Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Tue 14 Feb 06 14:04
Not to steal Elizabeth's thunder or expertise (her answer will undoubtedly be interesting)... I just finished reading a section in the big, fat, recently published Spitz biography about the Beatles where John and George, especially, developed a big interest in American politics and social changes during their American tour in the summer of 1964. One of the reporters on their plane was Art Schreiber, who was covering the tour for the Westinghouse network. He had been with Martin Luther King in Selma and with James Meredith in Mississippi, and had been in the press corps following the Kennedy campaign in 1960. According to Schreiber (as quoted in the book): "Lennon couldn't get enough of it; he was fascinated. I tried to familiarize him with segregation in the South, about how blacks moved north to avoid discrimination and go where jobs were available, but that there was as much segregation in the North, only in a different way." The Beatles were under strict orders from Brian Epstein not to talk about politics, however. Writes Spitz: "It wasn't appropriate, [Epstein] felt, for pop stars to air particular opinions inasmuch as it might alienate -- or as George put it, 'rattle' -- a segment of their audience, expecially over a hot potato like Vietnam. 'We were being asked about it all the time and it was silly,' said John. 'We had to pretend to be like in the old days when artists weren't meant to say anything about anything.' But the Beatles weren't about to be silenced -- especially George and John, both of whom in a relatively short amount of time became consumed by social and political issues."
Phil Catalfo (philcat) Tue 14 Feb 06 20:08
I have a hard time seeing Yoko as the impetus behind John's political consciousness. John was a keen social observer and self-identified outcast/artist from the time he was a teenager, at least. Yoko may have influenced his political perspective, but he had a political perspective and he and the other Beatles were commenting on the Vietnam War etc long before he met Yoko. To bring this back to questions for Elizabeth, however.... I've been chewing over the title to your book, which of course comes from a song on one of his earlier solo albums. And it strikes me, all these years later, that wrapped up in that song and that line are the two sides of John's confoundingly brilliant and excessive sensibility: the idealist, the "dreamer," the deeply compassionate and humanitarian soul who refused to believe that a saner, healthier, more peaceful and "truth"-full world was beyond our grasp; and the obsessive, judgmental, impatient, hyper-opinionated wag who was convinced that he was better qualified or situated than just about anyone else to determine exactly what "truth" was. I'm overstating the case a bit, of course, but re-reading interviews and watching videos of John over the last 20 or 30 years have definitely flavored my understanding of him, to the point where I now see someone I formerly regarded as an idol, a demigod, as an extremely complicated person--a nonpareil artist who produced some of the very best work of this or any other time, but a person who could be mean and cutting as much as he could be kind and generous. So anyway...whew, I didn't mean to go on at such length there...but I was wondering, Elizabeth, if you could comment on that aspect of John, and how your own understanding of him as an artist and especially as a person (*not* an activist) evolved as a result of your research for and writing of your book. (Thanks for indulging me in my gratuitously long buildup to a sort-of question.)
Low and popular (rik) Wed 15 Feb 06 07:57
Eric Alterman tells a wonderful story about sitting in a Manhattan restraunt, getting no service at all, while Yoko and a friend of hers were being fawned over at a nearby table. In frustration he asked loudly, "What do you have to do to get service around here? Break up the Beatles?" Sorry, but it's my favorite Yoko story. I'll take your answer to Phil's question off the air, please.
Evelyn Pine (evy) Wed 15 Feb 06 09:36
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 15 Feb 06 12:29
heh Elizabeth, I admit that I stopped following the Beatles around the time they broke up, so perhaps I'm asking something that's totally obvious. As your book nears its end, there seems to me to be a blank spot as far as tracking what Lennon was doing the last 4 years of his life. What *was* he doing between '76 and '80?
Elizabeth Partridge (elizabeth) Wed 15 Feb 06 13:10
that's a great story about getting restaurant service! funny! The Dakota years. They were often considered to be very reclusive, but John was able to be out and about, both in NYC and in the world. I've heard many stories from people about how they saw him, and said hello, and he said hello back. People rarely wanted to even ask for his autograph. John also went on several long trips during this period. The person who wrote the most about this period of time was not someone I was willing to quote from. He was John's assistant/secretary, and took some of John's diaries from the Dakota after his death. This was so horrific to me I was unwilling to consider what he had to say. I think it was a very necessary time of John's life. He'd been under a microscope for so many years. The pressure on him was intense. During the Dakota years he wasn't recording or performing. It gave him a long, necessary period to just be John. I will say, however, that his being a house-husband and primary parent was probably cranked up in the PR department. Yes he was close to Sean, and cared what he ate, how he slept, etc, but John wasn't preparing all his food, putting him to bed every night, etc. John could just take off on a world trip at a moment's notice. Not primary parenting as many of us define it...
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Wed 15 Feb 06 13:31
John inside the coccoon of domesticity sort of reminds me... One person who I don't think has received her true due in all this is Cynthia Lennon. I mean, this woman put up with a *lot*. Even more important, though, is that she, on her own, more or less had to invent the role of Beatle wife while the Beatles themselves were having so much fun, in the early years, inventing the Beatles. Brian Epstein wouldn't even allow Cynthia to be acknowledged in any way until, what, 1964? (His autobiography, "A Cellarful of Noise," doesn't even mention her.) So all during those early years of Beatlemania, Cynthia was on her own trying to figure out how to deal with it and with her Beatle husband. I've not read her book, so I don't know if she's bitter, happy, cynical, elated, or whatever about her association with John and the Beatles. (I also have no idea if she and Yoko ever speak to one another.) But I think she endured something that none of the rest of us can even imagine, and as a not-very-well-educated Liverpool girl, she wasn't really prepared at all for what life handed her. But she soldiered on. That's brave. Elizabeth, your thoughts?
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 15 Feb 06 16:14
And to stack up another question: What if John Lennon hadn't been killed? What do you think he'd be doing now, Elizabeth? Can you imagine him jamming with Julian and Sean? Would he be more interested in painting than music? Where do you think his last few years were taking him?
Phil Catalfo (philcat) Wed 15 Feb 06 21:06
The $64,000 question(s), no?
Elizabeth Partridge (elizabeth) Thu 16 Feb 06 08:25
That IS the $64,000 question! What would John be doing if he had lived. I love the image of him jamming with Sean and Julian. Wouldn't that have been a blast! But honestly, I don't know, I REALLY don't know. If you look at Annie Leibovitz's photos of him the very last day of his life, he looks so...vulnerable to me. There are smudges under his eyes... as if his body can't support his spirit. It's not clear to me how many drugs he was doing those last years... he did say in his Playboy interview that although he had given up LSD, he was wasn't opposed to tripping on more natural alternatives-- mushrooms and peyote-- a couple times a year. Would he have taken on political causes again? He might well have, as he had strong feelings. I'd guess that his music would have continued to evolve... maybe pushed rock and roll in a direction it never went in. Give a listen to his album/CD John Lennon: Rock 'n' Roll. Though he later excoriated the making of the album (in LA, miserable, drunk) it is powerful and awesome. He really tapped back into his love of rock and roll. And his voice, so plaintive, or driving, or tender.... beautiful.
Elizabeth Partridge (elizabeth) Thu 16 Feb 06 08:34
Cynthia. I think she had it pretty tough. First of all, those post-war Northern England boys were raised in a very sexist climate, where they expected women to satellite around them, not have lives of their own. Then you throw in the insanity of the Beatles stardom, and that John was really pretty selfish about how he used up people... I think Cynthia is also by nature a fairly quiet, timid person. (Though she clearly fell for the Bad Boy.) She ends her recently published book, JOHN, by saying "...if I'd known as a teenager what falling for John Lennon would lead to, I would have turned round right then and walked away." Sad, really. The only woman John let contain him was Yoko.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Thu 16 Feb 06 09:13
Why Cynthia would write such a sentence is understandable, though, and I think it took some courage to do so for public consumption. There's nothing in the Spitz bio to suggest that Cynthia ever wanted to "contain" John, just that she wanted a husband, as she was brought up to understand husbands should be, and that she wanted a father for Julian. These are understandable desires. Yet she adapted. I think her real courage and strength show in her acceptance of and adaptation to the completely insane lifestyle that was thrust upon her. Doesn't mean she had to like it, however.
Evelyn Pine (evy) Thu 16 Feb 06 11:36
If anybody hasn't had a chance to read the section in Elizabeth's book about how the John and Cynthia relationship unfolded, take a look. It's terrific. And priceless is the picture on page 63 of Cynthhia watching the Beatles playing at the Casbah Club in 1959. John is deeply focused on playing the guitar. Paul, on the other hand, is grinning at Cynthia. It suggests all kinds of power relationships within the group at that moment. (As a well, of course, as to the personalities of the two lead singers.)
Elizabeth Partridge (elizabeth) Fri 17 Feb 06 08:36
That's a great photo. It has been seen before, but not very often. It's so revealing. I was able to find a couple of photos of John that had never been published. I was out walking one day with my dad, a photographer, when we ran into Ken Light, another photographer. I asked if he had ever taken any photos of John Lennon, and he said he had, as a young photographer. He pulled them out of his negative file and printed up a couple. I used his photo on pages 168-169. It was such a beautiful print I could blow it up to a double page spread. It's one of those photos you want to get up next to and sniff, it's so beautiful. It's John in a leather jacket playing at the benefit concert for John Sinclair.
Elizabeth Partridge (elizabeth) Fri 17 Feb 06 08:45
I just want to go back to Phil Catalfo's post #27. He makes a great observation about Lennon and asks my thoughts. Really, I wouldn't be able to say it as eloquently. It's the beautiful conundrum of John Lennon. >I've been chewing over the title to your book, which of course comes from a song on one of his earlier solo albums. And it strikes me, all these years later, that wrapped up in that song and that line are the two sides of John's confoundingly brilliant and excessive sensibility: the idealist, the "dreamer," the deeply compassionate and humanitarian soul who refused to believe that a saner, healthier, more peaceful and "truth"-full world was beyond our grasp; and the obsessive, judgmental,impatient, hyper-opinionated wag who was convinced that he was better qualified or situated than just about anyone else to determine exactly what "truth" was.
Evelyn Pine (evy) Fri 17 Feb 06 09:23
Absolutely. I've got to admit that this is the first book I've read about John since he was killed. I was one of those people who had all the books, the albums (including _Sometime in New York City_-yipes!) but after he was shot I put it all away. I remember when _Double Fantasy_ came out and humming "Starting Over" again and again. I also remember my boyfriend at the time coming into our bedroom and telling me that John had been shot. My reaction: that couldn't be right. But I must say that memory is not nearly as compelling for me as first hearing "Twist and Shout" on the radio and insisting to my mom that we had do go buy that record "Introducing the Beatles" immediately. So I guess I'm interested in both those memories. Where you were when you heard John was killed but also when was the first moment that -- hearing his music -- you were deeply moved, inspired, rocking? And, of course, this question isn't just for Elizabeth, but for everybody.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Fri 17 Feb 06 09:35
Like millions of other people, I first heard about Lennon's murder while watching "Monday Nigh Football." Howard Cosell made the announcement. I don't remember when I first heard the Beatles. It wasn't on the Sullivan show; my parents didn't like Ed Sullivan and we didn't watch his program. What I do remember is that there was a kid in my third-grade class, a small, unathletic effeminate kid, who brought a copy of "Meet the Beatles" to school. This would've been in the spring of '64. He was teased mercilessly by other boys about the "fag" Beatles he loved (probably by me, too, I'm not proud to admit). But for some reason I said to one of the bullies: "Yeah, but we'll probably be listening to those guys too some day."
Pat Adams (scarlet) Fri 17 Feb 06 10:08
In the 3rd grade I sadly realized I could no longer hang out with my former best friend, Janet Dillon, because she didn't like the Beatles.
Low and popular (rik) Fri 17 Feb 06 10:21
I was heading to school my senior year in high school when "With Love From Me To You" came on the radio. Never heard of the the Beetles. Thought they were some philly doo-wop group based on the falsettos. "I Wanna Hold Your Hand", and actual Beatlemania in the US were a year off yet. Liked the song, though. And that's saying something, since my musical tastes were completely elsewhere at the time and I was saving to buy a banjo.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 17 Feb 06 17:25
I fell for the Beatles when my friend Margaret came over with a 45 of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" -- our mutual admiration for George was cemented by viewing "A Hard Day's Night" in the theater something like 47 times. We actually screamed at the movie screen and fell out of our chairs in wiggling 14-year-old excitement. I was first struck by John Lennon's contribution to the Beatles not too long after that when a local DJ -- I think it might have been Big Daddy Tom Donahue -- went crazy for Lennon's harmonica work on "Love Me Do" and proceeded to play it 10 times in a row on a top-40 radio station (KEWB, IIRC) one night. NOBODY in top 40 radio played a song more than once consecutively back then. It was completely unheard of, and to play it 10 times in a row was practically insurrection. I was thrilled. ************ When Lennon was shot I'd recently moved to Los Angeles with my then-sweetie. We were watching Monday night football at a friend's apartment. My sweetie and I were shocked, speechless, sick at heart. Our friend -- who was perhaps a dozen years younger than either of us -- lacked the same sense of connection to the Beatles and to Lennon and he simply didn't understand why were were upset. He returned to watching the game and we went home in a stunned daze.
Chris (cooljazz) Fri 17 Feb 06 19:30
I've never forgotten when and where I was when I heard the news about Lennon. Chicago. At the time I was on a grad. student budget and had given up tv. My elderly neighbor told me about it, she thought I'd "...want to know about it...". Within the next few hours I recall the announcement of a vigil in Grant Park. I eventually got to the vigil and can't forget the Chicago Police on horseback patrolling a very somber and mournful crowd. I listened in on the cop as he chatted on, and then sang a bit of a lyric from a song popular at the time loud enough so that dozens could here "....Another one bites the dust...". Just as unforgettable, the crowd ignored it.
Infradibulated Gratility (ssol) Sat 18 Feb 06 05:43
Dang. I somehow heard about it, I don't remember how, the night it happened. A bunch of my pals around the old band happened to be together, and we had a little wake, but there wasn't much talking. We were all so shocked. Nobody was grown up enough at that time to even cry. For some reason, I had to be up very early the next morning. I was walking downtown not long after dawn, and saw all of these "RIP John Lennon" flyers on storefronts, car windshields, telephone poles, whatever. It was like they had come snowing down, and just stuck everywhere. There's a little park in the middle of town. Some folks had put together an elaborate memorial. It must have been a sizable crew, judging by the number of pictures and letters and flowers. Where do you get flowers in the middle of a New England night in December? That night it seemed to snow flowers, too. Oh, well
Evelyn Pine (evy) Sat 18 Feb 06 11:26
Yes, I remember the Shine on, Mr. L. graffitti showing up on Haight Street.
My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Sat 18 Feb 06 13:04
fwiw, in case anyone isn't already familiar with this, there are lots of interesting stories about the beatles in the beatles conference here on the well (g beat). There are tons of topics with personal stories about how people have experienced the beatles and their music. There are 3 topics related to lennon's death--#28, 155, 185 and they have some excellent reminiscences about that time.
Gary Lambert (almanac) Sat 18 Feb 06 13:11
The Getting Beatlemania part: I initially was resistant to the Beatle hype: I was seriously into folk music, Gilbert & Sullivan, and not a whole lot on the pop landscape of the era. If I was attracted to anything that was getting played on the radio, it was usually something on the R&B end of the spectrum -- I loved Lee Dorsey's "Working In A Coal Mine," Gary US Bonds' "Quarter To Three," stuff like that. I had seen the Beatle segment on Jack Paar's show and read about them in Life, and thought the whole thing was kinda silly. But when they arrived at JFK (or was it still officially Idlewild?) on 2/7/64, I found my self unexpectedly curious about all the excitement. And then they had that famous press conference, and my resistance rapidly began to crumble. Hey! These guys are FUNNY! And smart! And charming as all get-out! By the end of the day, I was tuned in to my transistor radio like everyone else, switching between WINS, WABC and WMCA for the latest breathless updates, and surprised by how much I was digging the wall-to-wall Beatle tunes they were playing. And the moment they lit up the TV screen on the Sullivan show two nights later, I was a goner. As for my early impressions of John as a distinct individual personality instead of just a part of Johnpaulgeorgeringo: I never really got into the favorite-Beatle debates. I think it was the whole collective, Four Musketeers vibe that appealed to me most. But as my fanhood deepened, so did my appreciation of John's smarts and humor: his snappy answers to interview questions; "In His Own Write;" his featured scenes in "A Hard Day's Night" -- all that and more made me a John fan as well as a Beatlemaniac. The Getting The Horrible News Part: I seem to be one of the few people who didn't get the word from Howard Cosell. I have an even stranger set of associations in my mind: Gloria Swanson, William Holden, Erich Von Stroheim and Buster Keaton. I was watching, for the umpteenth time, one of my favorite movies, Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard," on KTVU in Oakland. Forever burned into memory is the scene that aired just before the news broke: insane silent-movie has-been Norma Desmond playing bridge with some of her old pals (or as Holden's character refers to them, her "waxworks"): Keaton, H.B. Warner and Anna Q. Nilsson. They cut away for commercials and I turned down the sound. After a couple of ads, the station inserted a "breaking news" graphic and cut to anchor Dennis Richmond, with a picture of John Lennon behind him. Wondering what the hell John could have done to warrant a bulletin -- gotten busted again? gotten deported again? -- I turned the sound back up, just in time to hear the words "...shot and killed in New York City." I don't remember much else about that night as far as fine details go, but I do recall that I wound up over at a friend's house, staying up all night, getting good and drunk, with John's music turned up loud. I still love "Sunset Boulevard," but I know I'll never be able to watch it again without that cold chill coming over me when that bridge-playing scene comes around.
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