Dr. Winston O’Boogie
It’s Johnny’s Birthday,
Would You Care to Join Us? (*)
* John Lennon would’ve been 70 Saturday and New York – where his widow Yoko Ono and son Sean live, and where he was assassinated in 1980 – led the celebrations, along with his birth city Liverpool. Screenings, shows, exhibitions, the relaunching of his and the couple’s albums, and a variety of events marked the former Beatle’s life and times around the world.
Yoko herself went to Reykjavik, Iceland, to perform with the Plastic Ono Band at a peace concert and, as she’s been doing for some time every Oct. 9, light the Imagine Peace Tower ceremony. And pretty much every Beatle fan and Lennon’s relative turned the day into a special occasion one way or another.
* Media coverage in almost every tongue known to man has reached saturation levels and, with all the above plus analysis, interviews, articles, critical portrayals and adulatory tributes going on in the past few weeks, there’s no need to add anything else, except to share something short, exclusive and, most likely, obvious.
What were you doing when you heard that John Lennon had been shot?
By now, few doubt that this was one of those events powerful enough to disrupt the fabric of the plausible reality and immediately bend it, wrapping everything else around it.
Some memories turned quickly into oblivion, while others got a hold of all recollections of that moment when, suddenly, there was a world without John Lennon out there.
* Our band had a busy week ahead. Before getting back onstage on that Wednesday, we had two days to tour the local radio stations to preview the upcoming concerts. Before going out, though, there were some calls to be made at the bass player’s house. His mom served us some coffee and crackers, before commenting, ever so casually:
- Have you guys heard? Lemon, that guy, was killed in New York.
Somehow, we were not surprised. We were in our diapers when “Some Like It Hot” was out in theaters.
- Oh, Jack, Jack Lemon? What happened? Actually, how old was he?
Again, we were thinking, shouldn’t she know about him, you know, the 1950s and all that. Instead, what she said next demoted our so important week to a crimp of time when nothing else happened thereafter.
- No, no, no, the Beatle…
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- Where were you when you heard about it?
His family and close ones will always prefer to remember his birthday in October, specially this year, his 70th. But the world will always think about his brutal death, outside the Dakota in New York City, and the crushing end of so many dreams, however unrealistic they may’ve been.
John Lennon’s death, with its profound resonance for millions of fans around the globe, was almost as unexpected as it was deeply unjust. His songs, his music, his art and awareness of his times will, of course, last longer than the grief of all generations who share the admiration for him.
But they’ll never be enough to satisfy those who, despite never having expected to meet the man in flesh and blood, felt a certain comfort in knowing he was around, growing older and happier. That’s also the part that died inside us all in that darkest of all December nights.
Once again, we’ll be thinking about him and the what-ifs of his absence. We’ll read gripping testimonies, hear bits of information we never knew, come across pictures taken from different angles, all in another feeble attempt to shed light on the absurd cruelty of his death.
Once again, it won’t help it either, of course. That voice, those songs will have to do it, instead. But we can always imagine: what would he say now? Would he still be as optimist as he was till the end? Would he be living in Ireland with his wife, as he once envisioned? Would he own an iPod?
That night was a nightmare, but he’s a dream now. He actually wrote a song about it, and it had his favorite number, 9, on its title. He was born on the 9 and it was already the 9th in Liverpool, when he died. His life had this magical arch to it. And, heavens know we work hard to believe it, it was complete.
Here’s to you John. We now resume our own, still to be completed lives, but we’ll be thinking about you.
Are You Experienced?
The world is remembering Jimi Hendrix, who died in London 40 years ago yesterday. To mark the date, there’s a new anthology out and a documentary of his life and music. Bob Smeaton’s “Voodoo Child” uses his own words as a narrative thread and never before seen film footage, recordings, private letters and family pictures to tell his story.
The four-CD “West Coast Seattle Boy” covers his brief but incendiary career through previously unreleased tracks and alternate versions of his classics. It traces his transformation from a sideman to the Isley Brothers, Little Richard and other greats of the era, to a trailblazer whose talent still casts a shadow on new generations.
It’s anyone’s guess what could’ve accomplished so far the arguably greatest ever electric guitar player, had he lived a bit longer. Friends and peers have pointed that at that time, Hendrix and the context of rock music he largely redefined at the end of the 1960s, were already transitioning to a more elaborated and less spontaneous phase of expression.
Many of the gifted, contemporary musicians of the time, had already left their most creative periods behind them. By 1970, it was clear that Hendrix was far ahead of the field and, as an unwanted byproduct of his increasing brilliance, fewer players were on the same level of his artistry, for him to be able to bounce ideas with. When he ran out of time, most were still playing catch up with the scope of his creative genius.
The 40 years gap haven’t been a complete bliss either to understand his talent. A dispute between his family and the various recording companies that owned his artistic output, only recently settled, prevented a continuous exposure of his art to new generations during this time.
And, of course, the lack of an authoritative performer such as the man himself, to be able to present his songs in an optimal way, didn’t help it either. In fact, for a while very few musicians dared to perform and record Hendrix songs and that somewhat hurt his legacy.
Fortunately, though, nothing was enough to rob that same legacy from its transcendency. What’s been said about many an extraordinary artist who died at his or her prime, holds truthful to him too: his early departure immediately imprinted popular culture with the indelible mark of his talent.
Granted, even in death, he had to survive the hollow rhetoric of the “tragedy of drugs” ink, nothing short of a kind of character assassination that also almost obscured the greatness of a Janis Joplin, a Jim Morrison and so many others. He’s not just survived that and other indignities; he also transcended many other phony myths the backlash against the 60s ensued and could’ve tagged him with, given a chance.
So maybe this time around he’ll parachute at the heart of popular culture as a blast of innovation and fresh air, not as the all-consuming tail of a comet that ever so brief zipped across the zenith. It’d certainly be a better metaphor to a southpaw who carved a noisy, distorted, vital path of sound we didn’t even know we needed.
Rock’s arguably greatest guitar player would’ve been 68 today. But most of what was relevant about his life and legacy has already been regurgitated this past September, 40 years of his death.
Which clears our schedule today to only enjoy his music, never mind what it’d all be were he still around.
In rock’s recent history, 1970 was as a chockfull of landmarks year as few others. That’s why, 40 years later, we found ourselves once more talking and reading about Jimi Hendrix.
And about Janis, who also died the same year, and Jim and John, who both share a fateful date next month – you’ll hear more about that soon enough – and there surely be many others.
The day belongs to the paratrooper from Seattle, though. So if you’re heading to the the corner coffee shop, have a load to soak at the laundromat, or simply are planning to take it easy, he’s your guy.
Crowd pleasers Hey Joe, Foxy Lady, Purple Haze or All Along the Watchtower usually get the first pick. But since his recorded ouvre is limited, you’ll be through with it all before the dryer’s done. But you’ll, cue the smoky voice, gonna like the way you’ll feel; we guarantee it.
The self-taught guitar hero of Baltimore, who left his indelible watermark on rock, jazz and contemporary classical music, is also celebrated today in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the world for his stance on artistic freedom.
An accomplished musician, who recorded over 60 albums in a variety of styles, Zappa was also that rare bread of artist, the truly thinker, with highly articulated ideas about the popular culture’s role in society.
Way before being fully understood in the U.S., Zappa had already become an inspiration for generations of Eastern Europeans, and the Czech Republic’s first president, the poet Václav Havel, was a personal fan.
Zappa’s defense of freedom of speech took him to testify to the Senate, in 1985, against efforts to censure mainly rap lyrics deemed too violent or sexually explicit by a group of wives of politicians, including Al Gore’s former wife, Tipper Gore.
He outlived his famed group, the Mothers of Invention, and went on to produce and direct experimental movies, while still touring regularly. He died in 1993 of inoperable prostate cancer. Great part of his work is still to be remastered and released on the latest digital technology.
Now we know why Don Van Vliet, the Captain Beefheart, was in such a hurry to depart this world, which he did less than a week ago: he certainly didn’t want to miss the jam session up in heavens celebrating his high school buddy’s 70th birthday.