RSS Feed

Tag Archives: john lennon

The sky is blue.

On this day when the world remembers John Lennon, I have something altogether gruffer and angrier than “Imagine” playing in my head.

It’s Lennon’s voice, except it isn’t. It’s highly aggrieved and extremely profane. And it’s yelling “GENIUS IS PAIN!” over and over again.

(The pop geeks in the readership, who know the backstory I’m about to tell, are welcome to skip the next section. Everyone else might need the context.)

# # # # #

The breakup of the Beatles in early 1970 found John Lennon dealing with a deep well of anger and frustration at the parents who had abandoned him; the teachers who had written him off; the fans who kowtowed to him and treated him as a generational spokesman; and even to fellow musicians who had inflicted all manner of perceived slights.

Essentially, Lennon was so psychologically nauseous that he stuck his finger down his throat in public and tried to bring everything up, in hopes it would make him feel better.

He took part in primal scream therapy sessions and cut a raw, confessional album whose musical approach owed quite a bit to primal screaming.

And he sat down with Rolling Stone magazine for a rambling, profane series of interviews in which he proclaimed his own misunderstood genius, defended his wife’s equally misunderstood genius, and rubbished virtually everyone else he’d ever come into contact with for failing or shortchanging him in one way or another.

Lennon’s catharsis drew a lot of attention — including that of National Lampoon magazine. Still in its early days, NatLamp had already established that counterculture icons like the Beatles and Stones would be subject to the same razor-sharp irreverence shown to the likes of Richard Nixon.

According to the ‘Net, it was Michael O’Donoghue, later of Saturday Night Live fame, who came up with the idea of cherry-picking Lennon’s most outrageous statements from the Rolling Stone interviews and turning them into a song parody in Lennon’s own musical style.

And it was fellow NatLamp staffer Tony Hendra — later to portray Spinal Tap’s long-suffering manager, Ian Faith — who performed the Lennon impersonation for the song, which was formally called “Magical Misery Tour” and released on the 1972 “National Lampoon Radio Dinner” LP.

It is scathing, profane, pitiless, and pitch-perfect.

# # # # #

“Magical Misery Tour” is satire so dead-on that, for me, it has overtaken the voice of the real person it parodies.

In my mind, the song has taken a place in Lennon’s own canon alongside “Imagine,” “Help!” and the rest, its prickly outbursts as real as if Lennon had sung them himself.

And when I think of Lennon, on days like today, I am just as likely to think of “shit from those fookin’ sons of bitches” as I am to think of “Imagine no possessions” or “My independence seems to vanish in the haze.”

Of course, to a great extent, “Magical Misery Tour” is the voice of the person it parodies. With one or two exceptions, every line in the song is taken from the Rolling Stone interviews. On a certain level, NatLamp did not spoof Lennon; they merely condensed him.

And Hendra’s angry bark delivers the lines with believable zest, especially when he gets to spit out one of those delightful mock-Liverpudlian “fook”‘s (five in the first 30 seconds.)

Are they kicking a tortured soul while he’s down? Absolutely.

Did the tortured soul invite that kind of treatment — first by hanging his dirty laundry out in public, and second, by being a wildly self-aggrandizing jerk about it? Yeah, I can buy that.

And are they portraying the tortured soul in a way that is not totally consistent with his actual behaviors and attitudes?

Not for a moment, I don’t think.

# # # # #

Most pop fans have spent at least a few minutes wondering what John Lennon would have done with the rest of his life.

I relish the thought that Lennon might have sat down with, say, Musician magazine sometime around 1988 and admitted: “That National Lampoon piece? I fookin’ hated it then, but I find it kinda funny now. I had it coming, didn’t I?”

We’ll never know whether he would have come around to that perspective.

But — just like “Imagine” and “Help!” and “Come Together” and all the rest — we’ll always have the record to listen to.

“I was the Walrus! Paul wasn’t the Walrus! I was just saying that to be nice, but I was actually the Walrus!”


Thirteen ways of looking at a black circle.

Thirty-seven years ago this week, John Lennon’s “#9 Dream” was topping out at its Billboard chart peak of Number Nine.

It’s always fun to imagine what role pop singles play in people’s lives — as soundtracks to love, hate, joy, pain or whatever.

Here, then, a musing on what “#9 Dream” might have meant to 13 average Americans this week in 1975 …

In Los Angeles, a faithful Beatles fan hears the song and is disappointed — as he has been with virtually everything he’s heard since 1970. One of these years, he vows, the Fab Four will see the light, get back together, and record more of the finest music known to 20th-century man. He turns off his radio and reaches for “Rubber Soul.”

In New Canaan, Connecticut, an 12-year-old girl greets each spin of the song with delight. She is only dimly aware of Lennon’s status as a rock legend, and has thought of him mainly as a groovy hitmaker ever since hearing “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” for the first time. She wonders from time to time whether he will tour, and is already planning to ask her girlfriends if they will stand on line for tickets with her.

In Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, an 18-year-old boy recovering from a nasty motorcycle accident hears the song several times a day from the radio in the nurses’ station across the hall. Along with some of its hit-radio brethren, the song serves as a soundtrack to physical pain more savage than he’s ever dreamed of. In years to come, hearing the opening squirt of wah-wahed slide guitar will cause him to excuse himself and limp out of the room until the song is over.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, a 15-year-old girl is struggling with an undiagnosed hearing problem that frustrates her at school and at home. The chorus of “#9 Dream” stands out as a source of particular grief, as she can never quite figure out what Lennon is singing. Not until 2007 — after she’s written a best-selling memoir of growing up handicapped in Seventies America — does she Google the lyrics. She is both relieved and irritated to discover they were nonsense all along: “A bowakowa, pousse pousse.”

In Evansville, Indiana, a 28-year-old homemaker who has one more kid and 30 more pounds than she wants to have hears the song and thinks of Beatlemania, and times gone by, and the dreams she entertained 10 years before as the prettiest girl in her high-school graduating class. She entertains thoughts of divorce and freedom, then returns to the grocery list.

In St. Cloud, Minnesota, a six-piece showband — five thirtysomething men and a younger female singer — has just about perfected its version of “#9 Dream.” The band performs at weddings, parties, store openings and other events throughout the central part of the state, playing a regularly refreshed selection of current pop and country hits. None of the members tremendously like the song, but they’re OK with it. It’s better than “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” anyway.

In Skowhegan, Maine, a 14-year-old boy with severe stress-related insomnia finds in “#9 Dream” a ticket to a good night’s sleep. The pillowy string arrangement, and the lyrics about dreaming and spirit dances unfolding, bespeak peace and comfort to him for reasons he cannot explain. He records the song off the radio onto a stolen cassette tape, and listens to it every night for the next ten months as he drifts off to sleep.

In North Adams, Massachusetts, a 16-year-old boy buys a copy of the single after overhearing a girl on whom he has an intense crush exulting about it. He listens to it for five days, absorbing every detail; then tries to start a conversation on the sixth. She laughs. On the seventh day, the boy breaks the single into small shards and throws it away.

In Denver, Colorado, a 15-year-old boy buys not only the single but the 8-track of the “Walls And Bridges” album in a similar attempt to impress a girl in the grade ahead. When the attempt fails, he places both single and album in a cardboard box, douses it with gasoline, and sets it on fire in his driveway while his parents are out. This remains his secret until 2009, when he tells the embarrassing story on his blog. The only comment on his post comes from a reader he does not know in Massachusetts, who writes simply: “Been there, dude.”

In Olean, New York, the afternoon DJ on a small AM radio station digs his fingernails into his palms in frustration. The owner of the station — an auto dealer who cultivates a resemblance to John Wayne in style and manner — has just told him that, Top Ten song be damned, the DJ is not to play that filthy “puss-say, puss-say” song on his radio station if he, the DJ, wants to stay employed.

In Gainesville, Florida, the soothing, balmy production qualities of “#9 Dream” provide a measure of psychic relief to a roller-rink owner behind on his debts and slowly surrendering to cocaine-induced psychosis. On Saturday, Feb. 22, he orders his DJ at gunpoint to play nothing but “#9 Dream” for the entire night. That night the rink empties early; on Tuesday it is closed; the following Monday, it is under new management.

In Brooklyn, a young man with his long hair suppressed by a hairnet takes a breather from kneading dough, which he does eight hours a day on the counter underneath the radio. Three years previously, he’d been a committed Marxist and revolutionary with a fondness for John & Yoko’s sloganeering “Some Time In New York City” album. Today, he is working in a bakery and considering going back for his master’s, while his onetime hero has returned to recording escapist pop for the masses. He shakes his head and thinks, not for the first time, that nobody told him there’d be days like these.

In Wichita Falls, Texas, a nine-year-old boy receives a copy of the single as a birthday present from his slightly dotty aunt, who has no idea what to give him and decides that a song with the number nine in it must be right for the occasion. Something about it lights a fire within him for pop music; he listens to the record each day until his mother is sick of it, then turns on his little transistor radio in hopes of hearing it again. In 2012, when the boy is lead guitarist in one of America’s most popular rock bands, the first thing he plays when he plugs in for soundcheck every afternoon is the melody of “#9 Dream.” He has never explained this to his bandmates. But — with pop music in their own DNA — they understand anyway.