Archive for October, 2010

JOHN LENNON:Happiness is a cold gun. Imagine.

October 9, 2010

It’s John Lennon’s 70th birthday. In reality he only made it to forty and sixty days of those seventy years.

 What if John Lennon had lived? What if somehow those five fateful shots that were heard around the world on December 8, 1980 never happened, or even if John Lennon had somehow survived, and today was still amongst us to enjoy his 70th life milestone. If so, what would Lennon be doing today? How would he have spent those “missing” thirty years?

 Imagine.

 To take those imaginary steps forward, we need first to go back, to 1975, when John Lennon and wife Yoko Ono learned they were expecting a child. There had been pregnancies before, and miscarriages. In 1975 the Lennons had only just been reunited after 18 months of separation and Yoko wondered whether a child was something they needed right now. She was contemplating an abortion, but John Lennon begged her to reconsider. John and Yoko made a deal –  if Yoko would go through with the pregnancy John would take give up his music career to care for the child for its first five years. In 1963 Yoko Ono made a similar agreement with another husband, Tony Cox, regarding their daughter Kyoko. Her marriage to John Lennon was Yoko’s third.

 John and Yoko’s son Sean Taro Lennon was subsequently born on 9 October 1975, John Lennon’s 35th birthday.

 Let’s move forward now to 1980, five years after that deal was struck, with Sean Lennon’s fifth and John’s fortieth birthdays looming. In March the Lennons celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary. The marriage had remained rocky. There was even speculation of divorce talk, and it was around this time that Yoko entered an affair with bisexual art-dealer Sam Green, no stranger to John. In November 1979 Lennon’s will named Green as Sean’s custodian should something happen to both John and Yoko.

 For their 1980 wedding anniversary Yoko bought John a celebratory Rolls Royce. John presented Yoko with a heart-shaped diamond and 500 gardenias. She was offended. John did not know that gardenias represent death in Japan.

 Mid-1980 John and Sean spent seven weeks in Cold Spring Harbour and Bermuda while Yoko continued to take care of business back in New York. Lennon returned in July, energized by surviving a stormy nine-day ride on the sailboat “Megan Jaye”,  rejuvenated and armed with a bunch of new songs. During his missing years Lennon seems to have been hiding his songwriting efforts, inside hollowed books, songs tucked away on tapes which if you started to listen seemed to only contain innocent recordings off the radio. Who was John hiding his music from? Now, in 1980 he was making music out in the open, recording demos and playing them to Yoko, phoning first son Julian to discuss the new songs.

Immediately on John Lennon’s return to New York, Yoko Ono approached Jack Douglas, a producer the Lennons had previously worked with. Was a return to the studio always part of the plan? Was it precipitated by the quality of the songs Lennon had come up with? Or were John and Yoko stung into action by the success of Paul McCartney’s ‘McCartney II’ album and its ‘Coming Up’ single, Paul’s first US No.1.? 

Paul McCartney had been trying to make contact with John Lennon. He’d phoned on the way to Wings’ January tour of Japan, but Yoko vetoed the call. There are some who believe that Yoko somehow was responsible to Paul McCartney being arrested and jailed for possession of marijuana on his arrival in Tokyo.

Jack Douglas agreed to produce the new John Lennon album. At the last minute Yoko had a surprise for both Douglas and husband John. Yoko would be sharing the album 50/50 with her own songs, and no, there would not be a John side and a Yoko side. Yoko Ono did not want her songs to be ignored.

The Lennons worked with a band of musicians Jack Douglas assembled for the project. There was one session with Cheap Trick. Yoko decided that was too rock and roll, too much like their 70s Plastic Ono Band period. Those Cheap Trick sessions never saw the light of day. Paul McCartney rang in the middle of the ‘Double Fantasy’ sessions, to suggest a collaboration, but again Yoko didn’t put the call through to John. John was telling Jack Douglas he was planning to take his new music on the road and wanted to include some of his Beatles repertoire in the set. He was enjoying making music again.

Then IT happened, but for the sake of this exercise it DIDN’T happen. Several things could have occurred instead. A few days previously John and Yoko had discussed stepping up security outside the Dekota Building. They decided to leave the decision until after the album sessions were finished. What if? On THAT night they were considering going out for a meal, but John wanted to get home before Sean fell asleep. What if? Anything else might have happened. HE might not have been waiting with his five-shot, short-barrel .38-caliber Charter Arms Special. No bang bang bang bang bang.

‘Double Fantasy’ would have been successful anyway – despite Yoko’s contributions. It was John Lennon’s first album of new songs in six years. He was an ex-Beatle. His songs – ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’, ‘Woman’, ‘Watching The Wheels’, ‘Beautiful Boy’ – were some of the best of an illustrious career. John’s renewed enthusiasm for his work would have been matched by his fans’ enthusiasm.

What we know for certain is that he would have gone straight back into the studio. With ‘Double Fantasy’ finished that’s what Lennon was already doing. As well as his excitement for his own music, John had high hopes for a new Yoko song called ‘Walking On Thin Ice’. Lennon  thought this might finally be the song which would establish Yoko Ono in her own right musically. He would have pushed ahead, maybe convincing Yoko to allow him to record  more rock oriented material, perhaps with Cheap Trick again. He might have used ‘Walking on Thin Ice’ to encourage Yoko into a parallel career in music again, not a shared one.

Inevitably John Lennon would have looked at returning to live performances. He was talking about it.  There were only a handful of  post-Beatles concerts from John –  The Toronto Peace Festival, ‘Some Time In New York City’, with Elton John at Madison Square Garden. The two years before Lennon’s self-imposed househusband exile were spent under threat of deportation from America. Lennon was afraid that if he ever left American shores he would not be allowed to return. That threat limited the opportunity for live performances. Paul McCartney’s highly successful Wings career on record and in concert in the meantime had come and gone, Wings ended by his arrest in Tokyo.

Given the same work ethic as Paul McCartney, by now we would have heard nine more albums from John Lennon after ‘Double Fantasy’. Undoubtedly those albums would have revealed and documented Lennon’s ongoing relationship with Ono. From the still-married-to-Cynthia John Lennon pining for Yoko in India heard on ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ on the Beatles ’Abbey Road’ to ‘Double Fantasy’’s revealing ‘I’m Losing You’ John Lennon’s songs continually updated the Ballad Of John and Yoko.

How much longer was that relationship going to last? ‘I’m Losing You aside, was ‘Double Fantasy’s flagrant depiction of  professional and romantic unity public window-dressing, covering the cracks of a fractured reality? Would there have more ‘Lost Weekends’ when Yoko psuhed John out of the way by suggesting his affair with her assistant May Pang? Yoko only had to say the word and John was back, Pang out of the picture. There would have been more twists and turns.

Yoko’s own affair with Sam Green ended around the time of John’s death. Would it have ended anyway? Within months of John’s death she started another relationship, with another art dealer, Sam Havadtoy, who remained her lover and partner for a further 21 years. Would that have happened anyway, with or without John?

What of John Lennon’s relationship with Paul McCartney and the other Beatles? One glaring observation about McCartney’s music during these same last thirty years is how much Paul has missed John Lennon’s songwriting inspiration. Paul’s been living and working on reputation, with starry-eyed sycophants. At some point John might have put him straight.

Would it have happened? Would John have ever worked with Paul or the other Beatles again?

Five months after that day that didn’t happen Ringo Starr married actress Barbara Bach at the Marylebone Road Registrar’s Office in London. Paul and Linda McCartney and George and Olivia Harrison attended. Yoko didn’t. Out of “sympathy” she wasn’t invited. But presumably, if things had been different  John would have been there too, with Yoko. If ever there was a chance for the Beatles to mend bridges and restore old friendships that was it. In all the post-Beatles years Ringo was the affable one, the one without a grudge. He worked on John and George Harrison’s solo material. He played on McCartney’s 1983 release ‘Pipes Of Peace’. He would have been the conduit for a reunion were it to materialize.

Later that same year, in 1981, John Lennon and Paul McCartney had a chance to buy their music publishing from Sir Lew Grey. McCartney was keen. He attempted to put together a bid with Yoko Ono, but John’s widow decided  $10 million dollars each was too high a price. If John was around perhaps the Beatles music wouldn’t have eventually fallen into Michael Jackson’s hands. Perhaps not. The business stuff bored Lennon. In his final days he had talked of selling off his share of Apple.

In 1985 Paul McCartney upset the rest of the Beatles (and Yoko on John’s behalf) by negotiating a higher royalty for himself than the others from sales of existing Beatles recordings. Would McCartney have had the audacity to do that if he had more than just  happy-go-lucky Ringo and the reclusive George Harrison to contend with?  After that, the acrimony was so great, when the Beatles were inducted into the American Rock’N’Roll Hall Of Fame, McCartney didn’t attend.

However, the question remains –  could they, would they,  ever have worked together again, making a generation’s dream come true?

John and Paul McCartney were like a couple of sparring prize fighters, respectful of each other’s talents, forever looking for a chance to land a punch on the other, knowing full well that the contest between them produced the best from both of them. It would have needed inclination rather than opportunity, but the probability would always have been there. Simon and Garfunkel managed to find a way to work together when it suited. So might Lennon and McCartney.

Ringo Starr would have taken part without hesitation. George Harrison might not have been so easy to convince. The Quiet Beatles was also the Grumpy Beatle, protective of his own hard-earned space and place. Despite “When We Was Fab’ and “All Those Years Ago” he was not nostalgic about the Beatles, just nostalgic.

At the end of the Beatles, when  John and Paul were causing him to question his songwriting and musicianship, George Harrison was the one who wanted to work with others. It was George who brought Eric Clapton and Billy Preston into the Beatles studios. He subsequently wrote songs with Bob Dylan and still later assembled the Travellin’ Wilburys. To get George Harrison involved in another shot at recording under the Beatles name he would have wanted an expanded line-up. Keyboard player Gary Wright of ‘Dream Weaver’ fame would have been a candidate. He was one of George Harrison’s other favourites. ELO’s Jeff Lynne would have been in the mix. Lynne produced the Wilburys, Lynne produced ‘Real Love’, the Beatles 1996 “comeback” single, based on a leftover John Lennon demo.

During these thirty years since 1980 Paul McCartney has written classical music, opened a Performing Arts Academy of Arts, and had an exhibition of paintings. None of these would have interested John Lennon. Of his other creative pursuits only his lithographs and some experimental art films, stuck in time, have lived on with his songs. He would have left those behind him. John Lennon was first a musician, an occasional poet second. Nothing else would have motivated him.

It’s been said that Mick Jagger would have preferred to be a member of the Beatles rather than the Rolling Stones, and that John Lennon would have preferred being with the Rolling Stones. John Lennon’s first live performance after the Beatles’ last concert was his performance of the ‘White Album’ song ‘Yer Blues’ for the ‘The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus’ with a supergroup consisting of himself, Eric Clapton on lead guitar, Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience on drums and Keith Richards on bass.

Imagine if somehow Lennon and Keith Richard had found their way back together in 1988 when Jagger all but ditched the Stones for a solo career and Keith recorded his own solo album ‘Talk Is Cheap’, just to show Mick what he was risking.

From the day he first put the pre-Beatles Quarrymen together, through all the years he competed for the upper hand with Paul McCartney, John Lennon was happiest in the studio and on stage with others. Had he lived he probably would have ended up robbing Ringo Starr of his post-Beatles career. Since 1989 Ringo has been touring with his All-Stars, a loose line-up where “everyone on stage is a star”. If John had done that Ringo would not have been able to. In John Lennon’s All-Stars Ringo would probably be sitting on drums amongst all the other stars, sometimes with Keith Richard, and (until 2001) George Harrison on guitar.

If only.

Sadly, the fact is we will never know what the future would have held for John Lennon or even what he might have wanted. There were no final words. Bang bang bang bang bang. Silence. Happy Birthday John.

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