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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A LOOKING-GLASSFUL OF LEWIS CARROLL

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Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies

Those lyrics from The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” a song directly inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, partially conjure up the scene which provided the genesis and revelation of what has become The Bible of so-called nonsense literature, a work which more than a century and a half later still influences prose, poetry, art, music and film.

There were no tangerine trees on the English shores on July 4, 1862 when Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, his friend Robinson Duckworth, and the three little Liddell girls—Alice, Edith and Lorina—went for a boat ride.

And whether the sky was marmaladen with clouds is debatable (the author described it as a “cloudless day,” but meteorological records indicate that it rained on the date in question).

Whatever the reality, on that tranquil “golden afternoon,” as Dodgson termed it, he ad-libbed a wondrously nonsensical tale of a girl named Alice who fell down a rabbit-hole. At the non-fictional Alice’s behest, Dodgson was obliged to recollect the story and commit it to manuscript so that she could make the return trip over and over again with her namesake.

Although the final version wouldn’t materialize until some three years later, it was on that fateful July day that Dodgson, tuned into the gods and inspired by the presence of his friends, planted the seed of the story which would give him an immortality he never dreamed of.

Its first incarnation was Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, which he illustrated himself. Later, he added more material and new characters (The Cheshire Cat, The Mad Hatter), commissioned artist John Tenniel to do a new set of drawings, rejected the earlier title for sounding “too like a lesson book about mines,” and the fairy tale became the celebrated Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865.

“In writing it out,” explained Lewis Carroll, Dodgson’s author alias, “I added many fresh ideas which seemed to grow of themselves upon the original stock; and many more added themselves when, years afterward, I wrote it all over again for publication; but…every such idea, and nearly every word of the dialogue, came of itself.”

Carroll cast himself and the other boaters in his magical tale. The Duck was an animalization of his pal Duckworth; The Dodo, Dodgson himself—in a self-deprecating jab at his own lifelong stammer (Do-Do-Dodgson) which, interestingly, vanished in the company of children; The Lory and The Eaglet, Lorina and Edith respectively; and, of course, Alice was Alice. In name and inspiration only, however.

“…Alice Liddell is not the character in the books,” wrote Jean Gattegno in Fragments of a Looking-Glass. “At most we can say that some kind of current passed through Alice Liddell and brought to life a picture waiting to become animated.”

Choosing one of four pen-names the author submitted to him, Edmund Yates (editor of Comic Times and The Train, a pair of publications for which Carroll wrote on occasion) christened Dodgson, Lewis Carroll. He might just as easily have been Edgar Cuthwellis, Edgar U.C. Westhill or Louis Carroll, the other names under consideration.

Both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its equally enchanting sequel, Through the Looking-Glass (1871), incorporated unfinished bits and piecemeal ideas Carroll had written years earlier. The first verse of the poem “Jabberwocky”—which Derek Hudson called “the ‘Kubla Khan’ of nonsense”—from Through the Looking-Glass is one such example.

Like Edward Lear, Carroll often invented his own language, and both authors’ words’ worth was primarily in their sound and meter. However, while Lear’s creations were purely nonsensical nonsense, if you will (or even if you won’t), Carroll frequently had a method to his mangling:

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogroves
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Unlike other welders of words, e.g, James Joyce—who let it up to his readers to fathom the meaning of his newfound language—Carroll bothered to relate, right there in his book, via the mouth of the on-and-off-the-wall Humpty Dumpty, how and why he put a little english on his English.

“I can explain all of the poems that were ever invented—and a good many that haven’t been invented just yet,” proclaims the famous Eggman to Alice.

“Slithy” is a fusing of “slime” and “lithe,” “gimble” is to “make holes like a gimlet,” “Mimsy” is a compound of “miserable” and “flimsy,” “mome” is a contraction of “from home,” as “wabe” is of “way before” and “way behind.”

Similarly, “chortle,” from elsewhere down the lines of “Jabberwocky,” is a blend of “chuckle” and “snort,” and it is but one example of Carroll-coined words that have become assimilated into our everyday language, as any dictionary will attest.

Wrote Gattegno, “…While continually stressing the difference between the meaning intended and the meaning understood, and showing how words are empty forms that one can play about with and not worry about the ‘sense’ one may arrive at, he also makes the word the basic unit around which the whole universe of significance comes into being. Words, which he does his best to destroy (with puns, plays on words, word games, etc.), also take on a certain almost magical value as objects of supreme enjoyment.”

Alice in Wonderland broke new ground,” wrote Derek Hudson in Carroll, “because it was in no sense a goody-goody book but handled childhood freshly and without sententiousness.

“The nearest parallel to the humorous method of Lewis Carroll is probably that of The Marx Brothers, whose dialogue not only has many verbal similarities with his, but who also, like him, assert one grand false proposition at the outset and so persuade their audiences to accept anything as possible…Both have been based largely on a play with words, mixed with judicious slapstick, and set within the framework of an idiosyncratic view of the human situation; their purpose is entertainment. Lewis Carroll has one transcendent advantage—with his limpid prose, he paints the color of poetry.”

And Carroll was, after all, above all, a poet. Continued Hudson, “He was, indeed, perhaps the most poetic when he wrote in prose, and we must think of the Alice books, with their harmonious and unforced blending of prose and verse, as being primarily a poetic achievement.”

Despite his fame and good fortune, Charles Dodgson struggled to keep his pseudonymous alter ego a separate entity. Dodgson was a mathematician, a logician, and a don at Christ Church at Oxford, England; Lewis Carroll existed only when tucked under the covers of his dreamlike books.

“I cannot, of course,” stated Dodgson/Carroll, “help there being many people who know the connection between my real name and my ‘alias,’ but the fewer there are who are able to connect my face with the name ‘Lewis Carroll,’ the happier for me.”

Such sentiments were not merely aw-shucks idol chatter from a humble soul; besides publishing a leaflet in which he “neither claims nor acknowledges any connection with any pseudonym, or with any book that is not published under (his) own name,” he returned to senders all letters addressed to “Lewis Carroll.”

In Lewis Carroll and His World, John Pudney wrote, “Lewis Carroll has been described as the best photographer of children in the 19th century…Children were of course the inspiration for his most creative work, both in literary and photographic terms…(He had a) penchant for the company of pre-pubescent girls and situations which would now trendily be associated with a Lolita syndrome.”

Not a book has been written about Carroll, it seems, which hasn’t in some measure touched on (no pun intended—for a change) those young girls, who seemed to be the joy of Carroll’s life. Alice was neither the first nor the last.

Speculation and Freudian interpretations aside, what we do know as fact is A) He loved to spend time with females aged anywhere from, say, four to puberty (though in later years, he seemed equally delighted by older young women—up to 17 or thereabouts); and B) He loved to photograph them–with their parents’ permission–in the nude.

“In the last three decades of Victoria’s reign,” wrote Pudney, photographs of children in the nude, and voluptuously fleshy paintings of naked adults, were not only acceptable but fashionable. Carroll’s portraits sans habillement were neither a novelty nor necessarily an outrage.”

Much ado about nothing on? His photo-graphic hobby and/or his attachment to his subjects reportedly incurred mom wrath on more than one occasion, but while there has been no incriminating evidence against the man, the debate as to his true nature and motivations goes on.

Though violence creeps into the Alice books (“Off with their heads!”) Carroll was a gentle man who despised the degradation of women and was vehemently anti-vivisection and anti-hunting for sport with its happiness-is-a-warm-gun mentality. In a pamphlet he once wrote, he predicted a future “when the man of science, looking forth over a world which will then own no other sway than his, shall exult in the thought that he has made of this fair green earth, if not a heaven for man, at least a hell for animals.”

On the flip side, Carroll was said to be extremely class-conscious and decidedly self-centered, somewhat of a prima don. As Pudney stated, “He just never did anything much that he did not want to do or felt that duty called upon him to do.”

Carroll’s other literary works, which include “The Hunting of the Snark,” “A Tangled Tale,” “Sylvie and Bruno,” “Sylvie and Bruno Concluded” and “Phantasmagoria,” showcased his genius in varying degrees, though none of them eclipsed or matched the pair of Alice books.

Virgina Woolf wrote of Carroll, “(Childhood) lodged in him whole and entire…He could do what no one else has ever been able to do—he could return to that world: he could recreate it, so that we too become children again…The two Alices are not books for children, they are the only books in which we become children…”

Lewis Carroll was, in the best sense, kidding us.

(Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jim George and byjimgeorge with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.)

BLONDE ON BLONDE WAS DYLAN’S GOLDEN HOUR

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(Note: This, with a few minor changes, is a piece I wrote back in 1983 for a series my hometown paper, The Reading Eagle, ran entitled “Album Classics.”)

“I’m the first person who’ll put it to you and the last person who’ll explain it to you.”
–Bob Dylan, 1978

It’s kind of a don’t ask/won’t tell situation. You don’t ask, he won’t tell. And for those who did ask, more often than not, Bob Dylan has elected not to tell. At least not too much.

A clue to his press behavior was crystallized in the following exchange between the erudite Jonathan Cott and the enigmatic Dylan in a ’78 Rolling Stone interview:

Cott: I guess there’s no point in asking a magician how he does his tricks.
Dylan: Exactly!

Elsewhere in their discussion, Dylan likened himself mediumistically to his mentor, Woody Guthrie, who said that he pulled songs out of the air.

“That meant,” said Dylan, “that they were already there and that he was tuned into them.”

Cott’s magician-parallel was a good one. Overall, Bob Dylan has been a musical magician–a singing sorcerer who has summoned up his own spirits, conjured songs out of the air, and transformed pieces of shiny black plastic into something indeed quite magical.

Like Blonde On Blonde.

“One of the most pleasing things about Blonde On Blonde,” wrote then-critic Jon Landau in a ’68 article for Crawdaddy magazine, “is that by shifting the focus from the impossible epics of earlier works to subjects which were closer to himself personally, Dylan was able to create a more powerful and lasting artistic tension than he ever was out of things like ‘With God On Our Side.’”

Blonde On Blonde was rock’s first double-album and the last album Dylan recorded before his breakneck pace of living climaxed with him literally breaking his neck in a motorcycle accident in July of ’66.

“At the time of my Blonde On Blonde album,” he later said, “I was going at a tremendous speed.” In life and, apparently, on his motorcycle, though he has never gone into much detail.

Dylanesque as it sounds, the album’s title was not a Zimmy (well, he did say we could call him that, didn’t he?) invention. As Dylan recollected—or failed to—in a ’69 Rolling Stone interview, “I don’t even recall exactly how it came up, but I do know it was all in good faith. It has to do with just the word. I don’t know who thought of that. I certainly didn’t.”

(While it may purely be coincidental, ever notice that the first letters acronymically spell BOB?)

Lyrically, musically, thematically and emotionally, Blonde On Blonde was a milestone in contemporary music. Dylan’s incomparable phrasing was played against the spare, soulful and eloquently simple (or simply eloquent) musical backing of Nashville Cat Charlie McCoy’s band, augmented by the likes of Al Kooper and Joe South.

Amusingly, the significance of the album’s kickoff, “Rainy Day Women Numbers 12 and 35,” wasn’t quite as high-minded as those who gleefully latched onto the catch-phrase “Everybody must get stoned.” Of course, the double-entendre is there. But if one listens to the verses of this Salvation Army-gone-awry number, clearly the song’s operative word “stoned” refers not to a euphoric condition, but rather to the act of being knocked, kicked, harassed, oppressed, criticized, slandered, maligned, beaten down or tangled up in blue.

Likewise, the “They” refers not to turned-on friends, but to those who wish ill will toward men (and women). In fact, the chorus is the only section of the song which can be (mis)interpreted as a paean to altered states. The smoky connotation doesn’t hold up beyond that.

(Dylan’s line, “They’ll stone you when you’re sent down in your grave,” rings forever true—evidence the heartfelt Mommie Dearest and Albert Goldman’s endearing The Lives of John Lennon.)

As for the cryptic title, Dylan psycho-analysts—preferring to sniff between the lines—failed to consider the possibility of a happenstance explanation. It has subsequently been revealed that Dylan either wrote or recorded (or both) the tune on a rainy day with two females, aged 12 and 35, present. Honest to Bob.

Similarly, “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” is “just about that,” admitted Dylan. “I think that’s something I mighta taken out of a newspaper. Mighta seen a picture of one in a department store window. There’s really no more to it than that. I know it can get blown up into some kind of illusion. But in reality, it’s no more than that. Just a leopard-skin pill-box. That’s all.”

“It balances on your head like a mattress balances on a bottle of wine,” sings Dylan of the millinery monstrosity. (Note the similarity of John Lennon’s guitar solo in “Yer Blues” to the stinging Dylan-fingered lead guitar licks of this blues-rocker.)

“Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again” is inspired nonsense—an irresistible, funny, surreal tour de farce. Displaying his absurdist agility and a superlative vocal, Dylan delivers such wonderful lines as:

Shakespeare, he’s in the alley
With his pointed shoes and his bells
Speaking to some French girl
Who says she knows me well
And I would send a message
To find out if she’s talked
But the post office has been stolen
And the mailbox is locked

and:

When Ruthie says come see her
In her honky-tonk lagoon
Where I can watch her waltz for free
‘Neath her Panamanian moon
And I say, “Aw come on now
“You know you know about my debutante”
And she says, “Your debutante just knows what you need
“But I know what you want”

While Dylan’s unpolished and rough-around-the-etches harmonica playing has been disparaged by some over the years (virtuoso mouth organist Larry Adler felt his blowing and sucking, well, sucked), many more consider it beautifully soulful and spirited. As such, it lends an ingenuous charm to the songs so graced.

“Temporary Like Achilles” marries the two predominant elements of the album; it is a love song performed in the blues idiom. Love, lost or found, is all around Blonde On Blonde: “Just Like a Woman,” “I Want You,” “Visions of Johanna,” “Sooner or Later (One of Us Must Know),” and the epic “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” another gift from the gods.

“(‘Sad-Eyed Lady’) started out as just a little thing,” said Dylan, “but I got carried away somewhere along the line. I just sat down at a table and started writing. At the session itself….I just started writing and I couldn’t stop. After a period of time, I forgot what it was all about, and I started trying to get back to the beginning (laughs).”

Speaking of his work in general, Dylan stated, “The words are just as important as the music. There would be no music without the words. Indeed, despite its haunting melody, the lyrics of the 12-minute “Sad-Eyed Lady” (which accounts for one of the LP’s four sides) stand on their own as gorgeous poetry:

With your silhouette when the sunlight dims
Into your eyes where the moonlight swims
And your matchbook songs and your gypsy hymns
Who among them would try to press you

In The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, Bob Dylan’s legacy is summed up thusly: “Bob Dylan’s importance to the development of rock is rivaled only by that of The Beatles. His influence went much further than the innovative qualities of his lyrics, his semivisionary songs effecting a change in the consciousness of an entire generation and opening up a general awareness of attitudes, both personal and political, that, without him, might still be stifled and denied today.”

If by some simple twist of fate you’ve never heard Blonde On Blonde—whether you’re too young to remember it or you’ve spent the mid-‘60s in a coma—by all that is wholly superior, listen to this magnum opus. Everybody must get milestoned.

 

 

(Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jim George and byjimgeorge with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.)