Lennon’s Last Interview

I don’t usually like to reblog stuff here. I prefer to write my own material and give other people the freedom to do the same. But for anyone out there who is interested in the amazing nature of 20/20 hindsight, then you should go read John Lennon’s last print interview, which Rolling Stone published in December 2010 after letting the audio tapes languish for 30 years. The interview, recorded exactly three days before Lennon’s death in 1980, is a stunning look into the mind of the man just before he ceased to be.

The most poignant quote is this:

[Speaking about the media and their styled image of him] “They only like people when they’re on the way up, and when they’re up there, they’ve got nothing else to do but shit on them. I cannot be on the way up again. What they want is dead heroes, like Sid Vicious and James Dean. I’m not interested in being a dead fucking hero…. So forget ’em, forget ’em.”

Looking back on historical figures and events with the knowledge, vision, and mindsets of the present–and the conflicts that are inevitably created between them–has always fascinated me. It is the lens used by all historians view history with–whether consciously or unconsciously. It is the mental filter that makes the saying, “History is written by the victors,” so empirically true. But only when you are aware of this internal conflict can you really be moved by history. Its complexity, its beauty, and its tragedy.

And it is interviews like this one, where you are reading the exact answers that Lennon gave to specific questions, that you can really see through the reverence that so many began to show towards Lennon after his assassination. You see the man as he was–or as close as you can get–you see the human, not the martyr. The musician, not the ad campaign. And that is what makes this interview such an interesting (and arresting) read.

John Lennon: The Last Interview 

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First Love

No matter how old you are or how many years may go by, you never forget your first love. There is something so inherently magical about them, the way they caught your eye, the way they commanded your attention. And no matter how far your life carries you away from that first moment–that first connection–when it is the real thing, you will always feel that magic. That day they became a part of you and whether you embrace it or deny it, they played a vital role in forming the person that you are today.

I clearly remember the first time I held Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in my hands. I stared at the cover and let the images wash over me: the vivid yellows, blues, and reds, the bizarre assemblage of people, the French horn. It was one of the first times in my life that I listened to music that I chose. I didn’t listen to it because it was handed to me by my parents or because it was pushed at me by the high hand of the Disney Corporation on the Mickey Mouse Club. I listened to it for no other reason than that I happened to stumble on my parents record collection one summer afternoon and I was intrigued. I pulled that vinyl out of the sleeve, laid it gently in the player, put the needle down… And after that I really was never quite the same.

I’ve spoken about the experience before on this blog. In fact, it is how I started the blog more than a year ago–my apologies to any long time readers who are now bored out of their skulls. Way back then I pledged that I would defy the expectations of my old high school friends by not constantly writing about the Fab Four–which I am sure got a few skeptical snorts and maybe even a few sighs of relief. Well looking back over my entries, it appears I was true to my word. Over the last year and a half I have only written about them twice. Take that you non-believers! And now I’m going to break my own rules…

The thing is that for all my obsession with The Beatles during my childhood and teen years, I rarely listen to them in my daily life. I’m too much of a voracious music fiend to dwell too long in one place, and since starting the blog that tendency has only increased. But every once in a while, life (sometimes in the most mundane ways) decides to remind me of my roots. And suddenly I am transported back to that day in front of the stereo, watching the needle travel the grooves as it produced some of the most wonderful music ever created.

Take last weekend as my husband and I made the rounds at the local Trader Joe’s (oh so glamorous, I know). While sifting through the frozen goods, I noticed that they were playing Norwegian Wood over the speakers. You get all kinds of canned music in grocery stores that range from the tolerable to the glaringly awful, so I was pleased for once to hear something that didn’t make we want to stuff my ears with cotton. Smiling, I continued my browsing. A little while later, I realized that they had to be playing the entire album and my respect for the Trader Joe’s staff increased ten-fold.

I hadn’t listened to my favorite band in months, having been distracted by that there new fangled indie rock they got these days. But I was truly amazed at how happy listening to them again made me. Sometimes it is the simple things, like music in a supermarket, that illustrate the most important life lessons. The things you truly love in life, the music, the people, the places, will always be there for you when you reach for them. For the relationships that really mater, time and distance mean nothing. And even if it is only in your mind, you can always rekindle your first love.

So in honor of this, here are some of my favorite songs from a truly worthy album: 1965’s Rubber Soul. First up is John Lennon’s tale of a one night stand with a modern girl. Featuring George Harrison’s first success in integrating the sitar into a rock n’ roll song, this song has grown on me over the years (something about it just goes right over the head of a ten-year-old). In this case, I have dug up a video featuring candid footage of the mop tops.

Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)

Second up is the lesser known gem called You Won’t See Me. One of the few Beatles’ songs that featured real lyrical angst, Paul McCartney’s vocals are perfectly balanced by the airy backing vocals and Harrison’s ever-present guitar riff. Here’s a live version from 2004 in which Paul McCartney claims that it was never played in concert. I’m a little skeptical of this because The Beatles were still touring in those days, but they had such a voluminous catalog even then that I guess it is conceivable that such a beautiful song could be overlooked.

You Won’t See Me

And last but not least, one of my top 10 Beatles favorites is the immaculate composition entitled I’m Looking Through You. How do you write about an epiphany? How do you describe that earth-shaking moment when you take a real close look at the people around you and truly see them for who they really are? Depicting a mental thunderbolt is no mean feat. But I think Lennon and McCartney did a pretty good job with this one. Give it a listen and see if you don’t agree.

This particular video is a clip from the lamentable Beatles cartoon of the mid 1960s. Not having watched it in a good 20 years or so, I had forgotten how bad it really was. Think the creator’s of Rocky and Bullwinkle who, having never actually seen the Fab Four or heard their speaking voices, drop acid and have a go at it. Now make it worse. All I can say is poor Ringo! They really do him a bad turn. For those who just can’t stand the corniness, you can skip to the song by clicking on the embedded link in the song title.

I’m Looking Through You

And for those of you faithful readers looking for extra credit, you can listen to the album in its entirety here. Rubber Soul was a landmark album and the first one where the band mates felt like they had real artistic control. The production levels are gorgeous for the times and every song is a classic. All true students in the school of pop music should hear it at least once.

For my mother

I think it is safe to say that my mother is directly responsible for my life-long obsession with music. Unlike my father, who I came to find musical common ground with in my late teens, my mother and I were on the same page from Day One. My earliest memory of my mom is 2-year-old me getting the brilliant idea to sit on my feet while she is trying to put on my shoes on and thinking how funny this game is until she gets annoyed and pulls my feet out from under my butt (who knew she’d look for them there?). My second earliest memory of her (and years of memories after) is driving around town in the back of her car and listening to her sing along with the radio. When I was little Mom was the stay-at-home type, which made her the first line of defense against a child with ideas. Five-year-old me tended to associate her with unwanted complications to my little life like nap times, the giving and taking of TV privileges, eating vegetables, and not drawing with markers on the couch (the only time I was ever officially grounded). By default (i.e. because he wasn’t home for eight hours a day), I was a devoted daddy’s girl when I was small. Now I look back on this with the eyes of an adult and feel that this was horribly unfair to the woman who made my mac’n’cheese, took me to swim lessons, and walked home everyday from kindergarten with me. But what can you expect from a 5-year-old who knew the power of a good pout?

However, everything would quickly change when she strapped me into the back seat to trundle down the road on one errand or another and unruly child would morph into listening child and later into singing child. On these excursions the radio dial was always tuned to the Oldies Station. As a result my primal musical influences growing up were my mother’s–namely Motown, the British Invasion, Psychedelia, and Surf Rock. To this day I can’t hear the Everly Brothers’ Wake Up Little Susie or Neil Diamond’s Cherry Cherry without remembering our vehicular singalongs. You could always tell if my mother liked a song by the volume of the radio and of her voice. My mother is a born blaster, to be sure. And hopefully when she sees what I’ve dug up for her, she’ll attempt to burn out the speakers on Dad’s laptop.

But the best thing about my mother and music is that she always encouraged me to seek out the songs that sounded good to me. As I got older and began to develop my own tastes, she was always willing to give something new a listen, be it Save Ferris, NIN, or Duran Duran. She never once tried to censor or disparage my inclinations. And she was my first willing audience when I began my transformation into the music edition of Trivial Pursuit. For this, I am eternally grateful.

So now in honor of Mother’s Day and her birthday (which fell on the same day this year), here are a few of the songs that I associate with my mother and elevated volumes. Crank it up to 11, Mom! I love you!

Green Tambourine by the Lemon Pipers

To Love Somebody by the Bee Gees

Wild Thing by the Troggs – An undeniable favorite that could easily have led to scratchy speakers in more than one mini-van.

We owe a lot to Mr. Edison

Thomas Edison - cylinder close-up

The man of the hour - Thomas Alva Edison

In 1877 Thomas Alva Edison invented the phonograph cylinder–a hand cranked cylinder covered with tin foil. It may seem unlikely now, but this simple invention would lead to the first commercial format for recording and reproducing sound. It is common knowledge that Edison was a visionary who created not only to fulfill a perceived need, but to fulfill needs no one had ever considered before. In this case, Edison foresaw many possible uses for his invention, among them letter-writing and dictation, audio recordings for the blind, education, music, and even the idea of creating “family records” (like recording the last words of a dying relative). Edison outlined his plans for his invention in an article called The Phonograph and its Future published in the The North American Review in 1878, which you can see here thanks to the lovely people at the Cornell University Library.

Edison knew the potential for his humble cylinder, but I wonder if he truly understood that by giving us the key to recorded sound that it would have such far-ranging and long-lasting repercussions. It’s true that the phonograph cylinder did not win the battle for format supremacy. But it was that all important first step down a long road that would influence not only music and popular culture for all time, but it also shaped one of the basic foundations of civilization: how to preserve and distribute information. Taken together with his motion picture camera and the light bulb, well… let’s just say that life would be a whole lot different without them. For one thing, you wouldn’t be reading this blog right now.

Edison has certainly had a significant, if indirect, impact on my own life. So in honor of Mr. Edison and his wonderful inventions, here is your chance to explore the lost medium of the phonograph cylinder!

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