Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘John Lennon’

25 APRIL, 2014

John Lennon and Yoko Ono on Love, Animated

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“You’ve got to work on it. It is a precious gift, and it’s a plant, and you’ve got to look after it and water it.”

“A dream you dream alone may be a dream, but a dream two people dream together is a reality,” Yoko Ono wrote in her 1964 compendium of illustrated instructions for life. Two years later, and nearly a decade after she had presaged their fateful romance, she met John Lennon and the two became inseparable as they dreamt together one of the most beautiful and tragic love stories of all time. In 1969, the same year that 14-year-old Jerry Levitan taped his now-legendary conversation with Lennon, Village Voice writer Howard Smith sat down with the couple to extract from them the secret of love in a heart-swelling, soul-expanding conversation found in the altogether fantastic The Smith Tapes Box Set — an archive of Smith’s restored interviews with such icons as Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jane Fonda, James Taylor, Jerry Garcia, and other greats whose names don’t begin with J.

Now, the fine folks of multimedia nonprofit Blank on Blank — who also gave us Janis Joplin on creativity and rejection, David Foster Wallace on ambition, and Maurice Sendak on being a kid — have brought Smith’s conversation with John and Yoko to life in their signature style of audiovisual storytelling. Highlights below.

On the secret of love:

You’ve got to work on it. It is a precious gift, and it’s a plant, and you’ve got to look after it and water it. You can’t just sit on your backside and think, “Oh, well, we’re in love, so that’s alright.”

On being together without stifling one another:

We’re both mind people, you know. So to be apart, we don’t have to physically be apart.

On the myth that there can be too much togetherness:

If you love somebody, you can’t be with them enough — there’s no such thing.

For more insight on the dignity of love and sharing a life, see Adrienne Rich on how relationships refine our truths and these essential reads on the psychology of love. For more Lennon gold, revisit Jerry Levitan’s illustrated interview and Lennon’s own illustrated poetry and prose.

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27 JANUARY, 2014

John Lennon’s Semi-Sensical Poetry and Prose, Illustrated with His Charming Drawings

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Subtle critique of culture’s hypocrisies, wrapped in bewitching gibberish.

There is something singularly heartening about famous creators with secret talents, about discovering such little-known delights as William Faulkner’s Jazz Age art, Richard Feynman’s drawings, Marilyn Monroe’s poetry, Rube Goldberg’s political art, Liberace’s culinary zest, Hans Christian Andersen’s sketches, and Flannery O’Connor’s cartoons. Among them, unbeknownst to many, was beloved Beatle John Lennon.

In His Own Write & A Spaniard in the Works (public library), released to commemorate Lennon’s 70th birthday with introductions by Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono, collects his offbeat poetry and prose along with his charming drawings.

Lennon’s whimsical, semi-sensical writings fall somewhere between Lewis Carroll and Gertrude Stein. He has a particular penchant for unusual wordplay, inventing nonsensical twists on familiar phrases — “a goodbites sleep,” “one upon a tom,” “all of a surgeon” — inevitably leaving the reader to wonder whether there is a deeper meaning, perhaps a postmodernist or surrealist message, or it’s simply linguistic gibberish for the sake of diversion. Paul McCartney writes in the introduction:

There are bound to be thickheads who will wonder why some of it doesn’t make sense, and others who will search for hidden meanings.

“What’s a Brummer?”

“There’s more to ‘dubb owld boot’ than meets the eye.”

None of it has to make sense and if it seems funny then that’s enough.

Still, underneath the amusing and often perplexing writing lies a subtle undertone of cultural commentary on society’s hypocrisies. Take, for instance, the beginning of “Nicely Nicely Clive”:

To Clive Barrow it was just an ordinary day nothing unusual or strange about it, everything quite navel, nothing outstanley just another day but to Roger it was somthing special, a day amongst days … a red lettuce day … because Roger was getting married and as he dressed that morning he thought about the gay batchelor soups he’d had with all his pals. And Clive said nothing.

To Roger everything was different, wasn’t this the day his Mother had told him about, in his best suit and all that, grimming and shakeing hands, people tying boots and ricebudda on his car. To have and to harm … till death duty part … he knew it all off by hertz.

Lennon’s intentional substitute of “harm” for “hold” paints a portrait of the dark side of marriage and all the pain that can live under the hood of this cultural institution masquerading as pure bliss (which Susan Sontag so grimly termed “an institution committed to the dulling of the feelings”), and his use of the word “duty” calls out the misguided mechanism by which dysfunctional marriages continue “to have and to harm” (perhaps, as Sontag observed, because such arrangements are “based on the principle of inertia.”)

Or take this short poem, titled “Good Dog Nigel”:

Arf, Arf, he goes, a merry sight,
Our little hairy friend,
Arf, Arf, upon the lampost bright
Arfing round the bend.
Nice dog! Goo boy,
Waggie tail and beg,
Clever Nigel, jump for joy

Because we’re putting you to sleep at three of the clock, Nigel.

Much of it, however, as McCartney points out, is simply fun — which is more than enough.

THE MOLDY MOLDY MAN

I’m a moldy moldy man
I’m moldy thru and thru
I’m a moldy moldy man
You would not think it true.
I’m moldy till my eyeballs
I’m moldy til my toe
I will not dance I shyballs
I’m such a humble Joe.

In His Own Write & A Spaniard in the Works is weird and wonderful in its entirety. Complement it with Yoko Ono’s equally delightful poems, drawings, and instructions for life.

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21 NOVEMBER, 2008

I Met The Walrus: Lennon’s Brain Animated

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Truth, aged like a good whiskey, from the cellar of a cultural legend.

In 1969, a brave 14-year-old boy named Jerry Levitan armed with a tape-deck snuck into John Lennon’s hotel room in Toronto and charmed the legend into doing an interview about peace, music, the USA, life and the Bee Gees. Thirty-nine years later, Levitan offered the interview to the world.

Only he did it brilliantly.

I Met The Walrus is an animated short, in which Lennon’s original voiceover comes to life through wonderful pen animation by the tremendously talented James Braithwaite.

Listen to Lennon’s detached yet passionate musings on politics, human nature and marijuana. And appreciate the irony of how true some of what he said 39 years ago rings today.

It’s up to the people. You can’t blame it on the government and say, ‘Oh, they’re doing this, they’re doing that, oh, they’re gonna put is us into war.’ We put ‘em there. We allow it. And we can change it. If we really wanna change it, we can change it.” ~ John Lennon

And as we throw a hopeful glance of relief towards the President Elect, we can’t help thinking, Amen.

*** UPDATE ***

Levitan’s once-in-a-lifetime Lennon adventure is now available in book form, as the wonderful I Met the Walrus: How One Day with John Lennon Changed My Life Forever — a priceless first-hand recollection of the unusual encounter. It features Jerry’s memorabilia from the day — notes from John and Yoko, the secret code to contact him, drawings, John’s doodles and more — as well as the animated film and the original audio interview. It is, as we certainly don’t need to point out, a cultural treasure and a Lennonphiliac must-have.

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