. It's where we first get the avant-garde influence of Yoko on John's work with the band, so it's interesting from that standpoint. Despite its possibly questionable inclusion within the Beatles oeuvre, I think it's a great piece in its own right. It really pushes the boundary of what the technology allowed at the time: built around sound collages and tape loops, it's a headphone trip with heavy stereo panning and fading of sound effects and nonsensical words. Could this possibly be the first real instance of sampling? "Turn me on, dead man."

In addition to some of the rockers of the early years, I think that the Beatles songs of John's that I like best are those where he's really being honest and thoughtful, rather than experimental and making music for trips. So it's not surprising that of all his solo albums, I like the first one best. John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band is the one he did right after coming out of therapy in the immediate aftermath of the breakup of The Beatles, so it's just him stripped down musically and lyrically. It's really miserable and a heavy downer, so naturally it's right up one of my preferred alleys, but it also made it less commercial, somewhat controversial, and it hasn't claimed as high a position as some of his other solo work. I actually prefer the original track listing over the 2000 reissue because I don't like either of the bonus tracks on the reissue and think the way the album originally closes works better in the overall theme of the album. So from this album, here are Top 5 (in track order):
I Found Out
Working Class Hero

From Imagine:
Imagine: Sure it's overplayed, but how could it not be a top pick?
I Don't Want To Be A Soldier Mama
How Do You Sleep?: His response to Too Many People, in which he back-hand acknowledges Paul McCartney's success with Yesterday but generally talks smack. George Harrison and Ringo Starr helped him on this one, and Ringo even at this point was still playing the role of conciliator, since the song was intended to be much more scathing. The thing is, the song is as much self-reflective of John as it is reflective on Paul. Paul answered with Let Me Roll It.

Since I've had less interest in Lennon's "activitst" and "lost weekend" eras, it was only recently while getting ready for this week that I listened to the next three albums, Some Time in New York City, Mind Games, and Walls and Bridges. I don't think I've been missing anything all these years, especially with the first of those*. There's some interesting thoughts in there, but the songs aren't really up my alley with the exception of:
Meat City from Mind Games, which is a nice cap to his activist era and no Phil Spector
Scared and Steel and Glass from Walls and Bridges, which is probably the album I like best of these three since it’s both free of Yoko’s influence and not so focused on his relationship with her.

As I said, I think the time away from making music in the second half of the 70s did him some good (in a lot of ways) and it shows with his material on the "return" album Double Fantasy:
I'm Losing You
Watching The Wheels

Unfortunately, there's nothing I really like from Milk And Honey other than Nobody Told Me, since it's essentially a split album with Yoko, and I really don't like the stuff she did.

This Day in Beatles History: August 7, 1957 - The Quarry Men make their Cavern Club debut...minus Paul, who was away on a scouting trip (!!)

Bonus Material:
While I encourage anyone to catch the film Imagine: John Lennon (which isn't difficult to do since it's aired frequently), I also recommend the more recent U.S. vs John Lennon. Though I am generally not interested in all of his political activism, it's a bit humorous to see how paranoid the Nixon government was over the guy. Probably good for John's sake that it was then, not now.

If you want three excellent books:
• For a biography, Ray Coleman's Lennon is a nice, thick comprehensive look at his life biography.

On the other hand, for the words of the man himself, there are the results of the two lengthy, deep interviews he gave:
• The first is summarized in Lennon Remembers. It's the result of the extended interview with Jann Wenner at the end of 1970 and a fascinating look at how John was beginning to process everything in retrospect after going through therapy. Given that it's an interview rather than a biography, it's knee-jerk and defensive, but that's what makes it a good read. He has a lot of anger toward his former band mates, toward other people around the band, toward himself. Not enough time had gone by to provide John with deeper understanding and wisdom about the Beatle years and the issues from his early life that he was just beginning to come to terms with, so it's colored by instant, unguarded, unprocessed bitterness over the breakup and a document of those feelings in the immediate aftermath. Generally, his outlook is dim and dismisses his time with The Beatles as unimportant.

Early on, Wenner asks him, "When did you know you were going to be working toward the line "I don't believe in Beatles"? (from "God")

Lennon: I don't know when I realized I was putting down all these things I didn't believe in. I could have gone on, it was like a Christmas card list - where do I end?...I was going to leave a gap and say, just fill in your own, for whoever you don't believe in. It just got out of hand. But Beatles was the final thing because it's like I no longer believe in myth, and Beatles is another myth. I don't believe in it. The dream's over. I'm not just talking about the Beatles is over, I'm talking about the generation thing. The dream's over, and I have personally got to get down to so-called reality."

• On the other hand, All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono was the result of the interviews with Playboy that came ten years later in September of 1980, by which time John had had lots of time to process and reflect and gain plenty of wisdom about that time and his relations with his former bandmates. He had worked with George and Ringo on certain things over that time and successfully launched his own solo career and gotten so much out of his system. Most importantly, he had had five fulfilling family-oriented years away from music and had just begun to get back into working again, so his tone is quite a bit more hopeful, brighter, and concilatory toward his former bandmates.

\m/ (`°_°´) \m/

*The one thing I have to state explicitly: I don't like Yoko's music. I have the hardest time with STINYC, DF, and M&H. Those albums require a lot of patience to listen to completely. I'm not bagging on Yoko personally. I'm not one of those haters that blame her for breaking up The Beatles (preposterous) and I don't intend to insult her any more than I would want John insulting my own wife, but these albums are difficult for fans of John's work because we have to take Yoko's with it. IMHO her stuff would not have sold without being combined with his.


  • sablespecter

    I'm glad it served as intended! The whole point was greater appreciation of not only The Beatles, but also the various solo works. Have you had a chance to dig into [i]John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band[/i] yet? I think you'd find it fascinating, even if not entirely to your liking. I recommend owning it even if only from an appreciation perspective. You have a choice between the fine CD remaster or high-quality 180-gram vinyl. If you wanted to expand your Lennon collection to include those that I highlighted, you could get most of the way there fairly easily since you already have [i]Imagine[/i], "Watching the Wheels" and "Instant Karma!" In addition to what you already have, Working Class Hero: The Definitive Lennon* would cover most of the rest of these except for: "I Found Out" and "Remember" - which you'd get on [i]John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band[/i] anyway "Meat City" and "Steel and Glass" - neither of which are essential but which you could just download. Of the two, I'd recommend the latter. And since you were interested in Whatever Gets You Thru The Night (Live With The Elton John Band) when I recently highlighted it, you could just get a digital track. The version on the WCH compilation is the studio version. Since this original post, I have had the time to dig into [i]Rock 'n' Roll[/i]. About the only thing interesting on it musically is his cover of Stand by Me, and perhaps the two medleys. However, the best part of this album is the twisting tale behind it**, which I only barely hinted at above. Makes me want to own it just because of that. Actually, I'd really love to have a copy of Roots, just because of the collectibility. Be sure you snag that if you ever see a copy, but it's very valuable! --------------------------------- *Oh, OK Last, fine: Working Class Hero: The Definitive Lennon (disc 1) and Working Class Hero: The Definitive Lennon (disc 2) **Involving lawsuits, thievery, Phil Spector in a coma, and why George Lucas killed the market potential for this album!

    Feb 10 2009, 21:44
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