A couple of years ago I read a book called “Reasons To Stay Alive” by Matt Haig which is an account of the acute depression he suffered over several years. Although it is sometimes a painful read, it is ultimately uplifting as he describes how, with the help of his friends, he comes to understand his illness. Towards the end of the book he lists the things that have helped him, one of which is “no drug in the universe will make you feel better, at the deepest level, than being kind to other people.”
Smugly, I repeated this quote to a number of my friends. The main purpose of me doing this was to show off to everyone about what a wonderful person I was. How my teaching and voluntary work with The Samaritans just proved how selfless, generous and free of ego I was. Who was I kidding? The truth is in the quote – doing things for other people is a drug on which I was dependent; I was doing this in order to get approval and appreciation from everyone I knew. At the end of every course I taught, I always manipulated things so that my students were heavily encouraged to thank me. Taking a call at Samaritans was only rewarding if I could manoeuvre the conversation to a finish in which the caller thanked me. I sought approval and needed other people to give me positive feedback.
Writing this blog is a further demonstration of my need for approval. Every time someone talks to me about it or presses “like” or leaves a comment, I feel fulfilled. When Paddy first suggested to me that I start this blog, I thought that writing something every day would bring its own reward. That isn’t the case. I need and seek approval from others. Writing this blog is a very egocentric thing to do – it’s all about me. Look at me!
I worry that over the past 11 weeks I have stopped caring. I now have no wish to carry on volunteering at Samaritans and I’m not missing teaching. I think that as my world has shrunk into the confines of the house, I have become less caring, less bothered about the health or welfare of others and more self-obsessed or egocentric. Which will all be demonstrated very clearly on Sunday at 6:00 when I have invited 40 people to a Zoom birthday call.
What makes it all the more interesting is that I don’t like egocentric or narcissistic people (apart from myself, obviously) but I do love artists with huge egos. Mike Scott of The Waterboys appears to have a huge ego. I love the story of how he was outside a pub in rural Ireland, holding a guitar and looking in to see a small number of people quietly supping Guinness. He started playing his guitar and singing loudly and burst into the pub, startling everyone inside to stop what they were doing and, hopefully, admire him. That’s a huge ego. And then there’s Kevin Pietersen who I simultaneously admire and dislike. I don’t admire Boris Johnson though…..
The best artists have to be egocentric and like the attention to be focussed on them. “Plastic Ono Band” is definitely all about John Lennon. It even has a song called “Look At Me”. The album was made as a result of John and Yoko undertaking “Primal Scream therapy” as delivered by Arthur Janov. According to Wikipedia “Janov’s therapy technique emphasised emotionally reliving repressed childhood traumas rather than analytical discussion.” This involved John Lennon rolling around on the floor reliving the pain of childbirth. The first song on the record is “Mother”, a very dramatic song which includes the lyrics “Mother, you had me, but I never had you. I wanted you, you didn’t want me. So I, I just got to tell you goodbye, goodbye. Father, you left me, but I never left you. I needed you, you didn’t need me. So I, I just got to tell you goodbye, goodbye”. This is extreme and accurately reflects that as a young child, his father walked out and he was sent by his mother to live with his Aunt. By the end of this song, he is screaming these words and drawing the word “go” out so emotionally that his voice cracks.
Arthur Janov is clearly a nutcase. On the first page of his “Primal Scream” book, he claims that primal scream therapy can cure homosexuality, cramps and PMS, it can fix terrible posture, men can grow beards for the first time and women’s breasts can grow larger.
Nevertheless, this is about the most powerful record I can think of. Maybe, for “powerful” you can read “egocentric” or even “narcissistic” but that doesn’t stop it being a brilliant, if uncomfortable listen. At the end of “Well Well Well”, John Lennon screams the title several times so loudly, nakedly and powerfully that his voice cracks with emotion. Like the end of “Mother”, it’s an uncomfortable listen.
Probably the best known song on the record is “Working Class Hero”. The pedants amongst us (and I include myself here) would like to point out that John Lennon was not brought up in a working class household. Three days before his assassination, he said “The thing about the ‘Working Class Hero’ song that nobody ever got right was that it was supposed to be sardonic – it had nothing to do with socialism, it had to do with ‘If you want to go through that trip, you’ll get up to where I am, and this is what you’ll be.’ Because I’ve been successful as an artist, and have been happy and unhappy, and I’ve been unknown in Liverpool or Hamburg and been happy and unhappy.” In December 1970, he had told Jann Wenner that it is about working class individuals being processed into the middle classes, into the “machine”. “I think it’s a revolutionary song – it’s really just revolutionary. I just think its concept is revolutionary. I think it’s for the people like me who are working class, who are supposed to be processed into the middle classes, or into the machinery. It’s my experience, and I hope it’s just a warning to people.” It’s a brilliant if misunderstood song – just him and an acoustic guitar. It was also uniquely exciting in 1970 to hear a Beatle use the word “fuck” on a song. Twice.
The song “God” caused a sensation when the record was released because of the lyrics. He made it clear that his only concerns were for himself and he held nobody else in thrall. He finished the song by stating that he didn’t believe in any of the following: magic, I-Ching, Bible, Tarot, Hitler, Jesus, Kennedy, Buddha, Mantra, Gita, Yoga, Kings, Elvis, Zimmerman. And then the killer line as the music stops and he shakily sings “I don’t believe in Beatles” unaccompanied. He finishes by singing that all he believes in his Yoko and himself. After the preceding 8 years of fame, adulation, worship and the removal of his private life, he wanted to escape into himself. Fair play, I suppose.
A great record but it only got to Number 8 in the UK Charts and Number 6 in the USA. Maybe he didn’t want the approval at all. Maybe it was all about retreating into his own world with Yoko, free of the trappings associated with the huge success he had achieved with The Beatles. His subsequent behaviour would suggest otherwise – he used his fame to publicise his beliefs. Contradictory attitudes, but he was John Lennon for goodness sake.
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5 thoughts on “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band”
Don’t beat yourself up Mr Macve. These are extreme times and I am sure everyone who reads your blog shares your uncertainties in life (acknowledged or not). I personally welcome your daily edict though maybe do not share your enthusiasm and certainly not your knowledge of some of the music…but then you are a bit older…
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