I’ve watched two great TV programmes in the last two days and finished a book I’ve been reading for the last two weeks. They have all made me think about forgiveness.
An episode in Series Two of “The Crown” concerns Edward VIII who abdicated the throne in 1936 and later became The Duke Of Windsor. In 1937 he visited Nazi Germany and met with Hitler. Papers discovered after the war (and later named The Marburg Files) allege that The Duke encouraged relentless bombing of London in order to force a peace settlement. There is some speculation that Hitler promised The Duke that he would be re-instated as King after a surrender. The TV programme shows Queen Elizabeth wrestling with the notion of forgiveness – should she forgive her uncle?
This afternoon I watched a great film starring Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan called “Just Mercy” in which a black guy from Alabama is wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The film tells the story of his trial and also addresses the issue of people who have been wrongly convicted and subsequently executed. Forgiveness is immaterial if the state has executed the person who deserves an apology.
“John Lennon 1980. The Last Days In The Life” by Kenneth Womack tells the story of what John Lennon did during 1980. One key event in the year was a sailing trip he made from New York to Bermuda. The boat he was sailing in got into trouble and most of the crew were sick – John Lennon’s fortitude was a major factor in ensuring the safety of all aboard. Whilst in Bermuda, energised by his adventures, he started to develop songs that had been germinating over the previous few years. On his return to New York, he recorded “Double Fantasy” and three weeks after its release, he was murdered. The book is very well written and doesn’t dwell on the murderer, not even mentioning his name. I felt overwhelmingly sad at the end of the book as John Lennon was very excited by his new album and was making plans to tour to support it. He was in touch with his family in the UK and was making definite plans to visit them in 1981. Can the world forgive Mark Chapman for what he did?
The website “Psychology Today” has this to say about forgiveness. “Forgiveness is the release of resentment or anger. Forgiveness doesn’t mean reconciliation. One doesn’t have to return to the same relationship or accept the same harmful behaviors from an offender. Forgiveness is vitally important for the mental health of those who have been victimized. It propels people forward rather than keeping them emotionally engaged in an injustice or trauma. Forgiveness has been shown to elevate mood, enhance optimism, and guard against anger, stress, anxiety, and depression. However, there are scenarios in which forgiveness is not the best course for a particular person. Sometimes a victim of sexual abuse becomes more empowered when they give themselves permission not to forgive.” Forgiveness doesn’t mean reconciliation.
“(Just Like) Starting Over” is, as John Lennon was quoted as saying, sung like Elvis Presley or Roy Orbison. In the song, every time he sees Yoko Ono, it’s like he’s falling in love again – it’s just like starting over. Only someone of John Lennon’s brutal honesty could make a song so nakedly expressing his emotion. I’ve written before about how John Lennon’s muse changed from his mother to Yoko Ono and how the song “Julia” from “The Beatles” marks the fulcrum of that change. What I hadn’t known until I read this book is that John Lennon’s affectionate nickname for Yoko Ono was “Mother”.
I had always dismissed the Yoko Ono tracks on this album – or on any album – until recently I listened to an episode of the “Nothing Is Real” podcast in which both presenters expressed their admiration for Yoko Ono’s work. I’m glad to admit that I was wrong. “Kiss Kiss Kiss” is remarkable. Here’s what Yoko Ono said about this song “There is the sound of a woman coming to a climax on it, and she is crying out to be held, to be touched.” She recorded the vocal for this song lying on the floor of the studio. The musicians referred to her having a “Yokogasm” and they listened to her perform “with their jaws hanging open”. At the end of her performance, John Lennon leapt out of his seat and shouted “Yes. Mother!”
“Cleanup Time” is a song about John Lennon cleaning up his alcohol and drug dependency. He sings about the queen in her counting house and the king is in the kitchen baking bread. This is a gender switch from the nursery rhyme and refers to John and Yoko’s life since 1975 when she was running their business affairs and he was looking after Sean, their son.
“Give Me Something” is a good example of a song I have unfairly dismissed Yoko Ono’s work. It’s short, snappy and dynamic and the lyrics refer to a cold passionless city and hoping for something better. It’s great.
Whilst John Lennon was in Bermuda, writing the songs that would appear on “Double Fantasy” and “Milk And Honey” (released posthumously), Yoko Ono was, for most of the time, in New York. At one point he tried unsuccessfully to phone Yoko Ono and couldn’t get through. He feels bereft and guilty about previous indiscretions and these feelings informed “I’m Losing You”. He fears that he is losing her and worries that she has not forgiven him – it was a long time ago, surely that is no reason for them to split? It’s a great song with some brilliant guitar work from Hugh McCracken and Earl Slick who play on every track on the album. Hugh McCracken had played on “Ram” by Paul McCartney. He turned down an opportunity to join Wings in 1971. Earl Slick went on to play on nine David Bowie albums. I think this is possibly the best song on the album.
“I’m Losing You” segues perfectly into “I’m Moving On”. Yoko Ono’s reply to the previous song is that she’s not going to hang around and she’ll leave the relationship if that feels right to her. She described the song as describing “the sense of ‘Well, I’ve had enough. I’m moving on.’ But it’s not about any specific incident. It’s just the feeling: ‘I don’t want to play games. I like everything straight.“
When Paul McCartney appeared on “Desert Island Discs”, he said that the one song he would want to keep, if he could only have one, would be “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”. In a recent interview on Radio 2 on the occasion of what would have been John Lennon’s 80th birthday, Sean Ono Lennon and Paul McCartney discussed this song which clearly means a huge amount to both of them. His first solo album, “Plastic Ono Band”, can be quite uncomfortable to listen to when he screams “Mama don’t go – Daddy come home”. This song of unadorned and naked love for his five year old can also make for uncomfortable listening.
I really like the first song on Side Two, “Watching The Wheels” in which John Lennon describes what his life has been like for the previous five years. He is watching the wheels go by. I guess that could refer to the wheels of the toys that Sean is playing with or it could be the wheels of a clock that shows that time is passing. It’s a happy song and tells anyone who thinks he may be wasting time that he’s fine, thank you very much. Jack Douglas, the producer of the album had the idea of using a dulcimer to make the song more “circular”. They couldn’t find a studio musician but Jack Douglas walked past a street musician, named Matthew Cunningham, playing a dulcimer on the corner of West 72nd Street. They invited him into the studio to play and John Lennon gave him instructions over the studio’s talkback system. Matthew Cunningham replied by asking John Lennon what his name was. “My name’s John” came the reply which, presumably was directed towards the only person in the country who didn’t know who John Lennon was.
A few days after recording a simulation of an orgasm on “Kiss Kiss Kiss”, Yoko Ono recorded “Yes I’m Your Angel” which sounds like nothing else. She adopts a posh English accent and sings a song in the tradition of a 1920’s jazz song. Honestly.
John Lennon thought “Woman” was his most Beatle-esque song on the album. Repeated hearing of this song may make it a little syrupy but, listening to it again today, I think it’s great. He compared it to “Girl” on “Rubber Soul” and the harmonies are certainly gorgeous. What mustn’t be forgotten is that John Lennon had one of the best ever rock/pop voices and his emotion and honesty are hard to ignore.
“Beautiful Boys” is Yoko singing lovingly to John and Sean. The verses are cleverly written – the toys that Sean plays with in the first verse become John’s ploys in the second verse. Sean has seen the world but John has changed the world. It’s lovely, except the last line is “Don’t be afraid to go to hell and back.” Mmmm.
“Dear Yoko” is about John Lennon missing Yoko Ono while he was in Bermuda. He felt that the song didn’t really need any explanation. “It says it all. It’s a nice track and it happens to be about my wife. Instead of Dear Sandra, which another singer might write about a woman who may or may not exist, this is about my wife.” “Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him” is great apart from the preposterousness of the title. There’s a slight reggae feel to the song. “Hard Times Are Over” is another Yoko Ono song – not my favourite but a desperately sad way to finish the album. “Hard times are over, over for a while. The streams are twinkling in the sun and I’m smiling inside. You and I walking together around the street corner”.
I can remember where I was when I heard that John Lennon had died. I was in bed and the early morning news came on the radio and woke me up. For a man who moved from anger and aggression to peace and love to be coldly murdered on the street is so utterly tragic that, no, I can’t find any forgiveness at all.