Friday, 21 December 2012

So This is Christmas...

So observed the world's most poetic man in the opening bar of his 1972 hit 'Merry Christmas (War is Over)'; 'and what have you done?' he continued, pushing his spectacles a little further up the bridge of his nose to regard us with saintly but nonetheless tested patience, doing that thing done by people with scarves and clipboards when they suggest you think it's okay for South African kittens to make the ivory for your bagpipes in some Korean factory on a wage of one pence a year? You think that's good, do you? You're okay with that sort of thing, are you? You probably think if anything those ivory producing South African kittens are overpaid and should work harder, don't you?

This was how it always sounded to me when the song came on the radio where I used to work; and from the end of September onwards it would be played on Capitol Gold roughly every twenty minutes, alternating with 'I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day,' - which I really didn't - 'Wonderful Christmastime', - which as a point of interest was something I simply wasn't having - and Mud's informative 'It'll be Christmas this Christmas'. Three months of this would have been bad enough in itself even without an increasingly heavy workload running up to the reputedly happiest day of year. Thus, living in England as I was, for roughly two decades the true meaning of my Christmas was six weeks of back breaking toil in the freezing cold, leaving for work and returning home in the dark, and with John Lennon repeatedly sneering at me to a daily schedule. It was cheerless and I often found it difficult to get into the spirit of things, if you can imagine that.

Ironically, or at least ironically in the sense understood by Alanis Morissette, my relationship with Lennon began in earnest one mid-seventies Christmas when Santa brought me the Magical Mystery Tour album by Beatles band. I seem to recall the songs of Beatles band being de rigueur incidental music for all sorts of television documentaries prior to about 1976, and have a vague memory of becoming fixated on that weird plinky-plonky piano around that time. As a rustic youth I was fascinated by the album, virtually playing it into a flexidisc, and spending hours copying out drawings from the booklet. Then I blew a big wad of pocket money on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack because the film had been on the box; and then at some point in 1977, embarked upon my first ever record buying spree, two albums in one go - Rubber Soul and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band; and there it sort of ended.

I wasn't really interested in music by anyone other than Beatles band, or at least nothing I heard on Radio One or Top of the Pops to the point of wanting to buy it; and I'd listen to those four albums over and over, just as my friend Sean and I had once listened to his Wombles album over and over; and I'd look at the vinyl records that might be ordered from my mother's Marshall Ward catalogue and wonder what was meant by Plastic Ono Band, how it figured in Beatles band continuity, and whether I would ever get to hear its undoubtedly amazing music.

Then in 1979 Graham Pierce lent me the first Devo album, and once the initial shock had passed, I realised that everything I'd ever known was false, and that there was more to life than Beatles band.

Many years later, I purchased other Beatles band albums, mainly because that was the only vinyl left in the short lived East Dulwich record store and I was still holding out against CDs; and although Beatles Band for Sale and Help! sounded surprisingly fresh, I'd peaked too soon with their music and had already heard far too much, and regardless of doubtless sterling quality, the magic had all been squeezed out long before. Beatles band being the only group I really could have been said to discover before I turned ten, their appeal was not far removed from that of the Wombles, the Banana Splits, or any other neatly modular gang of primary coloured personalities. They each had their own distinct powers and costumes. You could collect the set, not like with other groups, those Rolling Stones or whoever - Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Charlie Watts, but after that who knows? The French guy who married a four-year old girl, the one who looked like Rod Stewart, the window cleaner from those Confessions films...

My mother was never a fan. She grew up in Liverpool during the Merseybeat era, and her best friend at school ended up marrying Paul McCartney's brother. Beatles band were just four teenagers she saw knocking around from time to time. She favoured the classics, maybe some of that Bob Dylan in a pinch. My dad didn't grow up in Liverpool, but in any case always preferred the Rolling Stones, regarding Beatles band in much the same way as everyone regarded Johnny Hates Jazz during the eighties - excepting possibly the  members and immediate family of Johnny Hates Jazz.

By 1980 I was in my fourth year of high school and had got into the habit of listening to the music I still listen to now. I'd heard enough Beatles band to cheerfully embrace the truisms that for all their fine qualities, there was a lot of other stuff I liked more, and Ringo Starr was ironically the only one of them to have enjoyed a solo career involving tunes. The return of John Lennon with Double Fantasy barely registered on my radar, although I recall taping a lengthy interview from the wireless, John and Yoko telling us why they had come out of retirement, dispensing their views upon punk rock and all that other stuff I was listening to, reflections upon shifts in the musical landscape since they last showed heads above the parapet.

The punk rockers, John told us, were nothing new, really just like Beatles band had been back when they used to play Hamburg. 'We could do that if we wanted to,' he said. 'We would find it easy.'

'We could be freakier than the freaks,' Yoko added, and at that point I realised that neither of them were likely to say anything of interest or relevance ever again.

Some months later, John Lennon was shot by Mark Chapman. It was sad, a bit of a moment, but more than anything it only struck me as strange. People died all the time, and here it was happening to someone whose records I had enjoyed. At school, Jason Roberts - the token self-proclaimed free spirit, a kid who probably knew who Jeff Beck was and had even seen some of his films - wore the haunted face later popularised by John Kerry and Eeyored on about how nothing mattered any more. He's dead, Jason told us in a way which made it clear there was only one person to whom he could have been referring. He may also have addressed me as man during this lament.

I exchanged a glance with Graham who had introduced me to Devo and we both shrugged.

As time has passed I have grown increasingly mystified by the posthumous Deification of the Liverpudlian who died for our sins. He was an adequate songwriter and musician, author of the occasional amusing observation, but probably not a great person. I'm sure all those Jewish fag remarks levelled at Brian Epstein were hilarious if you were there and joining in with the jolly thrust of homophobic japery, and none of us reading this were married to Cynthia so who knows - maybe we too would have found it necessary to punch her in the face from time to time?

Can any of us really say how others should run their lives?

John Lennon at least had a few ideas in this direction, asking that we might consider what it would be like to live without possessions, religion, punching women in the face and so on. I can imagine at least two of those things, but I don't think this really justifies Lennon having become a posthumous human motivational poster. He wrote some reasonable songs, and some which were pretty poor, but ultimately he was a musician, and excepting Henry Rollins and members of Devo, musicians are, for the most part, morons. If you're unsure as to the correct way to sit upon a toilet, don't bother asking a musician. That's not what they're for. Their job is to sing their little songs and then piss off so that grown-ups can talk. Pontification delivered by a musician will, nine times out of ten, comprise anecdotes about sexual intercourse, flying saucers, Atlantis, recreational drugs, drivel that will only ever be of interest to other musicians, and about as much use to anyone else as the Richard Dawkins heavy metal album.

John Lennon was a musician in every sense of the word, neither saint, nor a great orator, timeless wit, nor revolutionary; so can we please stop banging on about Beatles band now?

Enough is enough.


  1. Funnily enough, I thought much the same as you about not wishing it was Cristemass every day on Friday last week, as I traipsed 'round shops for hours on end, trying to think what on earth my familials could possibly want/need, and whether a copy of the Analects wouldn't do in place of something thought through.

    Pretty sure the general opinion of Ron Nasty in the People's Democratic Republic of Merseyside in the 1960s was none too positive, in particular in relation to his abusive approach to girlfriends.

    Hope you've been having a moderately excellent Christmastide.


  2. This one entailed a close family member having a heart attack and requiring quadruple bypass surgery. Thankfully she's now doing fine, but at the risk of reducing something extremely serious to a Douglas Adams zinger, it somehow seems typical of this time of year. Aside from that everything was good, although I'm still glad it's over and done with.

  3. Sorry to hear about the heart attack, be assured of my prayers.

    My own Christmas was mercifully free of heart attacks, but I nevertheless know what you mean about it being over. The newfound quiet is blissful.