|Issue 1 - December 1971|
|Lennon Catharsis: Pt.II|
For one who has grown up as part of the Beatle generation and all that that entails, I find some difficulty in making a proper critical appraisal of the music of someone whose basic ideology I subscribe to but find hard to stomach in undiluted form on record. When, in 1968, I spent some hours talking to John about the Universal Trip we are all on, I remember him saying something like "That's my gig on earth, to turn out all this stuff, and I'll turn it out regardless of what anybody thinks or says about it." He has lived to carry out that task or threat, whichever way you look at it, and we are benefiting or suffering, depending on your Trip at the time.
Well, well, well, John, let's see what your IMAGINation has conjured up for us this time. The album title is also the title of the first cut - "Imagine" is an appeal to us to cast off our worldly attachments and join the people of the present who:
"Imagine there's no countries
"you may say I'm a dreamer
Like so many other cuts on this album, the sound of Imagine tends to offset the basic lyric visuals printed on the inner cover. John's piano-work is competent and provides a sound complement to that voice we all know so well. Elvis is the only other person I can think of who can cover such a wide spectrum of feeling as far as singing is concerned.
Unfortunately, I don't think the straights to whom the song is directed will respond in the desired way to this oft-repeated millennial vision. Nevertheless the power of such a song should be an inspiration to us all.
There is a certain pathos in "Crippled Inside", mainly due to the combination of jaunty-type paul/ringo tempo with painful soul-searching by John.
Track three sees John as a "Jealous Guy". Plaintive words and music by John which remind us all of a common attachment situation where, I can only suppose (as John forces us to) Yoko is hassling him because of another guy.
"It's so Hard" gives us raw Lennon in a para-ideological form:
"you got to live
A 12 bar with searing saxophone by King Curtis which gets right down into your genitals (be careful). One of the few cuts of the LP which I regard as coming from John's own operative regions.
"I don't wanna be a soldier mamma I don't wanna die" is tremendous evocative of Dylan's "It's all right Ma, I'm only bleeding", if not because of the inherent negativity involved (fourteen reiterations of the phrase "Oh, no" plus, as a psychedelic fillip, Pink Floyd-type fade-out); but also due to John's renunciation of society as we know it:
"I don't wanna be a rich man manna,
OK, John, so you don't wanna; neither did I - when I was a kid - but sometime in our earthly trip we have to compromise and work at the bastards from within. Who are you talking to?
You said to me once (obviously I wouldn't dare hold you to this, but I must take some kind of definitive stand), "Everybody thinks everybody else has sold out, but there's even guys in business that don't think they've compromised and they haven't really. They're secretly trying to do what everyone else is trying to do, but they don't know it half the time." So what's happened in three years? John is obviously not on a destruction kick, yet I find his lyrics and music on this one a very muddled affair.
The two most powerful songs on the whole album are, in my opinion, "gimme some truth" and "how do you sleep". The anger of the first is represented so well by this line:
"no short-haired yellow bellied
This is spat out with that Lennon fury which I hope will never be soft-soaped out of the scene. It is the nearest point on the album which John gets to making both a critically aware statement and also creating superb musical poetry.
"All I want is the truth,
Why make such a fuss about the truth though? We all know that the truth is within you. Who ever expected politicians to realise that?
The now famous anti-McCartney cut on this album demands some comment, though not much. So the
"only thing you (Paul) done
Clever pun, but not, I feel, the words of someone who would even vaguely claim to be a benevolent critic. Just off hand, I can think of songs like "Hey Jude", "Here There and Everywhere" and virtually the whole second side of "Abbey Road" which Paul has created, offering not muzak, as John says against all Paul's stuff, but some of the best lyrical music of the past few years. But when John says
"You live with straights
In Freudian terms he may be right, but how about listening to (even) some of the better tracks on McCartney's first album; they at least come up to, if not surpass some of the musical hysteria we are subjected to on Lennon's first two albums. So we all get tortured sometimes! How about looking in and then out a bit before Paul takes the blame for the whole of civilisation's discontents!
At this point I may be in danger of becoming one of John's
but I'll take that risk - we live not by propaganda alone. As a sound, if you don't listen to the words, "how do you sleep" succeeds. It's a Lennon-all-down-the-line track, which has been written in a moment of cathartic need, with punning, but artless and ugly lyrics. Still I can't really see either Paul or John getting too upset about it - just the fans perhaps.
The only two other tracks I consider worth mentioning ("how" is not, by any stretch of the agonised imagination) are "oh, my love" and "oh, Yoko", the first being a joint composition of John and Yoko. Similar in sound and sentiment to "julia", "oh, my love" must rate as one of the best rock love songs ever written; this is John Lennon and Yoko speaking plainly and truthfully in a musical dedication to the simple power of love between man and woman and the Universe, if you wish to separate them at this point in the hearing of the album. "Oh, Yoko" is a happy loving song expressing John's joy at the thought of Yoko. Having met these two people together, I can assure you that, whatever I have said above, they are the most sincere and loving kind of people. And I know that for Lennon, Yoko's art has changed his view of things quite a lot.
However, whether this album is a big of Zen or not, I could not be more fair than to say to John, still a student of the Zen technique, sincerity has yet to be used as a successful substitute for art.