THE SECOND COMING OF JOHN & YOKO

maxresdefault(This, with a few edits, is a newspaper piece I wrote on the release of John and Yoko’s Double Fantasy. It was published on Nov. 30, 1980, two weeks after the record’s release and eight days before Lennon’s murder. Despite all the hoopla, the much-anticipated album did not shoot straight to the top of the charts until after the tragedy (which gives the phrase “Number One with a Bullet” a chilling irony) and some critics were not kind. My editor at the time told me that following Lennon’s death, some of the bad reviews were pulled before publication and rewritten .)

 

Whether he was reshaping the world as a Beatle, giving peace a chance, exposing his jagged psyche, traipsing left-ward with the likes of Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, about-facing and shunning the mixed-up media or settling down to family life in any one of his home-sweet-homes, John Lennon and his art have been one.

Mercurial, eccentric, quick-witted and brilliantly talented, Lennon has always plunged heart-first into anything he’s created. He’s given pieces of himself on the printed page (his two books, In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works) and on celluloid (the avant-garde films he shot with Yoko Ono). Vinyl-ly, with his records, he’s invariably left blood on the tracks (as Mr. Zimmerman would say) with his confessional offerings, beginning with such compositions as “Help” and “I’m a Loser.”

Though the mythology of The Beatles has in some ways proven to be a weighty albatross for him and the rest of the Fab Foursome, it was in the context of the group that he first quaked the earth. Lennon was the controversial one, the dream-weaver and the wave-maker. The intellectually-inclined slice of The Beatles’ audience gravitated, predictably, toward the brainy, zany Lennon.

No, he wasn’t The Beatles. No one of them was. But as Pete Hamill wrote, “In some way, John had been the engine of the group, the artistic armature driving the machine beyond its own limits, restless, easily bored, in love with speed the way Picasso was in love with speed, and possessed of a hoodlum’s fanatic heart.”

The post-Beatles Lennon was once likened to Sisyphus; indeed, ever since Yoko Ono supplanted Paul McCartney as his partner-in-rhyme, Lennon has been a twentieth-century Sisyphus, pushing his rock (and roll) uphill, with snide snipers taking pot shots at him—and, especially, his paramour—at every opportunity.
In their early days together, this ripening pair weathered a lot of bruises and eventually parted ways and means, only to be reunited eighteen months later because, as Lennon put it, “the separation didn’t work out.”

And then in ’75, with a pocketful of fresh songs and on the verge of booking studio time, the Lennons had a baby boy and John unplugged his guitar and stopped dead in his soundtracks.

“I became an artist because I cherished freedom—I couldn’t fit into a classroom or office,” he told Newsweek recently. “Freedom was the plus for all the minuses of being an oddball! But suddenly I was obliged to a record company, obliged to the media, obliged to the public. I wasn’t free at all!”

So he clammed up, offed the record, and became a hearth-and-homebody focused on the raising of his son. The man who back in ‘72 wrote the pro-woman anthem “Woman is the Nigger of the World” (which, sadly, was squashed dead by misguided objections to the title—usually by white males, as Lennon pointed out) went one better and swapped roles with Yoko. She became the breadwinner, he the bread baker. The Lennons invested in dairy cows and real estate, and it was moos and moola for five years.

Now 40, he has rolled away the stone and reappeared with a hot new single, “Starting Over,” and a grand-new album, Double Fantasy. Ah, but to set the record straight, this is not just a John Lennon album. It’s the Second Coming of John and Yoko. And it’s a superlative double-headed triumph.

Like it or not, it took guts on Lennon’s part to divvy up the 14-numbered LP with his wife. After all, their last collaboration, in ’72, was Sometime in New York City, generally considered to be the rough nadir of Lennon’s recorded output (not counting the trio of avant-garde albums, Two Virgins, Life With the Lions and Wedding Album). Consequently, starting over together, for better or for worse, as the wedding vowels go, could be sales-suicide. For the record, while doing well, the album currently is not topping the charts.

“It’s like a play,” Lennon said of Double Fantasy. “We wrote the play and we’re acting in it. It’s John and Yoko—you could take it or leave it…otherwise, it’s cows and cheese! Being with Yoko makes me whole. I don’t want to sing if she’s not there.”

Therefore, she is there with seven originals. One of them, “Kiss Kiss Kiss,” concludes with orgasmic panting, for which Yoko will, no doubt, get slam-banged once again. More exhibitionism, they will say. But no one crucified Donna Summer for doing it in “Love to Love You Baby.” Different strokes? Quite possibly.

Yoko clearly doesn’t have the pipes of a diva, but some credit is due. In 1970, Lennon told Rolling Stone, “She makes music like you’ve never heard on earth…It’s fantastic. It’s like 20 years ahead of its time.” Or maybe 10. Listen to The B-52s. Yoko was on the New Wavelength before it had a name.

But before anyone screams, “Yoko oh no!” about her inclusion on the new album, be advised that the oral hijinks are minimal, and her seven contributions are her finest to date. They include the lovely, classical-tinged “Beautiful Boys,” the edgy “I’m Moving On” and the ska-flavored “Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him.”

John, on the other half, has never sounded more contented overall. As contented as those quarter-of-a-million-bucks-apiece Holstein cows the couple owns. In “Watching the Wheels,” he speaks of his at-long-last peace:

I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go

“I’m not interested in other people’s work—only so much as it affects me,” he said to Newsweek. “I have the great honor of never having been to Studio 54 and I’ve never been to any rock clubs. It’s like asking Picasso, has he been to the museum lately?”

The theme of Double Fantasy, which is a Jack Douglas and Lennons co-production, is simply John loves Yoko loves John. Not forgetting son Sean for whom John’s lovely lullaby “Beautiful Boy” was written. Lennon’s dreamy “Woman” is as beautiful and sensitive as anything in his catalog:

Woman I know you understand
The little child inside the man
Please remember my life is in your hands

In his funky “Cleanup Time,” a verse of which reminds one of his nursery rhyme-like “Cry Baby Cry” from The Beatles’ White Album, Lennon sings of his and Yoko’s juxtapositions:

The queen is in the counting house
Counting out the money
The king is in the kitchen
Making bread and honey

Yet, despite the album’s apparent bliss-blitz, the pair’s life together—“so precious together” (a little too precious for some people, it seems)—is not all Peaches and Herb. The underbellyaches of love are also exposed. Their fears, insecurities and tensions bubble to the surface in such cuts as Yoko’s “I’m Moving On”:

But now you’re giving me your window smile
I’m moving on, moving on, it’s getting phony

In John’s “I’m Losing You,” he sings:

I know I hurt you then
But hell that was way back when
Do you still have to carry that cross?

But the riled side of life is not dwelled upon, and Yoko concludes the album with an expression of hope in the gospel-tinged“Hard Times Are Over”:

It’s been very hard
But it’s getting easier now
Hard times are over
Over for a while

It is a fitting and optimistic finale to John and Yoko’s new peace of the rock.

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JERRY LEWIS: THE FILM BUFFOON RETURNS

(In 1981 I wrote a newspaper profile on Jerry Lewis and subsequently sent him a copy. Not long afterward, I received a personal letter of thanks from him. This is the original article.)

jerry lewis letter--

 

Genius is childhood recalled at will.

–Baudelaire

 

If Baudelaire’s definition holds even a speck of truth, therein lies the clue to the European view of Jerry Lewis as a comic genius on par with Chaplin.

“I’m 55, but I’m really nine,” said Lewis in a recent Tomorrow interview. “The key to my whole lifestyle is mischief, and I cannot, as a 55-year-old man, really think mischievously because that demeans my being. But there’s nothing wrong with a nine-year-old thinking that way. I cherish that nine-year-old because he’s everybody. He keeps me young. He keeps me thinking young. He’ll be at my next birthday, and he’ll have the most fun.”

Jerry’s kid, that mannish boy who has bumbled, mumbled and mugged his way through more than 40 films, is about to return to the silly screen for the first time in a decade in Hardly Working, which opens this week. Like it or not, the film buffoon is back.

The French toast Lewis’ comic brilliance. Director Jean-Luc Godard expressed his admiration to an incredulous Dick Cavett not long ago. But in America, there’s a split-decision. Statesiders generally find his juvenile Jerry-atrics either hysterical or grating. And it is the red, white and bluenosed critics who are Lewis’ most vicious detractors.

The reason for the animosity may be simple enough. Like Peter Pan, that impish, jerky, wonder-struck little kid who resides in the body and soul of Jerry Lewis has never aged. Therefore, he has remained unshackled from the rites, wrongs and constraints of society. On one level, he represents freedom. People not so free, people squeezed into role-modeled behavior, people who act the way society says they ought to act are likely to feel threatened by that kid and the freedom he represents. Hence, the jeerleaders.

Lewis’ self-imposed 10-year stretch away from filmmaking was provoked by some overexposure of flesh flicks in the early ‘70s. When the cinematic tide turned from boffo to porno, Lewis took a cab.

“I love the film industry,” he told Tom Snyder. “I took it as a personal affront that they were getting shabby. And it happened with a film I made for Warners, Which Way to the Front? a film I was really in love with. I put two years of a lot of blood and a lot of sweat into it.”

The skin-toned times created a condition which shocked Lewis out of his director’s chair—and right out of the industry. Driving by a theater one disenchanted evening, he spotted the marquee which had double-billed Which Way to the Front? with Deep Throat. That odd coupling resulted in Lewis’ giving Warner Brothers a shouting-room only performance of Hellzapoppin’sans jokes and music. But the Warner Brotherhood had a cop-out: they were so involved with their then-smash Woodstock that they gave the distribution rights of Lewis’ film to other companies.

“Well, I don’t want to know from explanations,” said Lewis, “’cause I was shattered by it. In the mail I got, I was the heavy. The mothers and fathers were writing me, ‘You are someone we allow the children to go to see, and you have a responsibility’ and all that jazz. And I got really turned off, really cold.

“Now the capper was Dick Zanuck comes to see me and he wants me to direct and star in Portnoy’s Complaint. I said, “Dick, that’s not my style. I don’t think I know how to make that kind of film.” Then I got a script where they wanted me to play a homosexual who had committed matricide.

“I said, hey, let me get back to Vegas. I’ll play concerts, I’ll go back to The Palladium in London, I’ll do my thing. And I said it’s got to turn. If it doesn’t turn, at that point I really didn’t ever want to make a film again. And it did turn, starting in ’78.”

Jerry Lewis has always been a G-man; family-oriented films have always been the Lewis trademarquee. Yet, despite all those Jerry-vanilla comedies, he is not about to march behind that other Jerry, the pulpit politico Rev. Falwell, and wage war on pornography. (That would make a hilarious scene, though: the unsure-footed stumblebum Lewis character traipsing behind the preacher like a spastic marionette, yelling in that chalk-screechy voice, “Hey wait for me, Mr. Fellman! Uh Rev. Failsafe! I’m comin’ Rev. Fallout!”)

“I don’t believe in censorship,” said Lewis. “If you want to see a porno film, an audience should have a place to go see it. But it’s a little incongruous and it’s hardly sensible to run Bambi with The Devil in Miss Jones just for the sake of Barnum and Bailey showmanship. The theater should run The Devil in Miss Jones for that audience, but leave Bambi where it belongs. It’s that simple.”

As Lewis hoped, the packaging of flesh and funny bone was a short-lived phenomenon which, he said, “had probably the same chance that the Edsel did, thank God.”

In spite of his predilection for tomfoolish behavior, Lewis is a slapstickler for professionalism. As a director, writer and actor, he takes his comedy seriously. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly—or any other way. He said, “I hate incompetents. I get very difficult when somebody shouldn’t be in the job they’re holding because they’re keeping it from a man who’s qualified. Moreover, they’re contagious. They’ll run through your crew, and they will dismember that crew.

“I’m making a film that I hope one day my great-great-grandchildren are gonna see. They’re gonna examine my work, and the fabric and character of this man is gonna be up for grabs. I’m not havin’ some moron on the set looking at his watch yawning ‘cause it’s just a job. He’s outa there. That’s only happened twice in 41 films.”

Lewis’ upcoming attractions include roles in Martin Scorsese’s drama, The King of Comedy (which also stars Robert DeNiro), and the screen-bound adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slapstick, being directed by Lewis disciple Steven Paul.

The Day the Clown Cried, Lewis’ own dramatic film (his sole to date), has been gathering Swedish dust, along with two Ingmar Bergman films, since 1973. Like the Bergmans, it was shot in Sweden as a Swedish-French co-production. When the political deal soured, the films were stopped dead in their soundtracks. A Godard picture, also part of the (mis)deal, was similarly thrown a French curve and lies in limbo in his homeland.

“They tell us,” Lewis said, “that this year, it looks like they’re gonna make nice with one another, and we can all finish our films.”

However, for the present, comedy comes first. Sight-gagging and language-mangling are back in vogue, and the maestro has returned to show ‘em all how it’s done. Hardly Working has Jerry Lewis heartily working. Maybe he is 10 years older. But that kid is still nine.