Sunday, December 08, 2013

Music Sunday: The "The Day the Music Died" Edition

Back in 1971, Don McLean wrote and recorded "American Pie", the centerpiece of which was "the day the music died", the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. Richardson (aka "The Big Bopper") in a plane crash in Iowa on February 3, 1959. The three were on their way from one show to another and died in a way all too many rockers have passed too soon.

But, for many in my generation, the day the music died came on December 8, 1980, when John Lennon was gunned down in front of his apartment building in New York City, the city Lennon had loved and had fought to remain in when Richard Nixon tried to have him thrown out of the country a few years earlier. Nixon was afraid that Lennon's anti-war activism could cost him the election in 1972, and so sought to have Lennon deported on the basis of a misdemeanor marijuana conviction in London in 1968. For an examination of this attempted deportation, go watch the documentary film "The U. S. vs. John Lennon". It is an interesting and thorough look at the whole campaign against Lennon by the government.

But I'm not here to be all political today. What I want to do is to just share some of the music that John Lennon made in his short lifetime - he was just 40 when he was murdered - that so influenced the world that the most powerful government in the United States (mistakenly, I think) was afraid his fans would try to overthrow the government, just on his say-so. By all accounts, that wasn't even really on Lennon's radar. He just had this revolutionary idea that, after all the wars, it might be a good idea to give peace a chance and try loving one another a little bit more and hating each other a little bit less.

Of course, some of Lennon's detractors have made a point of insisting that he was not that nice a person and, indeed, various accounts have shown that he could be mean and petty and pretty damn snarky. You know, like most humans can be from time to time. As far as I can tell, John Lennon never claimed to be a saint. But he did work harder to get a little peace, personally and for the world, than most people do, and I don't think that pointing out that he wasn't nice all the time should minimize that at all.

At any rate, Lennon wasn't just a musician. He was also a writer, a film-maker, an actor, and a graphic artist. His first book, "In His Own Write", was published in 1964, and his second, "A Spaniard in the Works", was released the next year, when the world was still in the first blush of Beatlemania. Both of those books were largely made up of drawings, short stories, and nonsense verse that nevertheless showed that he was a genius at wordplay and at surrealism.

I'm only leaving three songs here. The first is "Help", the song when John Lennon first started getting real, as far as I can tell. This, of course, was still when The Beatles were going strong, from their second film. But in it, Lennon departed from the band's signature love songs to write this. I like this performance of the song, a live performance in Blackpool at the time the song first came out. They way you can tell that it really was a live performance is that there are a couple of points where Lennon loses his words. Even so, it remains a good performance that I like a lot:

The second song I'm leaving here is "Working Class Hero", which I've shared on this blog before. It is, I thing, another song in which Lennon gets real, addressing his childhood and adolescence, the class system in the UK, and how difficult it is for some people to fit in - and that perhaps it isn't always worth the trying. Or, at least, that's my interpretation of this song, that means a whole lot to me:

And I'm leaving "Watching the Wheels", from Lennon's final album, "Double Fantasy". In this song, Lennon addresses the issue of his years out of the limelight and away from the music industry before he went back into the studio to record "Double Fantasy". It seems written by the Lennon of "Working Class Hero", only several years on and a bit more mature in his outlook, but still going his own way:

It's been 33 years now. If he had lived, John Lennon would be 73 years old now. Who knows if he would still be making music, or what he would be doing. But, honestly, it pisses me off greatly that one lone nut decided that he would take it upon himself to remove Lennon from the world. This still, 33 years later, irritates the hell out of me.

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