Pete's Blog

John Lennon

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I don't know why the public marking/marketing of John Lennon's 70th birthday should take me by surprise, but it did. The date is not incised on my memory, but still. His status as modern society's "apostle of love" is the day's big story, but something else has been forgotten - along with the son he to all intents and purposes abandoned. One of the pianist Glenn Gould's most quoted epigrams is that, in his opinion, Mozart died not too early but too late. I don't remember what exact year Gould set as the date of Mozart's artistic demise, but specifics don't matter as much in this case as the dinner-party feather-ruffling implicit in his tone. Because I'm quite sure that when the story of John Lennon is written generations from now the second half of his career will be held completely unworthy of the first. He'll be seen like Keroauc, unable to touch, even view, the heights he commanded at the beginning. I've written about "Imagine" elsewhere in this space, and what I said about that song (sappy, hypocritical, bland, empty) can be applied to every track he recorded after "Come Together." I'm not just saying that the "rock stuff" is better than the "ballad stuff," or that the Beatles were a better band than the various session cats he used for his solo albums (although they were), or that he was one of those guys whose music lost all its punch when he became better adjusted. Lazy, drugged, happy-at-last, whatever, I don't think he wrote better rock songs than "Please Please Me," better ballads than "In My Life," better messiahtry than "The Word." And as for performance, follow any of his I-hate-Mom screaming with "Twist and Shout." I rest my case. So when did it all go South for John Lennon? "Come Together" is great, but "Abbey Road," the album it appears on, was an attempt to go out nobly, so you could see it as one last gesture toward a glorious past, right down to the lyrics' Chuck Berry references. What else? "I Want You" and "Don't Let Me Down" are certainly more compelling than anything from the solo years, but no better than mid-level Beatles material. Before that, what? "The Ballad of John and Yoko" is an embarrassment, the less said of his "Let It Be/Get Back" songs the better (except "Across the Universe, written years before), and none of his White Album material measures up even to George Harrison's tunes. Before that the post-Sgt. Pepper landscape is cheery B-sides and "I Am the Walrus," collage-rock he had done better the year before. There it is: Sergeant Pepper's Lonely-Hearts Club Band, number one on oh so many lists, the place where John Lennon lost his mojo, his last sustained greatness. Can anyone tell me LSD boosts creativity now?

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