How and Why I Love John Lennon and The Beatles
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I have been told in the last twenty-four hours that I am a crappy writer by two different people. Never one to shy away, I have decided to return to something I hold dear, rather than for content.
As we approach that most awful day, night on four decades later. I feel I should share what his touch did to my world
The potentially most important cultural event in my life took place in the city of Exeter in 1993. I was just 15 and was visiting my brother and his wife, Melissa, on my own for the first time.
It held many events. I traveled alone, through a city that appeared vast and unconquerable to a fresh boy from a small Cotswold town. It took me two hours, three packs of wine gums, as well as a cigarette from the pack I bought (another first! ten Marlboro Lights in Bristol Bus Station) to find it his flat. He wasn't there.
I traversed to the end of the road and sat on a stoop. By now I was likening myself to Jack Kerouac, if only I had any idea who Jack Kerouac was at that time. Still, eventually they came back and found me, out of Wine Gums, but with plenty of fags (9).
We went into the flat - I had already been in it as it was unlocked, and I knew already it was a beatnik-style paradise. Flung nylon tie-dyed sheets over the furniture and door arches, joss-stick and pot aroma from the lounge, grain-heavy food and coffee mixed essence from the narrow kitchen. I loved this place.
My brother took me to a nearby park. For the first time I smoked one of those funny-fags. How often do you hear folk say: "I tried it and it did nothing for me."? Well I tried it and it blew my mind. Floating through the misty late-summer haze, my mind escaped into what can only be described as a spin. A nice spin. What a day!.....and there were still two to go!
We got home, and I found myself fumbling and bumbling. David and Melissa went to bed later, while I reveled in being allowed to be awake, smoke, make tea and listen to music.
I tried a tape. The tape was called The Plastic Ono Band by John Lennon and The Plastic Ono Band. I knew of John Lennon and I knew he was murdered. I always remembered a picture of him in a school library book - he looked like a really interesting guy, I always thought, and the picture was very engaging. That aside, I knew nothing. I guess if I had been told the guy in that picture would change my life, I could have believed it. There was something about him, definitely.
What I can say is that two wheels moving in opposing directions at varied speeds, with a view to rotating some spools holding impregnated tape cased in plastic, using pressure to create and then amplify a sound. A sound that it played through speakers for my ears.
Another way of putting it was that my life completely changed from that second onward. The music was so spectacular and it felt like someone meant something. The words held an honesty and a passionate love for the world and people - that was a total revelation to me. Some of the songs (Isolation, Hold On) I was sure I had heard before. I hadn't I am sure, there would have been no way, not with my exposure.
Working Class Hero, well I had heard that - I remember my brother playing it once. This time though, it was mine. The clarity and aggression with which those words were spoken. It was just incredible, the things he sang about, personal feelings he was clearly still furious about. I fell in love with him there and then.
Before this I liked Queen, I liked Guns n Roses, I liked Squeeze. That was just some music that pleased my ears, there was no comparison to this. They may as well have been types of pencils for all the comparative glory they lacked. Just listen to John roaring at the end of 'Mother'....then listen to Fat-Bottomed Girls, or 'My Michelle' and it is not the same thing, same genre, same art, or even the same world.
I made another cup of tea, purely because I was allowed to, The idea of getting up at 1am and going to the kitchen at my parents house to make a drink!.....I would have been for it! I put the tape back in (no auto-reverse here!) I tried to sleep and eventually did. Only to find more in store the next day.
I went out for teabags and Rizlas for my brother....responsibility and errands, and I was in heaven. It is hard to explain this feeling. A quick aside....I recall, around this time, going shopping with my brother and his wife, and they were bagging up and I glanced to see them putting kitchen-roll in the carriers. That, and I know it sounds weird, blew my effing mind. The idea of having the independence and grown-up life where you had to buy your own kitchen roll!! It was an independence I crave, I was the youngest of a family of four siblings and had no standing, even the dog didn't bark when I came home. Now I was asked to go out and get supplies - awesome.
My brother once again "rolled a fatty", is I believe common parlance, and we enjoyed it, I swigged cold sweet tea and then I listened to this:
Now of course I had heard of The Beatles before. They were the cheeky family-friendly pop-stars whose fame was always the yardstick for any crowd gathering. For example, "One journalist said he had not seen crowds like this since Beatlemania". You will find that comparison widely used for any sizeable collective of admirers in one place.
I had heard "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "Help" of course, who hadn't? They also did a cover of a famous Boy-Scout song called Yellow Submarine. They were cut and that is where I left it.
That was until this day, Lieutenant. This was a collection of divine strings, of lovelorn and heartbreaking lyrics, as well as glorious celebrations of desire and beauty. I had never heard the sexual allegory of Norwegian Wood, nor the worshipful optimism of It's Only Love. This lot were unbelievable. I can't believe they were forgotten about.
I only half joke when I say the last sentence. You may now see every student wall having a Sergeant Pepper poster, everyone loves Abbey Road, and people (mostly the tedious dinner party types) will tell you "Well it actually is called "The Beatles". That was its name. "The White Album" was a reference to the sleeve.."
This was 1993 though, they were not cool then, no, not by a long shot. Trust me, when I went back home full of Fab-Four-Fever, no-one copied or listened. That was until about eighteen months later, when they crept back into the national psyche. The drugs and anti-establishment stuff was forgotten and they were welcomed back into the zeitgeist. I spent a long time being (in a good natured way) laughed at when I said I loved The Beatles. Yet by the time college rolled around, I had copied more tapes than you would believe.
I spent the rest of the day in a crouched blob on the floor, copying and taping. I heard We Can Work it Out and Julia many times. All this poetic thought to eclectic music sung and played with staunch ability and loving professionalism. It was epoch-making.
I carried on listening. It was Saturday tea-time. I heard my brother remark that while he and his wife, both university film-critics, were watching Back to the Future II, the generation it was really meant for was down there listening to John Lennon. I am still waiting to be more pleased by a single sentence 30 years down the line.
Still it is not as if I just took that from it. I copied Hendrix, The Velvet Underground, and The Stones. Yet they were always to be a fond, but distant second to John and the gang.
I had also copied The Doors - now they did become almost as large to me as The Beatles. I devoured, and believed in, everything I saw, read, heard, and thought about Jim Morrison. Who could blame me. I wanted to be as sexy and idolised as The Lizard King and I am sure that some of the confidence I grew into in the next year or two of frankly amazing adolescent thrust and life-quality, was down to Mr Mojo Risin'
You have to understand, I was a pretty miserable kid. I used to get picked on (nothing major but usual type of stuff), I looked like a geek, and had no mojo. That changed, I had swagger now. Who could give more than the leather-trousered God of Rock himself .
Still, no matter what I felt, it was John Lennon and The Beatles that began this love-affair and this new me. I enjoyed it all, the music, the city, Melissa made these amazing chocolate slabs, and David rolled these weird cigarettes that I liked.
We smoked again that teatime. Smoking hashish at teatime, and not even eating tea! This was the life I needed. I was gonna devour books, music, art, and anything I could. I did too. I read Kerouac (so I found out who he was), Sillitoe, George Orwell, and others....I was off. Although, it must be noted that this time, I chucked a whitey and ended up puking on my brothers front step - no more pot for me. Lots more of other things though. I could hardly wait.....