Saturday, October 9, 2010

John Lennon: He Asked to Give Peace a Chance

Speaking about his future music on the day of his death: “I've always considered my work one piece and I consider that my work won't be finished until I am dead and buried and I hope that's a long, long time.” (RKO Radio, 1980)

He dreamed of world peace. He was an artist, poet and an outspoken voice of the hippie generation. He was an influential musician, a peace activist, an absent father and a devoted lover and husband. He abused alcohol  and drugs, sneered at normality, yet took time off from his rock and roll career to raise his son. But most of all, he was a Beatle. He was and still is - John Winston Lennon.

Born in Liverpool on October 9, 1940, John Lennon was shot to death on December 8, 1980 by a fanatical fan. The world mourned his death as millions grieved for the man who was the heart and soul of the world's best rock and roll band, the Beatles.

He had an unusual childhood, shuttled back and forth between his mother Julia and her sister Mimi. John eventually spent his formative years with his aunt Mimi and Uncle George and as Mimi recalls, "His mind was going the whole time, and it was either drawing, or writing poetry, or reading."

Yet, he was an unruly, stubborn and a disobedient, troubled youth. He failed at art school, yet swore to his aunt that "one of these days I'm going to be famous and you'll be sorry."

John had a premonition of things to come, as he knew he was a bit different than most people. As he looked back, he explained: "I always knew I was going to make it, but I wasn't sure in what manifestation. I knew it was just a matter of time."

There are many words to describe John Lennon. He called himself a leader, yet did some of his best work alone. He was an alleged wife beater, very outspoken, often putting out controversial quotes to the media; either to make a point or just to be outlandish. But when he spoke, people listened.

He was a partner with his boyhood friend, Paul McCartney and together they left a musical writing partnership and a legacy that are unequaled to this day and may never be. The Beatles, with their producer George Martin, changed music in dramatic fashion, with studio techniques that had never been attempted.

They pioneered the concept album with "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," which the editors of Rolling Stone magazine list as the greatest rock album of the rock era.

He had the attention of our government with his antiwar protests and at one point was under FBI investigation. He sang of love and peace and living in harmony, with all people coming together as one. There are some who called him a genius.  He could be nasty and meanspirited, yet at times was overly compassionate and loving.  He fought his demons and it seems he was winning, until December 8, 1980.

We can only recall his career, from the beginning, until the end and who doesn't know the story about the four lads from Liverpool. He was part of the group that changed rock and roll music history.

We can only wonder what John Lennon would be doing if he were alive today. How active would he be in promoting world peace? Would the Beatles have ever gotten back together?  Would he still be creating wonderfully crafted rock and roll songs?  All we can do is Imagine, and that is the shame of it all.

Michael Fremer Album Review

Have One on Me

Joanna Newsom

Drag City DC 390 3 LPs
Produced by: Joanna Newsom
Engineered by: TJ Doherty, Noah Georgeson, Ryan Francesconi, Dana Gumbiner, Neal Morg
Mixed by: Noah Georgeson, Jim O'Rourke
Mastered by: Steve Rooke at Abbey Road

Newsom Has A Lot To Say On This 3 LP Fairy Tale

by Michael Fremer
October 01, 2010


The precedent for this sprawling, personal three record set might be Joni Mitchell’s Blue but don’t expect to be humming the tunes as you head for the exits.

Newsom may turn you on, but she’s not a radio. This album of exquisitely orchestrated and expertly performed “Appalachian chamber rock” (my concocted term) consists of time-signature shifting, melodically twisty late afternoon vignettes that combine Newsom’s child-like voice and curiosity with very adult themes. The mood is consistent with the melancholy found in Appalachian music, though it incorporates more whimsy.

Playing piano and harp and backed by small string ensembles augmented with brass and woodwind, Newsom weaves a rich tapestry of complex melodic invention and a rich narrative that will take numerous plays to decipher and process—though don't be surprised if you never manage it.

Fortunately, the sumptuously produced box set includes a full sized booklet containing the lyrics—not that they will be all that helpful in figuring out their meaning.

The sprawling title track may sound like a rousing drinking song but it’s not quite that, though eventually it gets to the drink but not before it takes you on a long circuitous path filled with unknown characters referred to on a first name basis, some of whom are royalty.

The fairy tale-like song references spiders, guards, a spent relationship with someone she calls “daddy longlegs”and don’t ask me what most of it or any of it means but the strongly rendered images are both abstract and immediate.

“Miss Montez, the Countess of Lansfield,appealed to the King of Bavaria,saying, ‘Pretty papa, if you are my friend—mister daddy longlegs, they are at it again!—Can I see you?’Poor Lola! A tarantula’s mountingCountess Lansfeld’s Handsome brassiere, while they all cheer”

Got that?

Most of the images are of a bucolic nature and the songs set in a countryside long gone. Even when snippets begin to make sense and a story appears, they quickly dissolve into ambiguity.

The sad “Baby Birch” moves slowly and appears to be about child abandonment but it changes tempo, takes on a stronger rhythmic thrust and ends with the singer skinning a rabbit and saying to it “ ‘wherever you go, little runaway bunny, I will find you.’ And then she ran, as they’re liable to do.”

Say, what?

Some of the songs are more easily understood but the denseness of the lyrics combined with the melodic diffuseness makes for ambiguous, mysterious, and at first somewhat difficult listening.

The three record spread makes absorbing the set easier in that you can play a side and retire to something more familiar and then come back for another side or two.

Don’t get the wrong impression: the listening pleasure is inversely proportional to the comprehension difficulties, for this is a gorgeous sounding production. You’ll hardly believe your ears when you hear the exquisitely rendered instruments and the clarity and solidity of the images.

It will take but a few seconds for you to note the luxurious quality of the production; the transparency, textural purity and harmonic perfection of the instruments and the pristine vocal recording. The LP set was mastered by Steve Rooke at Abbey Road, probably DMM but I'm not sure where it was pressed. The pressing quality is excellent overall, but the handling was less than perfect and two of the three records were scuffed, though only one small one "played."

So while you may have difficulty with the lyrics and it will take some time for the melodic lines to develop, the gorgeous sound will immediately sweep you away as your mind works to process and untangle the dense layers of Ms. Newsom’s multi-layered, transformative music.

Save for Sufjan Stevens, I’m not sure any other young musician today combines the musical, compositional, lyrical abilities and the sonic sensitivities twenty eight year old Joanna Newsom has consistently shown on her three studio albums.

Her last one, Ys (see review on this site) was engineered by Steve Albini, mixed by Jim O’Rourke and arranged by Van Dyke Parks, so don’t think the production here is a fluke. She knows what she wants.

Newsom has been dating SNL regular Andy Samberg, so clearly she’s got a good sense of humor and probably enjoys “Dick in a box,” which if you haven’t seen you should!

Topping all of this off, she has incredible legs, which she shows more than a few times in this thankfully dick-less box.

Have One on Me gets the highest recommendation for music and sound.