Happy 40th birthday, Double Fantasy!

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Released 17 November 1980, Double Fantasy was John Lennon’s seventh and final studio album, and the fifth album he did in collaboration with Yoko Ono. Many critics panned it initially, not necessarily because of the music itself, but because they thought it painted an unrealistic picture of John and Yoko’s marriage. Strangers always know best about other people’s personal lives, don’t they?

Sales weren’t particularly good until John’s murder three weeks later. The album then proceeded to jump to #1 in many countries. It also won 1981 Album of the Year at the 1982 Grammy Awards, and was ranked #29 on Rolling Stone‘s list of best Eighties albums.

But does it hold up on its own merits 40 years later?

DF is a concept album, structured as a call-and-response dialogue between John and Yoko. They each sing seven of the fourteen songs, going on a journey through their relationship, from fractured bonds on Side One to domestic bliss on Side Two.

This was the second of John’s solo albums I got, since it was the only one available at Mystery Train Records on that day. Back in 2002, online shopping hadn’t really taken off, so we were at the mercy of whatever merchandise was in a store, or had to put in a special order.

I gave it 5 stars on my old Angelfire page, and really liked it. Listening to it again after many years, I’m more inclined to give it 4 stars. There’s a lot of strong material, but it’s not one of the greatest, most memorable albums of all time. Some of the songs also veer a bit close to filler.

If you’re a Yoko-basher and don’t want to even try giving her music a fair listen, you’re gonna have a bad time with this album. Half of the songs are hers, like it or not, and it wouldn’t be the same album if it were only John’s songs.

Yoko was well-known and respected in the avant-garde world long before she met John, and her music has been hugely influential on other artists. Like The Velvet Underground, her influence is massively disproportionate to actual sales, radio play, and visibility.

People who think she only did tape loops and screaming betray their total unfamiliarity with her musical evolution. Sure she doesn’t have a classically-trained, conventional voice, but her music took on a more mainstream direction as time wore on.

Some of her DF songs have a very New Wave sound, which was right in line with other early Eighties music.

John and Yoko famously separated during the 18-month Lost Weekend, reconciled at the start of 1975, and welcomed their son Sean on John’s 35th birthday that October. From that time on, John was a contented househusband and put his musical career on hold.

During a sailing trip from Newport, Rhode Island to Bermuda in mid-1980, John was caught in a bad storm, and was the only one not stricken by seasickness or fatigue. As the last man standing, he had to steer the yacht for hours.

This experience fortified John’s confidence and made him contemplate the fragility of life. As he explained, “I was so centered after the experience at sea that I was tuned in to the cosmos—and all these songs came!”

John and Yoko recorded dozens of songs that autumn, some of which later found their way onto the posthumous Milk and Honey (1984). Their sessions were top-secret, and they had to pay for studio time out of their own pockets, since they weren’t signed to a record label.

Once their publicist broke the news, offers from record labels swarmed in. On 22 September, they signed with the new Geffen Records because David Geffen spoke to Yoko first and considered her John’s equal. Mr. Geffen believed in them so much, he signed them before hearing any songs.

John made it clear from the jump that Yoko would be an equal partner on this album (which is subtitled A Heart Play). The strength of her material compelled record execs to take her seriously. She earned her place on DF through her own talents.

Track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks:

“(Just Like) Starting Over” (#1 in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, Spain, Switzerland, Ireland, and The Netherlands; #2 in Austria, New Zealand, and Norway; #3 in Sweden; #4 in South Africa and Belgium; #6 in West Germany; #9 in France)
“Kiss Kiss Kiss” (ends with an extremely realistic faked orgasm and very sexual words in Japanese)
“Cleanup Time”
“Give Me Something”
“I’m Losing You”
“I’m Moving On”
“Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”
“Watching the Wheels” (#3 in Canada; #6 in Switzerland; #6, #7, and #10 on various U.S. charts; #12 in Austria; #20 in Ireland; #30 in the U.K.; #45 in Australia; #46 in West Germany)
“Yes, I’m Your Angel”
“Woman” (#1 in the U.K., Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, and Zimbabwe; #1, #2, and #4 on various U.S. charts; #2 in Switzerland; #3 in Austria; #4 in West Germany, Australia, and South Africa; #5 in Norway; #11 in The Netherlands)
“Beautiful Boys”
“Dear Yoko”
“Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him”
“Hard Times Are Over” (gut-punching, knowing what would soon happen)
“Help Me to Help Myself”*
“Walking on Thin Ice”* (released 1981) (#6 in Sweden; #13 on U.S. Hot Dance Club Songs; #18 in Australia; #22 in Canada; #35 in the U.K.; #48 in New Zealand; #58 on U.S. Billboard)
“Central Park Stroll” (dialogue)*

DF reached #1 in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Canada, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Austria, France, and Japan; #2 in West Germany; and #6 in Italy. It was certified triple platinum in the U.S.

While DF has never been one of my favoritest albums or something I regularly listen to, I’ve always liked it and found it very solid. I understand why some people might be off-put by songs about a relationship they’re not in (regardless of who the couple is), but this is after all a concept album telling a story. It just happens to be a real story, not a fictional one.

Happy 50th birthday, Plastic Ono Band!

Image used solely to illustrate subject for the purposes of an album review, and consistent with fair use doctrine

Released 11 December 1970, Plastic Ono Band was John Lennon’s first proper solo album. While he’d done four prior solo albums, they were all collaborations with Yoko Ono, not 100% his own songs.

There were also two Plastic Ono Band albums released that day, with slightly different covers, though most people are only familiar with John’s album of that name. Yoko’s POB only reached #182 on the U.S. Billboard chart, and none of the six songs became singles.

John’s POB was the very first solo album by him I got, in January 2002. At the time, John was still my favorite Beatle, so it made sense to start my journey into the band’s solo work through him.

These songs are so raw and emotional, strongly influenced by the Primal Scream therapy John had recently undergone with Arthur Janov. He’s laying his heart, soul, and mind bare for the world to see, exposing these deep pains and traumas which had stalked him for so many years.

The first time I heard the opening track “Mother,” maybe two years before I got the album, I deeply sobbed through almost the entire song. That was one of the most emotional listening experiences I’ve ever had.

Penultimate track “God” is also one of the three songs which always gives me full-body goosebumps, getting stronger and stronger with each “I don’t believe in…” declaration. (The other two are The Monkees’ “Zor and Zam” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Seven o’Clock News/Silent Night.”)

Track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks. (Though it just seems wrong for there to be any bonus tracks! The album was already perfect as-is.)

“Mother” (#3 in Switzerland, #9 in Austria, #10 in The Netherlands, #12 in Canada, #26 in West Germany, #30 in Japan, #43 in the U.S., #57 in Australia)
“Hold On” (includes John’s impression of Cookie Monster)
“I Found Out” (he so gives the finger to everyone in this song!)
“Working Class Hero”
“Isolation”
“Remember” (ends with a reference to Guy Fawkes Night and the sound of an explosion)
“Love”
“Well Well Well”
“Look at Me”
“God”
“My Mummy’s Dead” (only 49 seconds long)
“Power to the People”*
“Do the Oz”*

My favorite tracks are “God,” “Love,” “I Found Out,” “Mother,” and “Working Class Hero.”

The album reached #1 in Canada and The Netherlands, #3 in Australia, #4 in Norway, #5 in Japan, #6 in the U.S., #8 in the U.K. and Sweden, and #39 in West Germany.

POB is widely considered John’s greatest solo album by far, and it’s always been my personal favorite as well. Many of those incessant best-of lists rank it quite highly.

It goes without saying that I highly, highly, highly recommend this album!

John’s 34th Jahrzeit and 777

Jahrzeit is a German and Yiddish word which roughly translates as “time of year” or “year’s time.” I use the German spelling because I’m half German and strongly prefer German to Yiddish, to say the least.

guest-blogged with an interview at Unicorn Bell on Friday, for anyone who wants to check it out.

I look a lot younger than I really am, but believe it or not, I’m old enough that my lifetime briefly overlapped with John Lennon’s. He was taken away from the material world ten days before my first birthday. Sometimes my Hebrew birthday, the fifth night of Chanukah, coincides with John’s Jahrzeit, and that’s never a good feeling. It’s hard to believe all four former Beatles were still alive when I was born. That was such a long-ago world.

The first time I heard this song, in March 2000, it made me start sobbing uncontrollably. It’s just such a powerful kick to the gut, this raw spilling out of emotions. John’s first proper solo album, Plastic Ono Band, is hands-down my favoritest of his solo albums. (But of course, the average radio station will just keep playing “Imagine” into the ground instead of considering any of his other solo songs.)

It’s a long story how John went from my least-favorite Beatle to my favorite Beatle. For a time, I tried to pretend I had two favorites, John and Paul, but to quote one of Jerry Springer’s frequent Final Thoughts, “When you claim to love both, you truly love neither.” When I was seventeen, I was finally ready to admit John was my only fave rave. It just seemed so natural and right. I’m kind of embarrassed Paul was my original fave rave, based solely on his looks, but you can’t change how you genuinely felt in the past. It’s just part of who you were.

This song never fails to send a chill down my spine, as the “I don’t believe in…” declarations get stronger and more emotional. There was a time in my life, in my early teens, when I totally believed in his thesis statement of “God is a concept by which we measure our pain.” At the time, I considered myself agnostic/borderline atheist, but now I realize I was just really angry at Hashem and blaming him/her for how I was being bullied so badly and had caught chickenpox. You can’t doubt the existence of someone you feel those kinds of emotions towards, even if they’re not positive emotions! Shortly before my 15th birthday, I began the journey back towards positive faith.

John also eventually found his way back to a belief in God, though not in the organized religion way. As he said, “I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.”

It just seems right that John is still my fave rave, even though there are times when it seems like I’ve switched again and George has become my favorite. As much of a spiritual bond as I feel towards George, he’ll have to stay my favorite solo Beatle, not my favorite Beatle altogether. I still feel a connection to John in so many ways, and admire how he was so imperfect and made no bones about the fact that he wasn’t always such a nice guy. He struggled so hard to find peace with himself, positively impact the world, and turn over a new leaf. I’ve always preferred Grimms’ fairytales to Disney fairytales, since they represent reality.

triple 7

Tara Tyler tagged me for the 777 challenge, which dictates, “In your current WIP, go to the 7th page, 7 lines down, and share 7 lines or so.” I’ve tagged Caitlin Stern from my Sunday Weekend Writing Warriors hop to participate next.

I’ve got two WIPs going now, the massive Journey Through a Dark Forest (which, Baruch Hashem, is finally only a few months away from a completed first draft and won’t go over 800K), and the old/new WIP I started during NaNo, And Aleksey Lived: An Alternative History. I’m going with the latter, and skipping just a bit past the seventh line since it’s right in the middle of a dialogue.

***

Alekséy rubbed the sleep from his eyes, careful not to pull on his delicate skin too much. “What are you talking about?  Last night I had a horrible nightmare we were taken into the cellar and shot, but White soldiers burst in after my parents had been murdered.  Can I see my parents now so I’ll know they’re safe?”

The soldier shook his head and crossed himself. “I’m truly sorry, Your Majesty, but that nightmare was real.  Your parents are in the other world now.  We were just too late to save them.”

“What?”

“I’m very sorry, Your Majesty, but you’re an orphan.  If only we’d reached this city and been directed to this damned house a little sooner, everyone would’ve been saved, but we can’t change the recent past.”

Alyosha and Joy

How not to write a biography

(This is in part taken from the 2,000+ word review I wrote for Albert Goldman’s sleazy The Lives of John Lennon for my old Angelfire site in about 2003 or 2004.)

2 stars

This lengthy piece of tripe gets that many stars only because, as horrible and inaccurate it is, it made for very engrossing and quick reading, and was interesting, lively, peppered with dialogues and scene descriptions, and wasn’t some dull lifeless biography. It also includes things other of John’s biographers haven’t gone much into depth on, like Yoko’s early life, her custody battle for her daughter Kyoko, and her art shows. That said…

I adored this book at 14. I positively wolfed it down. Every negative story or anecdote only made me respect him even more, knowing he’d had so many problems yet overcome them. Knowing, or at least thinking, he’d done these things only served to increase his hero status for me; he was just an ordinary human being with plenty of faults, not some sort of demigod. And believe them I did, until…

In 2001, I was looking at an old edition of People. A lot of people were saying a lot of it wasn’t true. I was stunned, and kind of disappointed that all these stories I’d believed in and treasured for years were nothing more than utter horse shit.

I was too dumb at 14 to understand why it was so terrible. For example, a lot of the scenes involve John sitting and contemplating by himself. How the hell was Goldman able to know what went on in his head when he was alone?! There’s also no reason for Goldman to know what was going on in a quiet family scene if he wasn’t even there and John never wrote about it in his diary or shared with an interviewer!

John was not bisexual. The scenes of him and Brian Epstein in bed together in Spain are horse shit. Goldman wasn’t there either! John was always very frank in interviews, and I believe when he said that indeed it was a very intense friendship, Brian really did have a crush on him, but it was never consummated. Given how honest he always was, why would he lie about something as important as that?

Everyone also knows John was an extremely devoted, loving daddy to Sean, just pouring out the love he’d been unable to fully give to Julian as a boy, the love his own daddy denied him his whole life. I find it sickening I even would’ve believed for even one nanosecond the horse shit Goldman spewed about how John was beating Sean. He also claims John threw the family cat down the hallway when John adored the cat.

John never did as many drugs as Goldman claims. Of course he did do a lot of drugs back in the Sixties (who the hell didn’t?), but he goes on to say that he was still doing drugs, heroin and cocaine in particular, well into the Seventies, and that he and Yoko had to undergo some very expensive withdrawal surgery for their drug problems. Unsubstantiated. John said he didn’t like heroin that much and was scared of it after too many bad experiences!

I’m also wondering if all the stories about The Lost Weekend are true. A lot of wild, scary stuff did go down then, but given all his other lies, I’m wondering if they’re not just exaggerations. Goldman also puts words in John’s mouth, like saying anti-Semitic things about Elliot Mintz, who was one of his best friends in America.

I’ve since found out that John said he had a very nice childhood, was always fed, well-dressed, and taken care of by his aunt and uncle. Sure it was naturally traumatising to lose his mother twice, once at age four when she dumped him with her sister, and again at 17 when he was just reestablishing a relationship with her, in addition to his lowlife deadbeat dad who ran out on them when he was just a boy, but it’s not like his aunt was beating him and constantly verbally abusing him like Goldman makes it out. He had a very comfortable childhood overall.

Goldman can’t keep the facts straight. One such example is when he “describes Yoko as a careful Oriental cook, then in another section says she couldn’t even cook rice without burning it.” Many of his sources are people who either didn’t like John or were dismissed from his inner circle for bad behaviour, like May Pang and Fred Seaman. Time has also since shown that Goldman did not, as he pathetically claimed, conduct all those thousand-plus interviews for this teeming shitfest.

Was Goldman there to know John followed Yoko around like a hawk when she was pregnant with Sean, even following her into the bathroom?! I also highly doubt he beat her because he wanted a daughter and was pissed Yoko was getting a bit too old to get pregnant again without massive efforts.

Everyone who was close to John has said this book is a pure pack of lies. I was too innocent to realise Goldman was trying to make John and Yoko seem like the two wicked witches of the West. He even insinuated that John was anorexic, and ended the first chapter with him in the bathroom trying to throw up from both drugs and bulimia. It really kills me how so many times Goldman tells us what John’s private thoughts were, esp. when he was all alone or never audibly expressed those thoughts to his audience.

At least he’s not Geoffrey Guiliano.

Favorite Famous Couples

My Heartbreaker post is here.

Express Yourself

This week’s topic of the Express Yourself meme is favorite famous couples, real or fictional. Here are a couple of my favorites:

1 and 2. Stan and Ida Laurel and Oliver and Lucille Hardy. My favorite comedians weren’t very lucky in the marriage department until their respective last marriages. These later-life couplings proved to be their happiest, the ones they’d been waiting for all along. The last Mrs. Laurel and Mrs. Hardy were even there for their husbands during their respective final illnesses, taking care of them in sickness as well as in health. Sometimes the best relationship and one’s soulmate is only found later in life, not in the first attempt at marriage or dating.

3. Isidor and Ida Straus, who died together on the Titanic rather than be separated or take seats away from children or younger people. Prior to that, they wrote to one another every day when they weren’t together, much like my fictional Cinnimin and Levon, during Levon’s various deployments in Korea and Vietnam.

4. Harpo and Susan Marx. Susan was actually the one who proposed to him, and they were married for 28 years, until Harpo’s death. With the exception of the early-retiring Gummo, Harpo had the longest, happiest, most successful marriage of any of his brothers. I also love how they adopted all four of their kids and never considered them anything but their real kids. Harpo was almost 48 when they got married (Susan was 20 years younger), and really nervous about making such a big life change, but he was more scared of living the rest of his life without Susan. He finally accepted the third time she proposed. (At least his response to being proposed to wasn’t to say nothing, start jamming the ring on his finger, and then say, “It’s stuck. I’m very upset.”)

5. Charles and Oona Chaplin. It took a long time for him to find his true soulmate, and there was a huge age difference (she was 18 to his 54), but it was a true love match, his happiest and most stable relationship by far. When there’s a true meeting of the minds, so long as you’re both legal, age doesn’t really matter.

6. One of my favorite screen pairings is that of Rudy Valentino and Nita Naldi. They were together in Blood and Sand (1922) and Cobra (1925), and slated to be leads in the never-filmed project The Hooded Falcon. Their chemistry was incredible, even if Nita always played the Vamp role, not the “good girl” Rudy’s characters were married to or courting.

7. I also love the frequent screen pairing of Greta Garbo and John Gilbert, two of my favorite silent stars. (I’m far from the only person who prefers Garbo’s silents to her talkies!) They were together in four films—the incredible Flesh and the Devil (1926), Love (1927, a terrible screen adaption of Anna Karenina complete with happy ending), A Woman of Affairs (1928), and Queen Christina (1933). Their chemistry was even more incredible because they were involved offscreen as well, though they never married, much to Jack’s disappointment.

8. Moe and Helen Howard. As a huge Three Stooges fan, I’m not alone in finding it rather sweet and charming how the boys were quite the opposite of their screen personae in real life. They were all devoted family men, and not violent, mean people at all. Moe and Helen (a cousin of Harry Houdini) were married in 1925 and stayed married till Moe’s death in 1975. Helen died not quite 6 months later. I once read an excerpt of a love letter Moe wrote to her, in which he thanked her for letting him be her sweetheart for so many years.

9. Simon and Yasmin LeBon. They’ve been married for 27 years now, and have really gotten older together so gracefully, without any scandals in their marriage. I also like how they broke up originally because Yasmin didn’t want to have sex, but got back together later because it was just meant to be. If you’re meant to be with someone, you’ll find your way back together, even if you’re separated or not together. They’ve also gone through problems with having kids before having their three daughters. (I love the name of their middle daughter, Saffron!) Honestly, I wish I had been that strong about waiting, and not given my antique virginity to a guy who wouldn’t even freaking kiss me, but what’s done is done. At least I learnt my lesson and won’t compromise my beliefs again, if I ever find another partner at my age.

10. John Lennon and Yoko Ono. In spite of continued Yoko-bashing by certain immature, mean-spirited people, it’s so obvious these two were such soulmates, creative partners, and a perfect match. As a proud puma, graduated from a bobcat, I also love that John’s soulmate was an older woman. Age and culture didn’t matter, because they were such a perfect match and meeting of the minds. Yes, they had some difficult periods, but normal relationships aren’t always sunshine, flowers, and kittens. Sometimes you have problems, and you have to work to get the relationship back on track.