Tuesday, October 9, 2007

John Lennon, 1940-1980

John Lennon would have been sixty-seven years old today. Sixty-seven! It makes me wish I hadn't already written about "Instant Karma" the other day, because that's probably my favorite Lennon solo record.

The dichotomy of the Beatles has broken out to where, in many of the popular critical imaginings, McCartney was the lightweight pop-music mastermind while Lennon was the true leather-jacketed rock & roller, ever-wary of what he called McCartney's "granny" music. While there's some truth to that, it's also true that Lennon was responsible for a lot of the studio-based weirdness the band propagated in its later years: "Strawberry Fields Forever," "I Am the Walrus," "Revolution No. 9." These are not the works of a ideologue.

Plastic Ono Band, though, is about as raw and stripped-down as it gets -- basically just Lennon on vocals and guitar, Klaus Voorman on bass, and Ringo on drums. "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" it ain't. I wasn't really paying attention at that point, but I wonder: was the Lennon-McCartney bifurcation in the air while the Beatles were still extant, or was it something that developed in the course of their solo careers?

Lennon's granny glasses made their debut, incidentally, on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely album cover; before then, offstage, he wore thick black government-issued frames (it sounds like he was virtually blind onstage). I wish I had a picture of him in them.


Joe said...

I thought the granny glasses were government issue too.

Not quite sure what you mean about the studio weirdness, since people always point to that as an example of how much more an artiste John was than Paul, the pop guy. But I think if you compare "Yer Blues" to "Rocky Raccoon" you get a pretty clear sense that the bifurcation existed during the Beatles years.

Thing is, Paul sang the Little Richard covers on the early records. He was a great leather-jacketed rock & roller.

T. Nawrocki said...

Paul wrote and sang "Helter Skelter," too (not to mention "Helen Wheels"). I get your point, though: Lennon fans try to argue that he outflanked Paul on both the Fluxus side and the down 'n dirty side, and if he could pull that off, he must have really been a genius.

If you read Tim Riley's "Tell Me Why," a critical exegesis of all the Beatles songs, it gets really annoying after a while, because once the boys start composing separately, Riley loves every Lennon song and hates every McCartney song. Without fail. But people in the know -- and here I'm referring to myself and Gaylord Fields -- know that McCartney was easily the better composer and musician of the pair, which is not to say that Lennon wasn't a genius in his own right.