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Old Dec 04, 2005, 08:56 PM   #1
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Thumbs up What is real is almost unbearable

In John Lennon's best music, what is real is almost unbearable

By Greg Kot
Tribune music critic
Published December 4, 2005

As geniuses go, John Lennon was no more troubled or insecure than most. He was on intimate terms with pain, and music was his way of working through it. He did so with an undiluted honesty that still can make a listener wince.

There are those who value Lennon's music as a symbol of rebellion, a protest singer who urged us to "give peace a chance" and a utopian spirit who sang, "Imagine no possessions." But those sentiments, though obviously heartfelt, have not aged particularly well. There's nothing wrong with the directness that powered some of Lennon's best-loved political anthems, but to these ears the likes of "Imagine" and "Give Peace a Chance" just sound simplistic, the rock 'n' roll equivalent of singing "Kumbaya" 'round the campfire.

Others still idolize the freshfaced rocker who with Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr made the girls scream by shaking his mop top and insisting, "I want to hold your hand." Almost all Baby Boomers can tell you where they were when they first heard the Beatles sing those words in 1964. It was a life-changing moment for a generation, but it belongs to the past, almost quaint in its innocence.

Then there was the psychedelic guru who laid siege to the doors of perception in songs such as "Strawberry Fields Forever," "I Am the Walrus" and "Rain." Now we're getting somewhere. The merger of insinuating melody and abstract lyrics and textures still sounds ahead of its time.

From 1966 to '68, Lennon and the Beatles used the studio to create soundscapes that conjured another world, a sanctuary where "nothing is real." Little wonder. In his best music, what is real is almost unbearable. Yet immediately after this period, in songs such as "Cold Turkey," "Mother" and "God," he confronted that reality with shocking directness.

"Songwriting is about getting the demon out of me," Lennon once said. "It's like being possessed."

Lennon's demons are well-documented. The singer's troubled childhood haunted him all his life. His parents separated when he was 2, and he was reared by an aunt and uncle; when he was 17, his mother was killed in a bus accident. He later went through a divorce of his own at the height of the Beatles' success and grappled with heroin addiction. His second marriage, to Yoko Ono, was tumultuous; the couple splintered in the early '70s, and Lennon embarked on an 18-month bender.

All of it was fodder for Lennon's music, beginning in 1965 with the Beatles' "Help!" Lennon originally conceived the song as a midtempo ballad in which he addressed his self-doubt with unusual frankness; up till then the Beatles had been a fairly upbeat pop combo singing about adolescent love. But at this point Lennon was questioning everything -- his fame, the Beatles, his marriage, even his fluctuating weight -- and his writing became an outlet. "Help!" compressed his state of mind into a plea: "Help me get my feet back on the ground/Won't you please, please help me?"

In the studio, the band and producer George Martin revved up the tempo over Lennon's objections, and the song became a No. 1 hit while serving as the title track for the Beatles' second movie. That tension -- between Lennon's personal need to pour out his innermost emotions in song and the Beatles' collective need to keep feeding the hit machine -- played itself out until the quartet's eventual demise five years later.

In "Norwegian Wood," released later in '65, Lennon wrote the most complex narrative in the Beatles' songbook to that

point -- about an affair that reflected the state of his own crumbling marriage to Cynthia Lennon.

By 1966, Lennon's self-doubt had begun to twist into increasingly agitated and otherworldly music. The choppy rhythms and droning insinuation in Lennon's voice on "She Said, She Said" create an air of instability, which is only briefly resolved when the singer wistfully looks back to his childhood: "When I was a boy everything was right, everything was right."

The metallic brutality of "Yer Blues," which surfaced on the Beatles' self-titled "white album" in 1968, worked as a near parody of the singer's increasingly bleak, blank worldview: "Yes, I'm lonely/Wanna die."

Lennon's growing disenchantment with the Beatles was in part musical. The unvarnished directness of "Yer Blues" stood in opposition to the more elaborate production ideas of his songwriting partner, McCartney. When "Cold Turkey," Lennon's harrowing re-enactment of heroin withdrawal, was turned down by the other Beatles during the recording sessions for "Abbey Road," Lennon released it as a single under the Plastic Ono Band moniker in October 1969.

After the Beatles' break-up became official the next year, Lennon went to work in earnest on his first solo album. Fresh off four months of primal-scream therapy with psychologist Arthur Janov, Lennon let it rip on "Plastic Ono Band," still one of the most chilling albums ever made. A funeral bell tolls, and Lennon purges decades of guilt and despair on "Mother": "Mother, you had me, but I never had you." On "God," Lennon plucks out the eyes of one sacred cow after another, including the Beatles.

There was little more for Lennon to say after that. On the 1971 "Imagine" album, Lennon spit out "Gimme Some Truth," a manifesto that underscored all of his best music. It could be read as a demand to put up or shut up. By 1975, Lennon did the latter when he dropped out of the music business after reuniting with Ono and having a child. He returned in 1980 to make one last album, the blandly sweet-tempered "Double Fantasy."

When that final album was reissued in 2000, several previously unreleased songs were appended to it, including "Help Me to Help Myself." It's little more than a raw demo with Lennon alone at the piano. But it contains a wrenching premonition in its opening lines: "Well I tried so hard to settle down/But the angel of destruction keeps on/Houndin' me all around."

Shortly after singing those lines, Lennon was shot dead in the streets of his adopted hometown.

In John Lennon's best music, what is real is almost unbearable

By Greg Kot
Tribune music critic
Published December 4, 2005

"Money (That's What I Want)" (1964) The ferocity of Lennon's vocal on this cover of Barrett Strong's Motown hit still sends a shiver up the spine.

"Help!" (1965) The sound of a man drowning inside his own No. 1 pop hit.

Rubber Soul (1965) Bob Dylan's massive influence on the midperiod Beatles seeps into "Norwegian Wood," Lennon's sitar-driven ode to an illicit affair. "Girl" contains one of Lennon's most lascivious vocals, right down to the way he inhales during the chorus. "In My Life" finds the then-24-year-old singer embracing his mortality with moving eloquence.

Revolver (1966) The audacious acid-rock soundscapes of "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "She Said, She Said" perfectly suit Lennon's vision of a world losing its bearings.

"Rain" (1966) Lennon's psychedelic masterpiece driven by Ringo Starr's spectacular drumming and Paul McCartney's trampoline-like bass line.

"Strawberry Fields Forever" (1967) An orchestral tapestry that tested the limits of the pop song and required 55 hours to record.

"I Am the Walrus" (1967) Gibberish raised to the level of wicked social commentary that all Lewis Carroll fans should appreciate.

The Beatles (1968) The quartet's self-titled "white album" provides a blueprint for Lennon's solo career. There's the delicate finger-picking of "Julia," the in-your-face drive of "Yer Blues" and the brilliant pastiche of "Happiness Is a Warm Gun."

"Come Together" (1969) A prototypical stoner-rock anthem.


"Cold Turkey" (1969) Scorched-earth method-acting by Lennon as he relives the anguish of withdrawal.

"Instant Karma" (1970) Slamming, Phil Spector-produced wall of sound that cries, "We all shine on!"

Plastic Ono Band (1970) An exorcism. "The dream is over," Lennon sang, and it was.

Imagine (1971) Though the title song is hippie hokum, Lennon delivers the goods in the self-lacerating "Jealous Guy" and the snarling "Gimme Some Truth."

"#9 Dream" (1975) A strangely moving and ambitious visitation from the muse that inspired "I Am the Walrus" and "Strawberry Fields Forever."

"Stand By Me" (1975) To woo back Yoko Ono, Lennon conjures the soul singer within on this gritty cover of Ben E. King's classic ballad.

-- Greg Kot
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Old Dec 05, 2005, 06:55 AM   #2
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The Chicago Tribune published a series of articles on remembering Lennon yesterday. I read the articles first without checking the bylines, but it was obvious this one was a typical piece of Greg Kot trash with the paragraph ending " these ears the likes of "Imagine" and "Give Peace a Chance" just sound simplistic, the rock 'n' roll equivalent of singing "Kumbaya" 'round the campfire." He then goes on to diss Double Fantasy as well. Otherwise the articles appeared to be a decent tribute including an interesting one from a fan of the post-Lennon generation commenting how to him it must have been like how he felt when Kurt Cobain died.
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Old Dec 05, 2005, 07:38 AM   #3
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My local paper published two articles about John on December 2, 2005. One would think there would be more coverage and TV time in re the former Chief Beatle.
With a love like that, you know you should be glad, yeah, yeah, yeah!-- Beatles, 1963

If I seem to act unkind, it's only me, it's not my mind. -- George Harrison, 1966
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Old Dec 05, 2005, 08:52 AM   #4
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Today's series of Mirror articles parade the same old junk,most of it typical tabloid stuff
nothing new same old thing
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Old Dec 05, 2005, 12:57 PM   #5
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Here is the article from the it's tabloid weirdness...I apologise ahead of time if it makes anyone upset...

December 2005
His lost year of boozing, brawls and a young lover supplied by Yoko
By David Edwards
SEETHING with rage and blind drunk, John Lennon leapt from his seat, swinging wildly at the man in front of him. As people sitting nearby in the nightclub started to scream, bouncers pounced on the former Beatle.

The man who had implored the world to Give Peace A Chance was out of control ...

As John and his drinking buddy, singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson were hauled outside, angry clubgoers rained punch after punch on the pair for spoiling their evening.

But Lennon was too drunk to feel the pain - and too angry to care. Out on the street, he attacked a parking attendant, wrestling him to the ground, before Nilsson grabbed him and they fled into the Los Angeles night in their limousine.

It was the low-point of John's infamous 'lost weekend', a bender that began after he separated from his wife, Yoko Ono and stretched into a rabid, drink-fuelled 15 months.

John later said: "She kicked me out, pure and simple. I was behaving stupidly and I'd lost whatever it was about me that she found good in the first place. It was grow-up time."


The seeds for the lost weekend were sown in early 1973 when John, depressed at poor sales of his latest album, spent six months in bed, drinking crateloads of lager. Emaciated, dishevelled and unshaven, he was barely on speaking terms with his wife of four years, who had in any case secretly become infatuated with guitarist David Spinozza. As in most things, Yoko's solution to their marriage problems was unorthodox - she set him up with a lover.

May Pang was a pretty 22-year-old American-Chinese who had worked as the Lennons' secretary for two years. She had become used to their bizarre lifestyle, but nothing could have prepared her for what Yoko, then 40, proposed.

In August 1973, Yoko stepped into May's office in the Dakota building where they lived, and said: "John and I are not getting along. We've been arguing, we're growing apart. John will probably want to start seeing other people. May, I know he likes you. If he should ask you to go out with him, you should go."

May, now 55, explains: "I was embarrassed, frightened. I found out later that John didn't know what to do with himself either - but she coaxed both of us.

"John just said, 'Well, she's going to keep doing this, I'm just going for it.'

"In the Japanese tradition, the concubine fulfils your husband's needs if you cannot, but you are still married to them. That was the way of life in Japan when Yoko was growing up."

Within three days the couple were sleeping together.

A month later, while Yoko was at a feminist conference in Chicago, John and his new girlfriend packed their bags to begin their new life in California.

At first, John treated it all as a wonderful adventure and a chance to reinvent himself.

For May's 23rd birthday that October, he paid $800 for a 1968 Plymouth Barracuda while they set up home in a rented house in Bel Air.

But John's romanticised dreams of starting again soon came unstuck when he hit upon the plan of recording an album of rock-and-roll standards.

Unfortunately, he picked the legendary, but highly unstable Phil Spector to produce the record.

When John and May turned up at the A&M studio, they had their first inkling of what they'd got themselves into.

Spector strode into the studio, a pistol barely concealed in a shoulder holster, followed by a bearded man called George. Although Spector described him as his 'minder', the man was actually there to protect other people from his employer.

By the second night, the sessions had descended into chaos as John, 33, passed around a bottle of vodka to the other musicians, who puffed on joints as they killed time. As John's long-term friend, Elliot Mintz, says: "John was a lousy drinker. He just couldn't handle booze. If he had one glass of wine, I'd have to cancel all plans for the next three days."

When the session ended at 3am, John was paralytic.

After he drunkenly punched a guitarist, Spector tried to break up the fight by throwing the singer into the back of his Rolls Royce. Separated from May, John went berserk, screaming her name and tearing at the hair of drummer Jim Keltner, who sat beside him trying to restrain him.

When they pulled into the driveway of the home he and May were renting, he sprang from the car and lunged for Spector's throat. The evening ended with George, the bodyguard, tying John to a bed with neckties.

As they left, John pleaded: "Please let me go, Phil. Be my baby. I'll sing your song great, Phil."

May's hopes of a life of bliss with John were quickly unravelling, not helped by Yoko's hourly phone calls to check up on her estranged husband.

May, always a conservative dresser, would now wear clothes picked for her by John, including hipsters, low-cut blouses and gold chains.

John would sit her on his knee, one hand gripping her backside, the other disappearing into her top. He later boasted how they had sex every day.

But John's drinking was getting out of control. After attacking fans who had gathered to see him outside the On The Rox nightclub in LA, he later turned up blind drunk at the Troubadour club - with a Kotex sanitary towel stuck to his head.

When a waitress refused to serve him, he retorted: "Don't you know who I am?" "Yeah," she replied. "You're an asshole with a Kotex on your head."

But far worse was to come. After a week-long bender with Harry Nilsson and Who drummer Keith Moon, on March 13, 1974, John's drunken antics made front pages around the world.

Three weeks earlier he'd heard the rumours of Yoko's affair with Spinozza. At first he appeared philosophical, telling May: "I was beginning to worry she'd never get it." But the news played on his mind and, as he entered the Troubadour club at midnight, he was a timebomb ready to explode.

ON the bill were comedy musicians, the Smothers Brothers, and a large crowd had turned out.

Sitting in the VIP booth with Harry and May, John ordered a round of triple brandy Alexanders - cognac with milk - downing his in a single gulp before calling for another.

With the show about to start, John and Harry began singing an old favourite, I Can't Stand The Rain, accompanying themselves by banging cutlery on their glasses. Out of nowhere, a photographer arrived at their table and seizing the moment, John grabbed May by the throat and kissed her on the lips. He knew the picture would be in the papers where Yoko would see it.

Then, as the Smothers Brothers walked on to the stage, the drunken singing continued, while John shouted: "Hey! Smothers Brothers! F*** a cow!"

Finally their manager, trembling with rage, grabbed John's shoulder and hissed: "Look, we've worked hard for this and I'm not going to let you f*** it up."

John lashed out and caught him on the chin before being flung from the club by bouncers.

In the end, it was music that saved John from himself - and led to his reunion with Yoko. The event was a concert given by Elton John at New York's Madison Square Garden in late 1974. Bullied into appearing before the 20,000 fans, a terrified John played three numbers - his last concert appearance.

Yoko, there to meet him backstage, simply said: "You were great, John."

Two months later, they were back together although John and May continued their affair until John's murder in 1980.

"He called me just a few months before he died," she says. "He was trying to work out how he could get me to spend some time with him.

"In the end, he knew that I wasn't going to do anything to manipulate him to stay. And I think it's one of the reasons why he stayed in touch."
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Old Dec 05, 2005, 01:24 PM   #6
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Just how much truth is there supposed to be here?
You get a totally different story in the Phil Spector biog and this book pulls no punches as its about a guy who was totally off the wall
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