January 14, 2010
One Giant Step For Somebody
Review by R.E. Prindle
Lennon, Cythia: John, Three Rivers Press, 2005
Remember what the door knob said…
We built this city on Rock and Roll.
If you want to be a girl of mine
You’d better bring it with you when you come,
Cynthia Lennon’s autobiography of her life with John Lennon opens the door to a number of possibilities of which I’ll explore one, at least, here.
Let’s begin with Lonnie Donegan’s 1955 hit The Rock Island Line. Lonnie was the originator of his own genre- Skiffle Music. Skiffle was all the rage in the British world from England to Australia to New Zealand while passing very lightly over the States except for the fortunate few of which I was one. Rock Island Line was a major hit in the US though.
Lonnie, may he rest in peace, was also the originator of the Big Beat. Of course Lennon and most of the young English rockers studied at Lonnie’s feet. The first band Lennon formed, the Quarrymen, was a Skiffle band. That was back in the fifties before the second stage of the big change kicked off. The first stage began about 1950 with Johnny Ray and his song Cry.
Eisenhower had the world pretty well organized in 1960 before John Kennedy stole the baton from the intended successor, Richard Nixon. With the accession of Kennedy the American personality or identity, such as it was, began to disintegrate- I mean in the psychological sense.
The Celts tried to establish Kennedy as the second coming of King Arthur and his Camelot. Not the smartest thing they could have done; a couple bullets fired in Dallas on November 22, 1963 put a period to that dream. By the then the sixties were fairly launched about to begin in earnest in January of 1964 when Lennon’s next group, the Beatles, hit.
The Beatles began as a Big Beat band rooted in the fifties. Seized by the avant garde they were made the avatar of the sixties. In their own way they launched the sixties although the makins’ were already out of the can. Kennedy was shot almost in December and in January the Fab Four washed his memory out on the Ed Sullivan Show. The Kennedy assassination was so then, then. The Beatles were NOW. IS in capital letters.
While the Beatles were revamping fifties music they edged into the future with modified Prince Valiant haircuts and collarless suit jackets. They were then NEW emerging into a brave new world.
Almost at the beginning of 1960 the art world was shaken by the emergence of Pop Art. Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Indiana, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg and especially Andy Warhol with his Campbell’s Soup Can set the sixties on its ear. On
the film scene the James Bond series with its new sensibility began. Bond also was a revelation portending changes with unintended consequences.
Pop Art would figure signficantly in Cynthia Lennon’s life in a few years when one of its more laughable practitioners, Yoko Ono, would step into her life and filch her husband from her. In fact Pop Art would be inextricably linked with the record industry. All the pop motifs would find their way onto record covers with increasing frequency. Tiny Alice would have a cover that opened like a match book. Talking Head’s colored disc would even become a happening designed by Rauschenberg himself. The burgeoning poster business would find its way into record sleeves. Astonishing packages never seen before in the record business although perhaps anticipated by the experimental ESP label of NYC. Some interesting stuff. Perhaps Milton Glaser’s poster of Bob Dylan could run for the distinction of the most popular poster design of the whole era. It was innovation itself at the time although not quite so fresh today.
Now, all this was happening so fast and from so many directions that it was impossible to get it all or even keep up on what you did get; after all people had lives to live.
In the San Francisco Bay Area where I was during the sixties the Scene was especially heavy. I wasn’t in the thick of things but a little off to the side. Thus while the UC Berkeley Free Speech Brouhaha took center stage in the East Bay, Ken Kesey, the Merry Pranksters and the Acid Tests were simmering on the Peninsula, but actually invading the middle class especially at Stanford and UC Berkeley. The San Fransciso Mime Troupe was very important in the early stages while Bill Graham was commercializing the Trips Festival with his Fillmore shows and Chet Helms was organizing the Avalon Ballroom out at the beach. The posters for the ballrooms which epitomized the psychedelic was the first inkling I had that something ‘new’ was happening. I don’t know how quick on the uptake I was but the first inkling of New York Pop I had was 1966-67 when I opened a poster store soon to be a record store.
LA, always commercial, would nevertheless provide the great Ron Cobb political cartoons for the LA Free Press one of the best of the Hippie papers soon to degenerate into porn as did the Berkeley Barb and all the rest. R. Crumb in San Francisco became the king of Hippie porn which characterized the movement from then on. The scene was then set for George and Pattie Harrison’s famous descent on the Haight-Ashbury that disappointed them so.
This brief sketch only contains a few of the highlights of the period. It was into this world that John and Cynthia Lennon stepped unprepared. Both Cynthia and John came from a background of very low expectations. Cynthia’s dreams were very modest while per her John’s dreaming was no bigger than reaching the tops of the pops in England.
Indeed the much touted German clubs showed no promise of a future whatever. Essentially playing in brothels in Hamburg one wonders what the ‘lads’ were thinking of the whole process. The wonder is that they paid enough attention to hone their skills. One of those making lemonade from lemons situations.
Only the greatest good luck showed them to success and fortune. They would have labored in the vineyard for a while and then drifted off into jobs but for the fact that an entrepreneurial romantic by the name of Brian Epstein saw them as the vehicle to realize his own dreams. He had the direction and energy to galvanize their careers. Still they were rejected by all the labels until a producer, George Martin, apparently heard what the rest of the world would hear and agreed to record them. It was then that the unbelievable happened elevating the Beatles into the most successful pop group ever. It was success far beyond their imaginations. With that success came challenges that neither John nor Cynthia could meet. The fact that they failed is no reflection on either one; they came from very low expectations and having fallen down the rabbit hole they were slightly unprepared. ‘One side makes you larger, the other side makes you smaller.’
To this time in their lives neither had even eaten at anything other than the English equivalent of McDonald’s, fish and chips or whatever. Now in one great step they were introduced into the haut ton by their manager Brian Epstein. Cynthia leads us to believe that Epstein gave special attention to John over the other ‘lads.’ As Epstein was a homosexual and as other sources, Peter Brown, Goldman actually state that Epstein seduced Lennon he obviously had a crush on John seeking to mold him in his own image. Indeed, John may have been his incentive for taking the Beatles on. Lust at first sight.
John had an attractive flip attitude that left the impression that he was much better educated than he was. Actually he left Art School, already a step down from the top, flunked out or whatever preferring to devote himself to his guitar chords. Most of the rockers were in the same situation. It’s amazing that their fans looked to them for salvation. This was tragic, because the generation invested all their hopes and dreams in these muscians attributing universal knowledge and genius to them, each and everyone. While they all did changes on certain political and social themes there was an appearance of ‘deep’ knowledge. Being anti-pollution was a badge of authority. Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane made the mistake if, one hopes, jesting that one should never trust anyone over thirty; this while she, John and others were about twenty-nine.
The phrase stuck. Those under thirty trusted these youthful, perhaps well-meaning rock stars. Being somewhat older at the time I could only see some very ordinary boys and girls who were just youthful wiseacres as we all were in that phase of our journey through life. Give me a break.
The most revered of all were the three Beatles John, Paul and George with Ringo thought of more as the court jester. John seemed to take his role most seriously as the guru of the generation, especially after he abandoned Cynthia for, spare me, the psychotic Yoko Ono.
Her abandonment by John for Yoko Ono is of course the most traumatic incident in her story. One can only commiserate with Cynthia. Then one has to search for reasons why; there was certainly no physical attraction there. Lennon did release a solo album called Mind Games so perhaps the best place to look is the mental. Lennon’s success must have placed great stresses of various kinds on him. The transition from a fair degree of poverty to one of a very large income to great wealth under the management of Yoko Ono would be psychologically unsettling in itself. Cynthia was unable to transit from poverty to wealth always remaining a lower middle class haus frau while John appears to have lacked the social climbing instincts of, say, Mick Jagger.
Musicians in general are held in very low esteem by the social elite so without unbounded desire and chutzpah, an ability to endure slights of the most painful kind it is highly unlikely that a musician would ever find acceptance in society. The aristocrats, Marrianne Faithfull describes as associating with Jagger appear to me to be more of the Black Sheep variety. So, Lennon may have been experiencing some frustration at that level.
At the same time there are numerous flatterers who are adept at putting ideas of omnipotence into your head not only intimating but saying that you are godlike. Even though one rejects the notion on the conscious level still a feeling of super powers creeps into your subliminal mind. One feels invulnerable, that one can do what’s never been done, that one can do drugs with impunity. There was never a time when the availability of drugs was ever greater or more socially acceptable.
At the time rumors abounded which have since turned into facts. During the Kennedy administration there was one Dr. Feelgood operating in New York to whom the social elite went for their drugs. His name was Dr. Max Jacobson and he was your friendly amphetamine pusher. His speed cocktails were extraordinary and they lasted for days. It’s comforting to know that President John F. Kennedy was amphetamine fueled while he was making those difficult international decisions- like Cuba. Nothing like having an A-man on the job. He wasn’t alone, VP Lyndon Johnson, followed in his footsteps into the office of Dr. Feelgood. He would have found his place at the end of the line of the NYC elite.
One person who took the good doctor’s prescription said that he went blind for three days staying high for several. Max was the economic type, dirty needles too.
At the same time Dr. Timothy Leary was sending everyone from prison inmates to Beat poet Allen Ginsberg tripping into inner space with his free handed distribution of LSD. Kennedy was involved in that too.
Prior to their arrival for the Sullivan show we are led to believe that the Mop Tops had only used pep pills in Hamburg to fuel their twelve hour sets. We are told that Bob Dylan was the one who turned them on to La Cucuracha, the most mild of the intoxicants. From there the boys graduated to LSD through spiked drinks or food.
Just as Harrison’s wife, Patti, records a spiked introduction to LSD so does Cynthia Lennon. Cynthia quite properly was revolted by drugs having no use for them. John was quite the opposite. He embraced LSD apparently ingesting regularly for long periods of time. As he would describe it, thousands of trips. At that point in my estimation the marriage was over. There is nothing for which Cynthia has to reproach herself except for her small divorce settlement. Nothing disintegrates the personality like drugs.
The drug influence was followed by a change in their music patterned after Dylan. When I first heard the Rubber Soul album I found it extremely noisy and unpleasant. This album was probably influenced by the Band’s playing behind Dylan on the ’65-’66 tour or perhaps the Bringing It All Back Home and Highway ’61 albums. It seems p;robable to me that the song Norwegian Wood commemorated Dylan’s turning them on to marijuana. The girl obviously represents Dylan.
Succeeding albums would aim for a ‘heavier’ feel with more social significance. As Lennon said in his ’80 Playboy interview, I Am The Walrus was written in imitation of Dylan.
The cover of Rubber Soul was traditional uninfluenced by pop art trends. The succeeding cover in the US, the famous ‘Butcher’ cover would be widely interpreted in the US as a comment on the Viet Nam War. It may have been meant as a pun- prime cuts of both meat and record tracks, but I don’t know. Whether there was a Pop Art influence isn’t clear.
The cover for the following Revolver by Klaus Voorman seems to indicate an awareness of Pop. For a band that was thought to be on the cutting edge of everything there are only two covers very avant garde with neither being very satisfying to me.
Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band that follows Revolver is a complete Pop Art package. A bizarre and macabre conception it does succeed. The grave in the foreground with the floral Beatles is chilling, perhaps a presage of the break up of the band. As Dylan said: If you’re not busy being born you’re busy dying.’ The Beatles are pictured in dead black and white looking down mournfully on their grave while the newly born Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band stand front and center in vibrant living color. Obviously the one has risen from the other.
Behind the band are row on row of ‘ancestors’ or, as was commonly assumed, influences. In fact members of the band contributed only a few of the names while the rest were contributed by others. Dylan is certainly among the pictures. The album comes complete with a childhood toy, a sheet of cut outs, making a complete Pop Art package. They could have had a designed inner sleeve but they overlooked that. Peter Blake, the main designer, is known as a Pop Artist.
The musical content follows the downer social significance motif with aural pyrotechnics such as had not been heard on record before. The release, as everyone is aware, was a complete smash, but it went beyond smash into realms not achieved until Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Thriller failed to excite as did Sgt. Peppers. That summer of ’67 was literally a surround of Sgt. Peppers. It was almost the only record anyone played. The Beatles easily trumped Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde of the summer of ’66.
The rest of the Beatles’ covers are pedestrian. The White LP probably influenced by One was trite at the time.
Cynthia seems to lack all understanding of what tremendous pressures the very unstable Lennon was subjected to , how his mind was being affected by adulation from the fans and respect from the world at large. Kid me, being named one of the three most influential men in the world wouldn’t have inflated the head of a Liverpool loser? My god, the Beatles even sung ‘I’m a loser.’ I couldn’t believe anyhone would sing such a song much less the Beatles who were clearly winners. How does one endure thinking of oneself as a loser on one hand and one of the most influential men in the world on the other?
At the same time that Lennon was enlarged Cynthia shrunk into the Liverpool realities of her youth. The couple had a mansion but unfamiliar with so much space Cynthia preferred to live in one small room! Clearly she was not equal to the demands of her situation.
The situation became critical when Lennon began mass consumption of drugs, including heroin, which Cynthia correctly declined to do while at the same time the poisonous Yoko Ono injected herself into Lennon’s life. There was no hope for Cynthia. Yoko Ono was a walking disaster looking for a place to happen- and then there was John.
Quite frankly Yoko Ono’s ‘career’ was going nowhere. Born in 1933 she was 33 in 1966 when she began her assault on John who was 25.
The sexual dynamic is that Lennon seemed to prefer older women than himself having a masochistic submission impulse. Cynthia herself was a year older. She too apparently sought security in younger men. Her second husband was two years younger and her third six. She seemed to lack the dominating impulse to make such marriages work. Ono had it in spades.
While John was by this time psychotic, Ono had been so from childhood, in addition she seems to suffer from extreme cognitive dissonance. Ono got the rock critic Robert Palmer to shill for her in her 1992 release, Onobox. In the essay Palmer states:
It is quite likely that having John Lennon fall in love with her was the worst thing that could have happened to Yoko Ono’s career as an artist.
Notice the lack of mention of falling in love with Lennon. This was written, I almost said, dictated to Palmer, in 1992 twelve years after Lennon’s death. No serious critic could have written that line so one must assume that it was dictated by Ono herself. The line shows how far she has distanced herself from reality.
Ono was in fact, a poor little rich girl. As a woman she felt inferior to the male writing such pieces as ‘Woman Is The Nigger Of The World.’ Once again cognitive dissonance. Yoko Ono was never in the position of being ‘a nigger in the world.’ It is true that her father advised her against attempting composing believing that women didn’t make good composers. How wrong was he, hey? Ono milked every man she was ever with before actually going into the dairy business herself. Secondly, having chosen to enter the Western world as an Asian she places her artistic neglect on the twin facts that he is a woman and an Asian. It never occurs to her that her art is unpleasing.
As an artist, whether woman or not, Asian or not, she had nothing to offer the art loving peoples of the world. In this increasingly globalized world of the sixties being Asian meant nothing while being a woman held no one with talent back. Indeed, male artists were increasingly being suppressed in favor of women in all the arts. If all girl rock bands isn’t an oxymoron I don’t know what is.
By her own admission she thought she was an influential person in the New York City art world of the early sixties after an apprenticeship of one year even gaining ‘an international reputation.’ As she told May Pang: I was famous before I met John. So, one asks how does one reconcile her imagined great success with the feeling of being held back as an Asian and woman?
She rented a loft for fifty dollars a month which she coyly implies that as a starving artist the money was not easy to find. Well, Daddy was only a phone call away, she should have reached out and touched him. You can be sure he wasn’t going to let his little girl starve. By comparison I was paying 125.00 a month for an apartment in the Bay Area. I think we can dismiss the impoverished struggling artist scenario as so much more cognitive dissonance.
Ono spread herself pretty thin apparently attempting to cover all aspects of the avant garde. She’s keen on belonging to the avant garde. In music she patterned herself after John Cage and that weird contemporary ‘classical music’ approach with perhaps more than a nod to the early electronic composers such as Robert Maxwell who she mentions. She began her career in 1969 between the end of the Absract Expression mode and the beginningof the Pop movement so she was too late for the one and too early for the other. She and Lennon would try to rectify this in 1971 by doing obeisance to the Pop guru, Andy Warhol.
In 1961 she threw a party and was devastated that a snow storm discouraged the uptown crowd she had invited from coming. At least she said there was a snow storm. This may be another instance of cognitive dissonance. As she was an actual nobody she had no reason to expect society people to attend, snow storm or no snow storm. Nevertheless she was devastated, leaving town for Japan shortly thereafter. One may question where she obtained the fare for that flight when she had difficulty of meeting a fifty dollar rent bill.
In Japan she acquired her first husband simultaneously being committed to an insane asylum. As difficult as it may be to believe, her soon to be second husband, Tony Cox, heard these marvelous things about Ono in NYC deciding to fly to Japan to look her up. He found her thoroughly doped staggering around the halls of the asylum. He succeeded in getting her released then he, Ono and her first husband formed a menage a trois. The first husband wisely was the first to leave so Cox claimed the prize and the couple returned to NYC in 1964 so she is having an eventful four years. Shortly after their arrival they pulled up stakes and headed further East to London. Of the move Ono says:
I thought (the) avant garde world in New York was still very exciting but that it was starting to become an institution in itself, and there were rules and regulations in an invisible way, and I just wanted to get out of it. I never considered myself a member of any group. I was just doing my own thing.
That is just another way of saying that the art scene was a cliquish group in its terminal stages that was difficult or impossible to break into so unable to do so Ono was ‘just doing her own thing.’ It might be noted however that the NYC art scene was or was in becoming a nearly totally homosexual affair. At any rate we have evidence of sour grapes- I never considered myself a member of any group. And the result of rejection- I was just doing my own thing.
After her rejection she ‘composed’ a musical piece called Wall Piece For Orchestra in which she knelt on a stage and repeatedly banged her heard on the floor. Today that would be called ‘acting out.’
Off to new worlds to conquer in London and at the Indica Gallery of John Dunbar, the resident ‘head’ art gallery. Now, at this point she ‘ruined her career’ by pursuing John Lennon until he caught her. I imagine that she had been shrewdly observing his career and undoubtedly came to the psychological conclusion that he was a dependent personality who could be easily manipulated by the older maternal type with the right touch. That John Lennon could be made dependent on this woman eight years his senior is proof positive. Indeed, John even referred to her as Mother.
Cynthia for whom the role was impossible correctly assessed the situation noting the influence of Lennon’s Aunt Mimi who brought him up. Ono courted Lennon, interfering directly in his marriage. Ono was quite willing to drug herself along with Lennon so that both were heroin addicts. Ono thus established a sado-masochistic control over Lennon that Cynthia had no chance of breaking.
Rather than ruining Ono’s career the ‘third most influential man’ in the world gave her a stage on which to perform that she could never have found on her own. She now considered herself a collaborator with the Beatles. The injection of the Cage and Maxwell garbage combined with Lennon’s erratic behavior produced the nonsense of Revolution #9 on the White Album.
Lennon on drugs and under the influenceof Ono, who had her motives, according to Dire Corrector’s blog quoting the biographer of Paul McCartney, Many Years From Now, says:
The meditation had essentially precipitated a nervous breakdnown which was not helped by John’s tremendous drug intake. On May 18, 1966 he summoned a meeting of the Beatles at Apple and announced to them that he was Jesus Christ…the night after he told the other Beatles that he was the Savior, he finally called Yoko Ono and told her to come over.
Quite obviously Lennon was either teetering on the brink or had fallen over the edge. If he hadn’t broken with Cynthia by this time it is quite clear that apart from a certain inappropriateness of being wed to the Savior she was quite innocent of causing the break in any manner and should have a clear conscience.
Lennon’s state of mind would explain the insensitive manner in which he broke with Cynthia and its aftermath. The man must not have been in his right mind. While easing Cynthia out was relatively easy, from Ono’s end Tony Cox to whom she was still married was not such a simple matter. One wonders why he would fight so hard to keep a women who was so psychotic. Perhaps it was their daughter who he later took into hiding to keep her away from Ono. Justly so, it seems.
At any rate by ’69 Ono and Lennon were free to marry. Definitely by this point Lennon had all but surrendered his identity to Ono. She was now in possession of the reputation of one of the three most influential men in the world. Blending her identity with his she was about to become hermaphroditic. Perhaps Lennon was overawed by her avant garde credentials, such as they were, as well as whatever passed for her musical sensibilities.
She became Yoko Ono Lennon while he legally changed his name to John Ono Lennon so they both became Ono Lennons. After a number of happenings which one must believe were entirely Ono’s conceptions, such as the ‘bed in’ in Holland and the organization of the Plastic Ono Band, the pair settled in New York in an apartment building known as the Dakota. The Dakota was a connection to Ono’s past fulfilling an old desire to surpass those uptown types who she felt had slighted her.
In that connection also the cover of the Plastic Ono Band is a fulfillment of an old desire of Ono’s. While a child she witnessed the fire bombing of Tokyo in the US attempt to bring an end to the war. The blue sky was obliterated by the billowing clouds of smoke. While she didn’t witness Hiroshima yet she imagined the same sky as that over Tokyo. She then developed a blue sky obsession. If you notice the cover of the Plastic Ono Band is just a blue sky. One assumes then that Ono’s plans were coming together.
The NYC art world of 1960-’61 had shifted totally, the Abstract Expressionists she had tried to piggyback on were gone having been replaced by Pop Art of which Andy Warhol was the reigning doyen. If the Abstract Expressionists had been exclusive Warhol was nothing if not inclusive. He worshipped celebrities and Lennon was the number one celebrity. Himself a groupie and maximum social climber he welcomed an association with the Onos. For Yoko Ono the association with the leaderof the NYC art scene was her dream come true. Nothing but blue skies from now on.
In the accompanying picture you will notice that Warhol is seated in between a standing Yoko Ono with one hand on her right tit while his hand is on a drugged out looking John Ono with his hand on Warhol’s crotch. The symbolism is quite clear. The standing Yoko
is the master of two emasculated males who happen to be two of the most influential men in the world. She ain’t no nigger no more, Maggie’s Farm is a thing of the past, yes, men are now niggers in relation to herself. Warhol as an artist takes precedence over the disposable oafish John Ono. Yoko is tallest and standing, Warhol is second tallest and sitting while the now disposable John is lowest, lying on his back. The future is clear. Study John’s face; study all three faces.
The sexually besotted John Ono has surrendered his entire identity even as a musician allowing Yoko Ono to usurp his place by putting out those horrid hideous LP musical montrosities. Robert Palmer aside, with song titles reminiscent of her head bashing days: What A Bastard The World Is, I Felt Like Smashing My Face In A Glass Window, Woman Of Salem (Witches), Coffin Car, Hell In Paradise and Walking On Thin Ice. Clearly this woman had an unsettled, disturbed mind.
Having usuped Lennon’s role and identity he became expendable. Her problem now was to transfer his past and his wealth to herself thereby becoming Yoko-John Ono, Double Fantasy. Two fantasies melding into her one personality.
John Ono’s finances were, of course, in complete disorder. As Yoko was soon to show billions of dollars were disappearing down a sink hole. She rapidly organized his finances turning his money green. Within short order the Onos were worth a hundred million or so which she would swell to a billion or more after John’s death.
I imagine it was fairly easy to have John Ono give her a power of attorney, indeed he forked over his identity allowing her to function in his stead as himself. An awesome abdication. A POA would negate the need for a will, and indeed having made herself not only co-owner of John’s assets as well as his identity Yoko Ono would merely acquire full ownership leaving no assets to be willed. Indeed, she could have turned him out penniless at any time. When Cynthia was clamoring for a reading of the will she was wasting her breath; if a will existed, unlikely in itself, there would have been no assets to bequeath.
Yoko Ono having now incorporated John Ono’s reputation and identity into her own had also incorporated the assets and with the assets the legacy of all copyrights held by John Lennon as the double fantasy melded into one fantasy. The only obstacle to Yoko’s apotheosis into man-woman was John himself as he was alive. However John was only thirty-five. To wait thirty-five years or more with a man she didn’t love or even like would be unbearable. Some hard thinking was in order.
She manipulated the poor dolt into thinking he was a boorish oaf who needed to go off to get himself together. Rather than just sending him off she chose an employee, May Pang, an Asian like herself, to be John’s consort while away.
In reading May Pang’s book, Loving John, it becomes clear that Yoko Ono was a master hypnotist. She knew how to make suggestions and have people act on them. Acccording to Pang she fixed an hypnotic glare on one, assuming an authoritative posture while intoning her suggestion. She had the reputation of always getting her way.
Of course her version of what happened is different than Pang’s. Yoko having suggested she go off with John, the act was soon consummated. Pang insists she and John were in love, yet a year and a half later when Yoko called John back he came running.
Thus, from 1975 to Double Fantasy in 1980 Yoko and John Ono were out of public life living as a double fantasy of Howard Hughes. Then in 1980 Mark Chapman became the man who shot John Lennon. There have been speculations that Chapman was hypnotized when he committed his deed. Conspiracy theories therefore have sprung up.
One must ask who the death of John Lennon benefited. Two possible people. Yoko One on one hand and possibly Chapman on the other. On the one hand Yoko Ono achieved the psychotic desire to escape being the ‘nigger of the world’ by becoming John Ono Lennon while physically remaining the sweet little girl she had been before the fire bombing of Tokyo. She was unable to manage the memory of that transformative experience. In her mind, then, she became the prominent artist-musician of the world.
I don’t believe the government had anything to do with the assassination.
As we know Yoko Ono was a master hypnotist; the question is how did she find Mark Chapman and how did she hypnotize him?
Earlier in the day Chapman had approached Lennon for an autograph. He can be seen worshipfully smiling beside his hero in the picture. There appears to be no indication he meant to harm Lennon. He might easily have shot him point blank at the time, yet when he came back in the afternoon with a voice in his head insistently saying: Do it. Do it. Do it. he gunned his hero down.
At the time Yoko Ono had dropped a few steps behind John. In similar murder attempts, people step away from the intended victim so as not to be caught in the line of fire. This may have been the case with Yoko.
Certainly Yoko is opposed to Chapman’s release from prison even though he has fulfilled the twenty year requirement of twenty to life. I doubt if he is a threat to society however he may be a threat to Yoko Ono if he were to remember or reveal the details leading up to his shooting of John Ono Lennon.
Of course, I don’t know why Chapman shot but I do know that Yoko Ono Lennon was the sole beneficiary. She left Cynthia holding the bag while she realized her double fantasy.
January 15, 2009
Dark As Dungeon Way Down In A Mind
We’re on a bad motorcycle with the devil in the seat
Going ninety miles an hour down a dead end street.
My correspondent replied to my post Bob Dylan The Reactionary. An excerpt:
Poetry is a funny thing: it bypasses the cerebral when it is best IMHO…Poetry is nonsense, making the nonsense of mortality a bit more bearable for a moment in time.
I suppose that’s a valid reflection. There has been some debate as to whether song lyrics are poetry. In a lyric’s effort to condense experience into the fewest possible words my own thinking is that they are of the essence of poetry whether or not one considers them ‘true poetry.’
I certainly carry innumerable song lyrics around in my head while very little ‘true poetry’ has had the same effect on me. A great many of the lyrics are Country and Western and what passed for Folk. I find references in Dylan of the same importance of favorites that I have.
I recently ran Hank Snow’s Ninety Miles An Hour Down A Dead End Street on Rhapsody and was surprised to discover that Dylan had actually recorded a heavily edited version as a religious gospel dirge. Don’t get the connection but if Dylan says so…
The part of the lyric that has always struck me the most forcefully is the line: We’re on a bad motorcycle with the devil in the seat going ninety miles an hour down a dead end street. I apply the line to all kinds of situations including the present political quagmire. Dylan seems to emphasize the illicit love affair. Doesn’t really matter, the point is that that little piece of ephemera had a profound influence on us. Dylan resurrected the song fifty years on while I use the image that appealed to me in my writing frequently. Poetry? Well, I think maybe.
There are a couple of other country classics that live in my mind by Merle Travis: Dark As A Dungeon Way Down In A Mine and Nine Pound Hammer. I always imagined those were folk songs dating back to the 1880s or something but Travis wrote as late as 1947. The relevant quotes for me:
It’s dark as a dungeon way down in a mine
Where the wind never blows, and the sun never shines,
Where the dangers are double and the pleasures are few.
Roll on buddy, don’t you roll so slow,
Tell me, how can I roll when the wheels won’t go.
This nine pound hammer is a little too heavy
For my size, boys, for my size.
The first quote is from Dungeon, the latter from Nine Pound Hammer.
For myself I always gave the lyrics a psychological twist saying ‘mind’ for mine. Roll on buddy referred to my habitual procrastination, psychological blockage preventing action. Had problems. Solved ’em. Are these songs poetry? They are in my mind. I make all kinds of things out of them even the innocuous line:
It’s a long way to Harlan,
It’s a long way to Hazard,
Just to get a little brew. boys,
Just to get a little brew.
I’m not thinking of booze either as in ‘My Buckets Got A Hole In It.’ Can’t buy no beer.
I’m sure Dylan cherishes both those songs. They’re the classics that people in the know know. They don’t call us cognoscenti for nothing. Roll on buddy…
As a last example before I get to the gist of this thing is the song ‘Grand Coulee Dam written by Woody Guthrie a man I really despise- damn it. But talent will out and while I have my prejudices I’m no bigot. For me this lyric is as poetic as you can get.
Well, the world holds seven wonders that the travelers always tell,
Some gardens and some towers, I guess you know them well,
But now the greatest wonder is in Uncle Sam’s fair land,
It’s the great Columbia River and the big Grand Coulee Dam.
She heads up the Canadian Rockies where the rippling waters glide,
Comes a-roaring down the canyon to meet the salty tide,
Of the wide Pacific Ocean where the sun sets in the West
And the big Grand Coulee country in the land I love the best.
Uncle Sam took up the challenge in the year of thirty-three,
For the farmer and the factory hand and for all of you and me,
He said, “Roll along, Columbia, you can ramble to the sea,
But river, while you’re rambling, you can do some work for me.”
Now in Washington and Oregon you can hear the factories hum,
Making chrome and making manganese and bright aluminum,
And there roars the Flying Fortress now to fight for Uncle Sam,
Spawned upon the King Columbia past the Big Grand Coulee Dam.
In the misty crystal glitter of that wild and windward spray,
Men have fought the pounding waters and met a watery grave,
Well she tore their boats to splinters but she gave men dreams to dream
Of the day the Coulee Dam would cross that wild and wasted stream.
Nice stuff from my point of view. Doesn’t get any better than that. The song gave me dreams to dream. If you want to hear the best rendition ever by Lonnie Donegan click this:
My verdict is that good lyrics are good poetry while bad poetry doesn’t necessarily make a good lyric.
Now as to the lyrics to Highwater by Dylan that my correspondent referred me to that I discussed in the post: Bob Dylan The Reactionary.
As the lyric touched my correspondent’s psychology I tackled the lyric from a different angle as the way I was interpreting it may not have reflected his. For all I know this doesn’t either but I think it’s interesting.
The lyric in question:
Well, George Lewis told the Englishman, the Italian and the Jew
You can’t open up your mind, boys, to
every conceivable point of view
They got Charles Darwin trapped out on Highway 5
Judge says to the high sheriff, I want him dead or alive
Either one, I don’t care
The format Dylan uses here is that of the genre of old jokes that begins something like this: A Protestant, a Catholic and a Jew… then moves on to the punchline. Dylan’s presentation can be interpreted as flip so he is probably thinking of the verse as a joke.
As I said in my previous post George Lewis represents a Black, the Englishman as Science or Darwin, the Italian Catholicism or Christianity and the Jew Judaism. Four different conceivable views that can’t be held simultaneously no matter how open you think your mind is.
These are four crucial irreconcilable conflicts in Dylan’s mind while they probably represent the major psychological dilemma of most White or Jewish people.
The problem is especially acute for Dylan who was indoctrinated into Jewish Lubavitcher beliefs for his Bar Mitzvah while having
been brought up from infancy on Hillbilly music, Country if you prefer, which is quintessential Christian music whether sung in church or honky-tonk. Those good old boys live with their religion even when they’re robbing banks so even with0ut going to church Dylan has a strong Christian background. He did sing a sexual anthem like Ninety Miles An Hour as a hymn. Ponder that for a minute.
So Dylan has had to reconcile his dual religious beliefs seeming to have come down on the side of his Lubavitcher Judaism which is no surprise. He then has to do something about his religious vs. scientific or evolutionary beliefs. Darwin doesn’t go with Judaism. He centers the problem on Darwin as Science. Here he has made the decision to imprison or kill Evolutionary beliefs. Dead or Alive, either way, Judge says, he don’t care. Having eliminated Science and Christianity we have Judasim and the Blacks on the racial issue. Dylan has subordinated himself to the Blacks on the racial issue and is willing to take the inferior position. While he believes he has resolved these for him difficult problems they still trouble him or he wouldn’t be talking about them. Strange.
Why did my correspondent associate me with the verse? He says: Just thought of you and the line(s) for some reason. My correspondent seems to be wrestling with Dylan’s problem himself. As I have written on all four topics fairly extensively and I know the correspondent has read lots of my stuff I suppose the lines suggested me. The song isn’t good poetry and not even good lyrics but if it succeeded at least on my correspondent’s level one would have to concede that lyrics are poetry. The better the lyric the better the poetry. And now for a little circular logic: The better the poetry the better the lyric.
May 7, 2008
Exhuming Bob IX:
Chronicles Vol. I, Pensees 4
The gist of Chronicles is how Bob became a songwriter. As an auto-biography of his life he is telling us nothing but as to his intellectual development he is telling us a lot.
I find the Lost Land chapter the most interesting in the book. Bob goes back and constructs little dioramas to illustrate the changes he was going through. The chapter is kind of a literary version of Salvador Dali’s picture, The Persistence Of Memory. What is visible has to be reconstructed and interpreted. In the interpretation lies the interest.
Bob is interested in telling us how he became Bob Dylan while wanting to give his impression of people and events. He recalls a concert by Bobby Vee who was riding the crest of his popularity while Bob was a mere nothing waiting in line. He seems to want to prove to us that Vee really did know him from back in Dakota thus verifying the fact that he did play with Vee’s band. Bob sent in his name and Bobby Vee actually came out to talk to him. The situation is reversed now, Bob is something and Vee is a has ben but Bob still has a place in his heart for him. Touching story.
And then he tells his Ricky Nelson story. Bob seemed to think more highly of Rick as singer than I did. Time has softened my attitude to Rick as well as his song ‘Garden Party’ that I have always liked. As Bob said Ricky mentions him in his song- ‘there was Bob Dylan in his Howard Hughes disguise’- or words something like that.
Rick’s song, I think, gave Bob the idea for the story he tells of Camilla Adam’s party. It is actually two parties, the one at Comill’as and another at Alan Lomax’s that Bob loosely joins together around the persona of Mike Seeger. It’s interesting. Bob introduces the party thusly: p.62
…then something immediate happens and you’re in another world, you jump into the unknown, have an instinctive understanding of it- you’re set free. You don’t need to ask questions and you always know the score. It seems like when that happens, it happens fast, like magic, but it’s really not like that. It isn’t like some dull boom goes off and the moment has arrived- your eyes don’t spring open and suddenly you’re very quick and sure about something. It’s more deliberate. Its more like you’ve been working in the the light of day and then you see one day that its getting dark early, that it doesn’t matter where you are- it won’t do any good. It’s a reflective thing. Somebody holds the mirror up, unlocks the door- something jerks it open and you’re shoved in and your head has to go into a different place. Sometimes it takes a certain somebody to make you realize it.
Mike Seeger had that effect on me.
So the rambling account of the Bob’s next few pages is going to be a story of how Mike Seeger put Bob’s head in a different place. It’s going to happen at Camilla’s ‘Garden Party’ combined with Alan Lomax’s affair. Did this party really take place or is this a dream sequence Bob builds up to explain the change he’s going through? The population of the party strikes me as improbable but then I have attended very few celebrity parties and don’t feel I can put myself forward as a judge.
Bob doesn’t tell us when these two melded parties built around Mike Seeger too place but as most of the stories in this essay take place in the winter- baby, it was cold outside- it must have been before 1963. Bob arrived in NYC in the winter of 1960. In relation to Harry Belafonte he does say: ‘I’d be making my professional recording debut with Harry, playing harmonica on one of his albums called Midnight Special. That album was recorded in ’62 so if that was still in the future as Bob makes it sound the intellectual development he’s taking about probably took place in the winter of ’61-’62. He bagan dating Suze Rotolo in the summer of ’61 so the part-time girl friend he was with, Delores Dixon, must have been the part of the time he wasn’t with Suze.
There were a lot of Folk people there but Bob says they all gave him the cold shoulder except for Pete Seeger. p. 64
I saw a lot of people here that I’d meet again not too far off, a lot of the folk community hierarchy, who were all pretty indefferent to me at the time and showed very little enthusiasm. they could tell I wasn’t from the North Carolina mountains nor was I a very comercial, cosmopolitan singer either. I just didn’t fit it.
So if not outright rejection there was probably a feeling of you don’t have to pay attention to that guy, he ain’t goin’ nowhere. So here we have the nucleus of Positively Fourth Street. p. 64
They didn’t know what to make of me. Pete Seeger did, though, and he said hello.
So, who among the multitude had the prescience to recognize the genius of Bob Dylan and said: Hello. That was enough for the moment for the boy in the sheepskin coat and motorcycle boots.
An then Bob runs through a list of attendees: Harold Leventhal the famous Folk manager, Judith Dunne a choreographer, Ken Jacobs the filmmaker, Pete Schumann a puppeteer, Moe Asch from Folkways, Theodore Bikel, Harry Jackson the artist, Cisco Houston.
A whole slew of authentic labor agitators, not those phony bigwigs who went to Pureto Rico to party hearty. Irwin Silber of Sing Out!, There were a lot of Broadway and off-Broadway actors too, a lot of musicians and singers, Erik Darling, Lee Hayes, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Mike Seeger of course but also the creme de la creme Harry Belafonte. Quite a gathering which makes me believe that Bob is romancing a little.
Bob was knocked out by Belafonte. He eulogizes over Harry. For myself I never really cared for Belafonte. Harry was from New York City. born in ’27 so he’s about eighty now. Still kicking. He went to live with his grandmother in Jamaica for four years when he was from eight to twelve then returned to New York City. Studied to be an actor but first drifted into singing, picked up a folk repertory from Huddie Ledbettor who he apparently knew. He had a hit in 1953 with Matilda and in 1954 released his LP Mark Twain of which the title song became a hit. Harry also did a number of Leadbelly tunes like the slave songs Bring A Little Water, Silvie and Jump Down, Spin Around.
The lyrics in the latter baffled me for decades. In one of those classic mishearings I heard:
Jump down, spin around
Pick a bale of cotton.
Jump down, spin around,
Pick a bale of hay.
I could never figure out the connection between cotton and hay. Then one day I realized, or read the lyrics, I forget which and learned the last line was ‘pick a bale a day.’ Ah, made more sense.
I didn’t understand what it was about Belafonte I didn’t like until a while ago when I subjected myself to another hearing of the first double Carnegie Hall record of ’59. Then I knew why. Harry treated his vocal styling from an art song point of view. He sang Folk but through a glass darkly. (Finally got that old saw in. Thank you Harry.)
He was fighting the image of the Negro as an inarticulate lout so he over compensated. He actually mocked the English of the English on the LP, his hatred flowing out. So he sounds like he’s performing in Porgy and Bess or like John Raitt in Oklahoma or Carousel. Stilted.
If one compares the records of Belafonte to those of the Scotch Folk singer Lonnie Donegan, he began his ascent at the same time, the contrast is startling. Donegan sings as a man of the people giving the songs, same songs, a meaning and value that Belafonte fails to do. Compare both men’s rendition of Bring A Little Water Silvie. Belafonte sounds like he’s singing for a soundtrack of Seven Brides For Seven Brothers or something. Lonnie Donegan sounds like he’s out there in the fields asking Sylvie to bring him a little water as he picks his daily bale of cotton.
All the difference in the world- Lonnie Donegan is the greatest who ever rode the Rock Island Line.
It bothers me that Bob doesn’t seem to know Lonnie. He wasn’t that big in the US but he was huge in Britain. You might possibly know him from the song Does The Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor On The Bedpost Overnight.
Of course Harry made it big when he made his sentimental Journey back to Jamaica to exhume a repertoir that really struck home. Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) made it for him. Then his acting career revived. He was billed as the Negro Presence which is what Bob seems to referring to here. Every effort was made to make Harry the Black Hero, before Poitier, transcending any Whiteness. As popular as he was he never really caught on. Carmen Jones, a Black takeoff on the opera Carmen was his big movie. He not only sang like but acted like John Raitt. The movie might have done alright at the box office, I don’t know, I didn’t think much of it and I knew it was my duty to like it too.
That would have been 1954, the year of Brown vs. the Board Of Education, just at the time Eartha Kitt, also born in 1927, burst on the scene singing the fabulous C’est Si Bon. Ran us right up the wall. I always couple Belafonte and Kitt in memory. Would have been a dream marriage, like Eddie Fisher and Elizabeth Taylor.
Having written a great eulogy for this major influence in his life, Bob compares Belafonte with Gorgeous George. He then gets to the crux of this story, the life changing event. He moves immediately on to Mike Seeger.
It was getting late and me and Delores were about to leave when I suddenly spotted Mike Seeger in the room. I hadn’t noticed him before and I watched him walk from the wall to the table. When I saw him my brain became wide awake and I was instantly in a good mood. I’d seen Mike play previously with The New Lost City Ramblers at a schoolhouse on East 10th Street. He was extraordinary, gave me an eerie feeling. Mike was unprecedented. He was like a duke, the knight errant. As for being a folk musician, he was the supreme archetype. He could push a stake through Dracula’s black heart…
Bob rambles on, he’s got enthusiasm for Mike. Bob’s eulogy of Mike Seeger exceeded that of Belafonte by a factor of 10, but he doesn’t say Mike could knock anybody out with one punch, his ultimate accolade that he uses for Harry.. Bob muses:
The thought occurred to me that maybe I’d have to write my own folk songs, ones that Mike didn’t know.
And so the epiphany. Bob knew he could never come close to equaling Mike Seeger as either a folk singer or instrumentalist.. He left the field of folksinger to Mike and apparently still feeling inferior having written some well received folk style songs he escaped Mike’s shadow by adding electricity. There was no way Mike could go there. And there Bob got bigger than any hundred or thousand Mike Seegers.
February 21, 2008
Exhuming Bob VI
Ramblin’ Jack Elliott And Bob Dylan
I had the privilege the other night of viewing The Ballad Of Ramblin’ Jack Elliott which was filmed by Jack’s daughter. A little on the lengthy, repetitive side, could have used a judicious edit or two, but a very
creditable and enjoyable effort. She is to be commended.
The movie helped to put into perspective Bob in his relation to both the New York folk scene and Elliott himself. Both Jewish their careers have had great similarities from childhood to the present. Currently they are running parallel with the money going into Bob’s pocket.
Both have aspired to be cowboy or Western singers and both have succeeded. Elliott in his Ramblin’ Jack role and Bob in his Texas Bob Dylan persona. Both have tried to efface their Jewish heritage actually modeling their faces along cowboy lines. In the movie the transition from the Jewish face of Jack’s youth to his current cowboy face is readily apparent.
Elliot was born Adnopoz and Dylan was born Zimmerman.
There appears to be some real hard feelings towards Bob by Ramblin’ Jack. The cause is not far to seek.
Elliott was himself a disciple of Woody Guthrie as is Dylan. The difference is that Elliott had a ten year start on Dylan. Thus while Dylan was still in high school Ramblin’ Jack was over there in London town recording those records on Topic that would show up in Minneapolis in 1960. At that time the succession of Guthrie-Elliott-Dylan began, at least in Bob’s mind. If anybody else didn’t know what difference did that make? Already making a model of Guthrie Bob added Elliott and stole copies of the Topic records from a fellow named John Pankake and Bob was off to the races or at least New York City. By one of those strange coincidences, genuine in this case, Bob arrived in the Big Apple from the West at the same time that Elliott’s ship from London town docked New York City from the East. East met West so to speak. Now Bob not only had Elliott’s records to practice from but the living model himself. Ramblin’ Jack was living the exact life that Bob wanted to lead so Bob moved right in on him to learn everything he could.
When Jack left America’s sunny shores he was a nobody. He arrived in England just as the great Lonnie Donegan was introducing the Skiffle craze. Jack snapped right in there like the interchangeable part of an automobile. They liked him. They liked everything about him. Made him so comfortable he invited his friend Darrel Adams to come over and sing with him. Darrel did. They made one of those Topic records together that Bob stole from Pankake.
Well, to make a long story shorter those recordings found their way from London town to New York City making Jack a celebrity in the burgeoning New York folk scene. Jack was a hero. Bob got close to him. In one scene Bob is on stage telling Darrel Adams in the audience that he has a record of Darrel and Jack’s. Thus no further proof is needed that Bob stole Pankake’s records and wouldn’t give them back.
Over the course of a few months Bob studied Jack’s act and by the end of those months he was a Ramblin’ Jack Elliott in a Bob Dillon disguise. I never realized how completely Bob became Jack until I saw the movie.
At the time Jack didn’t think much of Bob’s stealing his act but over time he seems to have developed hard feelings towards Bob. He was real resentful in the movie. Did an interesting but bitter version of Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright. Were you listening Bob?
The fact of the matter is both Bob and Jack knew where they were going and they were going to different places by the same route. Bob wanted to be a star and Jack wanted to ramble. So while this single persona in two forms was a star ramblin’ round the world the other side was an irresponsible troubador ramblin; his serendipitous way round the highways and byways of Americky.
They both got what they wanted so there’s no reason for Jack to be bitter about the boy he called his ‘son.’ The only one with the right to be bitter is John Pankake who lost those great Topic records. But nowadays who’s ever heard of John Pankake?