Don’t Remember John Lennon Today (Re-posted)

Because the circumstances of his death have no meaning.

Because any attempt to ascribe meaning or logic to his killer’s actions only satisfies the internal demons that compelled him to project Lennon into his own psychotic narrative.

Because a psychotic is neither a hero nor a villain, but a puppet of distorted brain chemistry and a victim of society’s inability to confront its own weaknesses.

Which in this case amounts to a fear/absence of empathy for the mentally ill. And also a need to shore up its own self-perceived weaknesses with rage, violence and barely-regulated weapons.

All of which fueled the passion and poetry in Lennon’s work, I know. Which argues against my proposing we all ignore the anniversary of his death.


But to my ears, Lennon’s life and work were about life and possibility, particularly in the face of death and destruction.

Think of those early shots of the Beatles, so young and full of promise, and yet posed in the shattered ruins of Liverpool’s World War II bomb sites.

Consider how John and Paul were joined by a passion for music that sprang directly from terrible losses: the death of Paul’s mother; John’s abandonment by his parents. And then, just as he was reconnecting with his mother, her sudden, violent death.

Lennon flirted with, and sometimes tumbled into, the abyss of existential meaninglessness. “I read the news today, oh boy…” But he still couldn’t resist the allure of beauty, hope and life. I hope one day you join us/And the world can live as one.

The man had his flaws. He could be angry, hostile and occasional brutal. His widow’s non-stop propaganda campaign, in attempts to sustain and heighten his secular sainthood, does him, her and us no favors.

And that’s the stuff of death. The sound of the gunfire. The chill wind in the leafless branches.

Today I’m thinking about the gunfire at the start of the Beatles’ 1964 album track “Any Time at All.” Which isn’t a gun at all, but the crack of Ringo’s drumstick against his snare. Bam! Then it’s Lennon’s unadorned voice at full, urgent, stop-you-in-your-tracks volume: Any time at all!

Because all you gotta do is call. Spin the CD, click ‘play’ on your iTunes. Listen to the perfect balance of voices, the sweet insistence that the entire meaning of life comes down to a glance, a wave, a kiss. And if the words don’t convince you just listen to the drums, bass, guitars and piano.

Any time at all/All you gotta do is call/And I’ll be there!

And he is. Not just on this gloomy day, either. The promise was, and remains, a 24/7 kind of commitment. The very sound of life, love and meaning, available to you 365 days a year.

That’s what we need to remember about John Lennon.

originally published Dec 8, 2010

New music alert: Jake Bugg’s “Shangri La”



The man is 19 years old but somehow radiates the bitter, sardonic energy of Bringing it all Back Home Dylan and With the Beatles era Fabs.

Just check out the first single (and opening cut) from Shangri La “Slumville Sunrise” and hear how similar Bugg’s internal geography (see also: crumbling industrial cities of northern England) reflects the Beatles’ hot/cool currents of rage and hope:

Slumville Sunrise,nobody cares or looks twice
…Every bruise, every flower/illuminated by the morning.

And the sound: guitars, bass and drums. Often — but not always — in the electric 4-piece format, with Bugg’s adenoidal snarl rocketing above. Produced by Rick Rubin (an indication of the corporate support Bugg earned with his much lower-fi debut Jake Bugg, is just exactly right: Clear recordings of great performances with no/little audible monkeying about.

Still, the anti-Bugg vibe coming from England can’t be ignored. Bugg’s first album topped sales charts in the UK, elevating the artiste from the bruises-and-flowers streets to the flowers-and-more-flowers boulevards of modern stardom. Fancier clothes, hotter girlfriends, you know the drill, and Bugg wasn’t shy about diving in. So grr, and also what’s with the squadrons of mercenary songwriters sharing credit for Bugg’s tunes? Is the kid a corporate-driven alt-culture Monkee? Is he even close to being, you know, legit?

I think he is. If only because I can’t stop listening to Shangri-La. No telling if it’ll stick with me beyond this moment but for now it’s all righteous bruises and flowers in my ears.

Check out Shangri-La on NPR’s First Listen page:

And here’s the video for “Slumville Sunrise.” Yes, the narrative bookends are long, un-fun distractions, but once the music starts it’s a whole other story.

McCartney’s terrific “New”

Paul McCartney at Frank Sinatra School of Performing Arts Just turn your ear for a moment to the buzz attending Paul McCartney’s latest album. His first collection of originals in six years, titled simply, New, came with the predictable oohs and ahhs. Oh, the Beatle-esqueness of it all. The warmth and steel of his 71-year-old pipes. The grace of his melodies and the unexpected shrieks, whirs and purposeful murk in its electronic japery. But in the absence of the work itself all those promises are at best meaningless — McCartney is a living legend, a hero to generations. Journalists WANT him to succeed, and frankly so do we. Particularly if it means 45-plus minutes of lovely new Paul McCartney music.

So how terrific that New is pretty much exactly that. From the album-opening rocker “Save Us,” the songs are tautly constructed, melodic and – I swear I’m not kidding – lyrically compelling. The intellectual laziness that defines so many of McCartney’s solo songs is nowhere to be found.

(for in-depth McCartney’s life and career with and without the Beatles you might want to check out my 2009 biography, Paul McCartney: A Life)

Instead, we get the engaging obscurities in “Alligator” and, better yet, the prosaic revelations described in the sweet, mid-tempo “On My Way to Work.”   Like for instance, and I just love this for some reason:

“On my work to work I bought a magazine/Inside a pretty girl, liked to waterski/She came from Chichester to study history/She had removed her clothes for the likes of me.”

It’s that bit about waterskiing that knocks me backwards (what a weird detail, and yet exactly what dirty magazines make a point of noting). Next, a brief guitar break turns dark and driving, leading to a final verse where the ka-chunk of the office time clock brings a small vision:

“I could see everything, how we came to be/People come and go, smoking cigarettes/I pick the packets up when the people leave.

Wherein lies one of McCartney’s most valuable traits — his eye for the magic of everyday life and motion. We fancy folk don’t often turn to janitors and nudie magazines for existential philosophy, but this artist sees more than we do. The real payoff, however, comes in the choruses that reveal the narrator’s passing fascinations as a symptom of the intimacy he never found in his own life:

“How could a soul search everywhere/Without knowing what to do?”

So okay, “Everybody Out There” falls a bit short in the lyric department, but the next tune is “Hosanna,” which pits a dark melody and pulsing bass against layers of electronic drone and tape loop shriekery unheard on a Paul song since “The White Album.”

And so it goes pretty much song for song, all with their own intrigue (OMG, the texture of his aged voice when singing, a touch bitterly, about the young Beatles on “Early Days”) and delight. Those perfect melodic fillips; the layers of joy in his stacked harmonies; the irresistible sweetness in the bouncy title track, which is as heavy as helium and as lovely as a summer morning.

Does that make it (yet) another silly love song? Not even. If only for the startling assertion McCartney makes a song earlier in “Early Days”:

“They can’t take it from me if they tried/I lived through those early days/So many times I had to change the pain to laughter/Just to keep from getting crazed.”

It ain’t easy. So float away on “New” right now; consider the expressions on the faces you see and imagine what waits for them when their feet crunch back into the dirt below.

WaPo to the Beatles: You suck!


The argument: The Beatles are old news; they’re overrated — the Doors were just as good; popular culture has stagnated; the Beatles are sort of to blame.

And it’s right there in the opinion section of the Washington Post — or it was a month ago, only I think I was on vacation that week and didn’t hear anything about it til today. No matter, the piece retains its power to astonish and angrify. The latter because it’s just right enough (regarding the stagnation of pop culture) to not dismiss and absolutely wrong enough (regarding the ongoing significance of the Beatles) to take seriously.

But then you sort of have to take it seriously because there it is (or was) in a major metro daily, written by a guy, Justin Moyer, who seems really interesting (b. 1977; plays in indie bands, sometimes in Bowie-esque makeup; worked as a private detective). Though of course he also  knows how to get attention and has the intricately detailed  Wikipedia page (already updated to include news of how his Beatles piece “drew fire from Fab Four fans.”) Also interesting: Moyers closing in on 40, which kind of tears at his own au courancy. Assuming you measure hipness chronologically. Which he seems to do.

I get Moyer’s impatience. I think he’s correct that mainstream culture is far, far too wrapped up in what was cool as opposed to what IS cool and especially what WILL be cool in the not-distant future. My city’s pop radio dial is so archeological that even the alternative rock station plays 30-year-old songs. On heavy rotation. Some of which I love (The Clash!) but most of which is the Red Hot Chili Peppers who I really, really don’t.

But Moyer misses a lot. He divides the Beatles’ catalogue into songs about love and songs about drugs, which is so dimwitted it’s pointless to argue. (And indicates no knowledge of, say, “Eleanor Rigby” and “A Day in the Life,” which contains one oblique mention of being ‘turned on’, but if that’s all you hear in that tune, well, listen again, perhaps). He constructs an entire tribe of straw men by cherry-picking ludicrous quotes from observers (the Beatles helped topple Communism! The only communicator with the same power was Hitler!).

He also seems aggrieved that 21st century media (fragmented) and music industry changes (no publicity/distribution/reliable revenue streams for less-than-enormous acts) all but requires aspiring indie artists to keep day jobs. Of which writing for the Washington Post would seem a particularly excellent one. And apparently doesn’t require you to acknowledge that the thing that’s really bringing you down is a culture that evolved beyond your own expectations.

Or so says a 50-year-old Beatle fan. Consider the source.


The Beatles and the Beasties: All Together Now!

ill sub
Yet another mind-blowing mashup. And a killer video to go along. Love it.