John Lennon: Still The Stuff We Itch For

By Leo Sadorf

Brer Pig didn’t post anything for Lennon’s birthday. Instead, he handed the job to me.  I turn to Jinx and the damn cat goes off chasing one of those invisible somethings that only cats see.  Thanks, buddy. I guess the Pondering Pig will be posting this a day late.

John and I grew up together, albeit thousands of miles and a good part of a generation apart. Me in the Eisenhower midwest of the late ‘50’s and 60’s and him in the bombing raids on Liverpool in the early ‘40s. Yeah, me and John had a lot in common.

Lots of us loved John, but probably an equal number were pushed away or pissed by him. Love and hate are, after all, the same coin.  John’s mission, if you will, was to rile people and enliven their responses. He probably craved acceptance as much or maybe more than we do. But he saw that he was gonna piss off everyone eventually and he accepted that, pushing forward in spite of how much it may have hurt.

John succeeded and screwed up. He laughed and cried and screamed. He made millions that didn’t matter, imagining a larger cause than popularity.  Or did he?  What I’m more concerned with is the way he felt and the ways we’ve felt as a result.  Sometimes it seems like we live in soulless times.  But, yeah, so did John.  A quick listen to a scratchy vinyl “Working Class Hero” confirmed that quickly with the words, “But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see.” Yeah, go Johnnie.

John wasn’t in the friend making business, I guess.

So, why do we listen to the guy? I guess because he touches us. Even dead, he speaks of stuff we itch for or struggle to come to grips with or spit out completely.  Man, I listen to John and I hear love and hate and pathos and tragedy and cynicism and anger and fear.

But through it all, I still hear love.  Love for that one illusive girl, love for his kids, love for Yoko, even a frustrated love for his former bandmates at times. The man stomped on the terra, that’s for sure.

In 1978, I met a guy named Nick Topping.  He was a Milwaukee promoter/entrepreneur/shopkeeper. Old Nick was the guy that brought the Beatles to Milwaukee, September 4, 1964.   That was a new kind of gig for Nick. He was usually promoting the likes of Cisco Houston or Odetta or Pete Seeger. The Beatles show was definitely a stretch.

Nick had a weird sort of menagerie of a shop, selling goat cheese, imported wines and Weaver albums, pushing Socialist causes, open housing and antiwar organizations.  One day, my pal Larry and I wandered into his shop looking for stories and Nick had ‘em. He told us about the show and how, when it was over, he spent some time with the boys, especially John.  Seems John was particularly gregarious that evening and he and Nick emptied a bottle of Ouzo together. 

Nick remembered a sad but still laughing Lennon who was concerned that the people liked the show. Nick said the boy was looking for acceptance and love, that he was tender and ornery at the same time.  Nick thought he was, at 24, “the oldest young man I’d ever met.” It was a short time he and John had together, but John touched him none the less.

Lennon lived, that’s for certain. He beat a path on his own terms and succeeded and suffered for it at the same time. I hope someday I can say the same.

“War is over, if you want it. War is over now.”

I Remember Love

Did you ever look at an old rock poster and wonder who the acts advertised actually were?  Like this one for instance…

Some ugly looking poster, huh?  Actually it’s a handbill, but that’s no excuse.

Love.  Rock scholars and sixties people will recognize the name right away. They were from LA, came up to San Francisco from time to time to try to break into our In Crowd,  and finally went on to rock and roll glory with their 1967 album, Forever Changes. It’s a great album. In fact, it’s the best of all the American takes on Sergeant Pepper, and possibly the only successful take ever (The Rolling Stones’ shot at it, Their Satanic Majesty’s Request was grim- their biggest mistake of the sixties).  But Forever Changes is pretty damn good.  I listened to it regularly until my turntable gave up and I gave all my LPs away – oh whadda fool!

Even their early single, My Little Red Book, deserves a three-decker rock and roll cake.  It blasted pure rock and roll fervor at a time when the music was getting just a little too flabby for my taste.   I downloaded the song from Itunes just now to check and, yes, it’s still drives like a 1966 Batmobile.   But in 1966 to my piggy ears they were just another okay band from LA.  Let them entertain us if they choose, but never shall they be invited into our superior society, he sniffed with snout held high.

At the time of this concert, Love’s first album was in the stores.  It was regularly seen in Haight-Ashbury collections because, unlike the  the Jefferson Airplane’s boring first album was and the Grateful Dead’s first outing – which, not to put too fine a point on it, stunk, Love’s first wasn’t half bad.

But who in heck was Everpresent Fullness?  Therein lies a story…

Next: The Pig’s Sad Story

For Bobby Kennedy On His Death Day

Desist from whatever you are doing and go to my friend Hector Diego’s music blog site The Walrus Speaks. There listen to what is possibly the most moving pop song yet written about the death of princes – Abraham, Martin and John, recorded in 1968 by Dion, of all people. It’s about Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, John and Bobby Kennedy.  They rose to glory long ago and Dion rose to glory on this song about them.

My Favorite Song

I never would have guessed.

I usually have Itunes playing in the background while I write, and I just happened to click on a link I haven’t checked in a long time, “Top 25 Most Played”.

It turns out My Number One Unimpeachable Strictly Based on the Data Favorite Song is…

All My Life. By S. Mitchell and S.H. Stept.

It’s Ella. She recorded it as quite a young thing. In 1935. With Teddy Wilson. Apparently, it’s the one song I can’t get along without and I keep putting it back in the queue.

If you are questioning the Pig’s musical taste, it’s available at Itunes for .99. Or sample it for free. But try not to accidentally download the version by Echo and The Bunnymen. I think it’s a different song.

A Letter To Joan Baez

 

Hey Joan, DCF 1.0
I was up in Cambridge, Massachusetts the other day and I thought you might like to see what the coffee house where you got your start looks like today. Somebody else owns it now and they had a power outage so the guys from the electric company were going in and out and the bar was closed for the day. My Patrushka went up to them in her bold manner and asked, "Hey, is this the place where Joan Baez got her start?" The power company guys didn’t blink: yeah, of course. Everybody knows that. The whole world on Mount Auburn Street knows that. And, they went on, at this very moment back in 1959 she is in there sitting on a high stool with the spotlight shining on her gleaming raven hair and her pure voice soaring into the farthest galaxy.

I figure I owe you something for all those hours you thrilled my soul with that voice that could soar out of the range of the human ear. That voice that vibrates with all the sorrow and joy of life without ever losing its pure tone. Wow! Our Joanie!

Did I ever tell you your version of Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 is one of the musical high points of my century? I can’t listen to it often because my whole life comes to a thudding halt while I stand petrified in wonder. Its been like that since 1965 when I first heard you sing it in, I think, Steve Poe’s room on Baker Street in San Francisco. In my canon of joy, it’s up there with Renata Tebaldi’s duet with Carlo Bergonzi singing Si, Mi chiamano, Mimi in their 1950s recording of La Boheme. The pure essence of beauty, where joy approaches the sorrow of life and they shake hands and call off their enmity for the length of the song.

I just thank God for giving you such a pure and beautiful voice for our joy. What a benevolent God we have. I hope you enjoy your picture.