Thursday, December 8, 2011

John Lennon 10/9/40 - 12/8/80

Every year as the anniversary of John Lennon's death approaches, I am drawn to revisit his music. I can go the rest of the year without listening to his voice, his lyrics. They're so much a part of me that I don't have to actually listen to experience them. I don't have to watch blood coursing through my body to know that it's there, sustaining life. So too Lennon's music is ever-present, imprinted on my psyche, my soul, my consciousness, my very being. I don't actually have to hear it to feel it.

In fact, when I listen to his songs, it's almost too much. If I care to be honest, I'm still affected by his death and find it easier to ignore it and how impactful Lennon was on my life. But as humans tend towards the ritualistic, I too find myself wanting to pay tribute to Lennon each year around this time. To share his songs, to show appreciation for what he gave us musically, and to acknowledge his importance to me, especially growing up in the cultural vacuum that was the San Fernando Valley in the late 60's-early 70's.

First up is Tomorrow Never Knows.  Lennon said he took one of Ringo's famous malapropisms for the title, to take the edge off the heavy philosophical lyrics.  It was unique for its time, a song played in just one chord, psychedelic and trippy.

Next is In My Life.  Lennon could be deadly serious, sarcastic and cutting, so for him to write such a positive, upbeat song makes it that much more meaningful.

Lennon's voice is so ... haunting is the only word.  He conveyed so much with his phrasing and his voice is a key element to the effect that A Day in the Life has.  The way he sustains the notes, the soft vibrato, the gentleness of the vocal contrasting with the harsh lyrics...just breathtaking.  This is a beautiful fan video made to mark what would have been John's 70th birthday last year.

I think Lennon's voice is so under-appreciated.  This song, You've Got to Hide Your Love Away, is another example of his pouring so much emotion into his vocals.  Right in the middle of the silly, funny movie "Help!" you find this song full of recrimination and hopelessness.  The growl when he sings "Hey" still gets to me.  This was the precursor to the similarly dejected Jealous Guy.

I"m including Nowhere Man primarily for the chorus.  When he sings those six notes "nowhere man, please listen" his voice is just so pure and gentle.  Every time I hear those notes, it's just such a sad, plaintive sound, it just tugs at my heart.  How he managed to make something so simple sound so moving, is a mystery.  I don't get why it works, and why more complicated melodies may not have the same effect.  But it was interesting to see that Lennon came up with the song after struggling for some time to write another song for "Rubber Soul." As he told an interviewer,  "I'd spent five hours that morning trying to write a song that was meaningful and good, and I finally gave up and lay down. Then 'Nowhere Man' came, words and music, the whole damn thing as I lay down." It's amazing how the creative process works.

Finally, Across the Universe.  This song is so intoxicating.  While not my favorite vocal, it has some of my favorite lyrics.  In fact, in an interview Lennon discussed problems during the recording of the song, which shed a light on the tension between Lennon and McCartney that lead to the band's break up.  He told another interviewer, though, that he was proud of the lyrics.  "It's one of the best lyrics I've written. In fact, it could be the best."  

I wrote this last year on what would have been John's 70th birthday.  There were a couple songs mentioned then that I included now, but the focus was more on John's solo work and the impact he has made on many generations to come. The word genius is tossed around way too much, but if anyone deserves that label, it is Lennon:

I wrote two months later on the twentieth anniversary of John's death, the focus on John's last album.  I think I'm making progress as I can listen to today's song with more joy than sadness:

I'll try not to be glum today and focus on the music and the lyrics and the memories.  So many good memories.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog Shari - you are a gifted writer! Love John Lennon and the Beatles - their magic will live on forever. We are such a lucky generation to have witnessed so much amazing music being created in front of our eyes. :)