Friday Night with Guitar George: John Lennon

Yesterday was John Lennon’s birthday.  He would have been 74 years old had he not been gunned down by a madman on December 8, 1980.

This eight minute video was taken in a San Francisco hotel room in 1972.  The video is actually a patchwork: there was obviously more than one camera in the room, and somebody later spliced together sections of each of them to create this flawed but mostly continuous sequence.  Yoko is holding a microphone, but don’t worry—she does very little singing and none of the “primal scream therapy” that may have been effective therapy for her and for John, but difficult for the rest of us to listen to.

That being said, let me play devil’s advocate for a minute.  A lot of animosity and blame is directed at Yoko, but most of it is unjustified.  Regardless of what we think about Yoko Ono, John Lennon absolutely adored her.  He was in a major funk when he met her and she gave him a new lease on life.  We practically worship John Lennon; we put him up there on music’s Mount Rushmore and laud him as a hero, so it is a bit contradictory to dismiss Yoko’s contributions—in whatever strange forms they took—to Lennon’s body of work.  Her most important contribution is not preserved on vinyl or on film: it is what she did to help John free himself from the shackles of being a superstar, of being a Beatle, of being that John Lennon, so that his artistic creativity could have room to breathe again.  Without Yoko Ono we have no “Imagine.”

Most of this video is of John strumming and singing old blues and rock songs—the kind of stuff the Beatles played before they were The Beatles.  John Lennon was a major architect of some of music’s most ambitious, elaborate, groundbreaking and revolutionary material, yet underneath all that was a humble and earnest desire to play these simple old tunes.  See the June 27 episode of FNWGG for John’s famous “chairs” analogy.

I won’t vilify you if you don’t avail yourself of all eight minutes of this, but don’t deny yourself the pleasure of at least checking out 4:21 to 5:55 with John playing “Rock Island Line”, an old blues standard first recorded in 1934.

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