Saturday, January 27, 2007

John Lennon - Remember

This is a recently released collection of songs by John Lennon, as a solo artist. The CD is currently being sold in Starbucks.

While listening, I got the distinct impression that John thought of himself as an “Artiste.” A critic once said of Billie Holiday that, career-wise, she was at her best as a nightclub entertainer but that after the success of her song, “Strange Fruit,” she began thinking of herself as an Artiste, and as a result, went into decline. I suspect that for John, his equivalent of Strange Fruit was getting involved with Yoko Ono.

I do find the combination of Lennon’s writing and singing voice to be refreshing. As a solo song-writer, he was damn good at times, but he was no Bob Dylan. Of course, we do not know what he might have written had his life not been cut short.

Many of the songs here bore me, but there are a few goodies. I absolutely love, “Instant Karma! (We All Shine On).” It is an exuberant affirmation of personhood, purpose, and self-esteem. I never tire of it. If you have problems with the concept of Karma, just think of it as Grace instead.

Lyrically, most of the songs are good, with a few select exceptions. I recall some hipster-type critic years ago, maybe it was in the Village Voice, praising the artistic merits of, “Working Class Hero.” It may be from the gut and full of rage, but that doesn’t make it a good song. I would also put, “Mother,” in the same category, a from-the-gut, courageous confrontation with his demons but not a great song. “Remember,” is another attempt at reckoning with upbringing, and I keep skipping over it. The liner notes claim that several songs in the collection are deeply philosophical. I am not so sure about that but they are a deep, hard look at himself and his relationship with the world.

“Sean’s Little Help,” is a loving cutie. Sean at age four tries singing, from memory, his father’s, “A Little Help from My Friends.” The dialogue from John shows him as such a wonderful, loving father.

Bob Dylan was one of the few popular musicians that John Lennon could consider a peer, and John was still alive when Dylan went through the three albums of his born-again phase. Accordingly to Yoko Ono, his song, “God,” was intended as a dialogue with Dylan. Apparently, the bottom line with Lennon was that he did not believe in any absolute truths. Anyway, the song is fairly provocative, if self-centered.

“Imagine,” is simply a great song. I don’t need to say anything more about it.

“Going Down On Love (Instructions Only),” is not a song but instructions being given by Lennon to musicians in the studio, while trying to record the song. It is very interesting to hear his voice and observe his personality. He knew exactly what he wanted.

I used to like the song, “Nobody Told Me.” I am not sure if this recording is the same one that was played on the radio. It doesn’t seem to move me as much.

Maybe I'll go back and give more of a listen to the songs I've been skipping over, like "Remember." Or maybe I've just outgrown any interest in deconstructing childhood.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Yusef Islam

The New York Times just published an interview of Yusef Islam, the pop music star formerly known as Cat Stevens (He is on MySpace, by the way.).

I am still a HUGE Cat Stevens fan. I know that many people chose to despised or hate him, and his music, because his conversion to Islam. It did not dampen my enthusiasm. His dropping out of the music scene following his conversion thirty years ago was far more disappointing to me than the conversion itself.

Sometime after 9/11, they found some old film footage of a Cat Stevens concert tour, and they packaged it together under the name Magicat (a copy of which was graciously loaned to me by my friend Brian Banho). In my opinion, the sound quality and performances are not outstanding. However, in the “extras” on the DVD, there is a lengthy interview of Yusef, done post 9/11, which I found utterly fascinating. He looks and speaks like the epitome of a perfect British Gentleman.

In terms of his dropping out of the business, near the end of his career as a pop star, he was burned out and hated what he was doing, and I understand that. You can even see it evidenced on the Magicat DVD in one place where he sarcastically berates a member of his own sound crew for positioning a microphone too low. He sounded like a very bitter soul.

With respect to his statements and actions following his conversion to Islam, I think they have been VERY naïve. As with so many artists in the public eye, he has lofty and flowery emotions that apparently supercede any critical thinking. Over the years he has said and done some incredibly irresponsible things relating to Islam. His Wikipedia entry mentions them briefly. As someone who was a celebrity in the public eye for so many years, I would have expected him to understand the impact of public statments. In the West after all, especially in the U.K., he is looked upon as the public persona of civilized Islam. He bears a great responsibility whether he likes it or not. In particular, I don’t see how anyone can justify donating money to Hamas, even if the money supposedly was going to an orphanage, given Hamas’ history of violence and terrorism.

But how do you like these apples: he is still raking in royalties from his music to the tune of over 1.5 million dollars a year!!! Nice work if you can get it!!!

Some other Cat Stevens Websites (among hundreds/thousands):

Chris Gregory on Modern Times

Chris Gregory has written a series of very literate, musicological and philosophical reviews of Dylan’s latest album, Modern Times. I’ve been listening to the album in my car for a while now, but to tell you the truth, I haven’t the time to listen carefully, much less write a review. I appreciate the quality time that Chris has put into this. His knowledge and understanding of Dylan’s body of work greatly surpasses my own.

I appreciate Chris letting me know about his blog. He’s also the author of some pretty good poems that he posts on his blog as well.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Chronicles, Volume I - a review

- just putting up a URL to another review of Dylan's autobiography.

I read Chronicles some time ago, but haven't been motivated enough to put my thoughts together to write my own review.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

John Lennon's Born-Again Phase

From the magazine Christianity Today: John Lennon's aborted dalliance with Christianity, with mention of his conflict with Bob Dylan, over Dylan's conversion.