Thursday, April 2, 2015

When I Get Home

Cynthia Lennon: September 10, 1939-April 1, 2015
Richard Furnstein: We lost another one, dear friend. Cynthia Lennon is the latest guest speaker at that Great Beatles Convention In The Sky. Look at that all star panel on the stage: the peaceful John Lennon, the gregarious George Harrison, the noble Mal Evans, the solemn Billy Preston, the monkish Brian Epstein, the jubilant Maureen Starkey, and the emotional Derek Taylor. Golly, there are only a few empty chairs up there now.

Cynthia was always a sad figure in the story of the Beatles. She was a hidden and forgotten part of the Beatles; a too-old-for-her-years figure pining for a fractured man child who would never love or accept the responsibilities and normalcy that she represented. Her big moments speak to betrayal and mistreatment: being hidden from the screaming teenagers to encourage their fantasies of bedding John; bearing and raising the ignored Julian Lennon while her husband toured the world and slept with endless women: refusing the romantic advances of Magic Alex; missing that train to Bangor to meet both the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Mike Love; and--the final indignity--walking in on John and Yoko together in her Kenwood home.

Robert Bunter: John Lennon was a goddamn asshole. I'm sorry but these are the facts. "Give Peace A Chance" notwithstanding, he was basically a selfish pig and nowhere is that stark reality more apparent than in the life of Cynthia Lennon. Practically the first thing she did after they met was to dye her hair blonde to look more like the sticky, creased portrait of Brigitte Bardot that John carried around in the pocket of his black drannies (drainpipe trousers, a stupid pants style favored by young British rockabilly jerkoffs in the '50s). The relationship quickly became physical, and selfish John cared only about his personal dick stimulation - no primitive UK sheepskin for this drunken Scouse greasepail! So inevitably she becomes pregnant and only then does John ask her to get married. Justice of the Peace or some shit and a drugged up Brian Epstein was the best man with some construction work happening outside (captured in one of Cynthia's great drawings). Oh yeah right Cynthia, it looks like your dreamboat has really docked this time. Get the hell out of here. Next thing you know he's famous and you've already said what happened after that. Oh, one more thing - he beat her.

Richard Furnstein: Exhibit Whatever: stink filler "When I Get Home" from the non-soundtrack side of A Hard Day's Night. In this song, a drunk and violent John finally comes home from a tour of rock n' roll clubs and other moist areas of Portugal. You can almost hear him barge into their lovely Kenwood house, drunk as a fire ant and full of fresh drip infection. Just listen to that primal scream in the introduction, it pretty much shouts out to be let into the damned-door-because-I-lost-my-keys-where-are-my-Buddy-Holly-records-where-is-the-Cutty-Sark-ferchrissake-Cyn. Sure, John has a lot of things to tell her when he gets home, but it's either drunken ramblings about Ringo's flatulence or the amphetamine selection in Lisbon. "Julian has a double ear infection? [Fart noise.] C'mere, I'm 'gonna love you til the cows come home.'" What a disgusting scene. It's all there on the record, Your Honor.

Cynthia wasn't a Jungian archetype, an Oedipal mother figure or a conniving shrew. She was a real person who the real John Lennon fell in love with before he became "John Lennon."
Robert Bunter: Ha, this is the second post in a row where you've talked about how smelly John Lennon was. We can only imagine what he smells like now. But let's back up for a moment and take an objective look at "When I Get Home." This is a pure rock and roll monster. Even by the standards of early Beatles stompers, this track is a revelation. I feel as though I'm hearing it for the first time. John, George and Paul use their trademark three-part harmony on the intense "WO-a-WO HAAAAA!!!!" intro while Ringo beats the shit of of his drums even more than usual and Paul plays a thunderous bassline that almost never strays from the primal root note of every chord. Then you've got John's lead vocal: one of the twentieth century's most compelling voices unleashes a brutal assault that is every bit as heavy as what he would later attempt on "Revolution" or "Cold Turkey." The fact that this was a third-to-last-song-on-side-two throwaway track on an LP filled with much more significant achievements is frankly mind-boggling.

Richard Furnstein: The band really conveys the excitement of a homecoming. Sure, it's got some awful bits (John's Italian-man vocal inflections early in the song, the line "no time for trivialities," and the clunky middle eight), but the the fire behind the vocals and Ringo's good nature enthusiasm are easy to love. Question for you, Robert: is this the most sentimental Cynthia-influenced song in the canon? The most apparent Cynthia references are largely negative or dismissive. John is bored out of skull with domestic life in "Good Morning Good Morning." "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" is more about Brian Epstein's homosexuality than his denial of his marriage in the early years. "Don't Let Me Down" features that cruel line about being in love for the first time with Yoko. I can't place any sweetheart songs about Cynthia. His early songs are mainly about weeping or coming up with revenge fantasies about the women who mistreated him.

Robert Bunter: I think that's kind of the point. Cynthia wasn't a Jungian archetype, an Oedipal mother figure or a conniving shrew. She was a real person who the real John Lennon fell in love with before he became "John Lennon." When John sang to Cynthia it wasn't from the stage of a baseball stadium or an AM radio speaker. The tender whispers of a young couple before turning out the light; the desperate scribbled vulnerability of letters mailed home from some dank provincial beer hall; the simple touch in a solitary moment or the knowing smile across a crowded room - these were the songs John sang to Cynthia Lennon. As John came to mean more and more to the world at large, perhaps he lost touch with this. He turned himself inside out for all the world to see and we stood in stunned admiration at the candid beauty of his exposed soul and thanked him for the gift. But before he was ours, he was hers. The nowhere man sitting in his nowhere land making all his nowhere plans for nobody while his flesh-and-blood wife and son waited patiently for him to come out of the goddamn TV room and say something to them for a change. Let us consider with humble gratitude that Cynthia was able to emerge from her troubled relationship with John and build a long and happy life for herself, and bid her beautiful spirit a fond farewell. We never really knew her, and that is as it should be.

Friday, March 27, 2015


Richard Furnstein: Listen, we can't move ahead with our scheduled post: a tepid run down of the Gerry Goffin/Carole King song "Chains" from Please Please Me. I'm sorry, I know there is a strict schedule to these posts, developed through extensive research into maximizing the viral marketing potential of this blog. I also know that we could go on for hours about the Beatboys' rendition of that classic Cookies track. Sometimes you have to say "bugger the system" and push forward for what is right. It's time that we told our devoted readers about the Yoko Ono/John Lennon Two Virgins album. Sure, you've probably heard about the album--and the controversial body explorations of the front and back sleeves--but never dug into the hairy and uncircumsized music contained on this release. I'm sure you get the general idea: prototypical junkie bedroom explorations, including rudimentary freakout guitar tracks, crumbling barroom piano, guttural whispers, sparse snippets of Lennon's tense and mocking conversational tones, and denatured organ play. Remind you of a little of "Revolution 9"? Well, by golly, it should! While "Revolution 9" used a complex and terrifying mesh of source material to soundtrack the madness of Beatle/human life in 1968, Two Virgins is a more intimate affair documenting the start of a love affair between two married people. The revolution inside.  Yoko and John circle each other in a junkie mating dance; the old push-and-pull in a white bedroom. Unfolding wings and encircling prey. Yoko pushes the frantic fly range of her instrument while John tries on some new stuffy British businessman voices. It's positively titillating!

Robert Bunter: For readers who may not be up on the story so far: it’s 1968 and John is a wreck. Japanese avant-garde artist Yoko Ono has been on the periphery of his scene for quite a while, and they corresponded by mail while he was over in India meditating with the Maharishi. One day he takes a bunch of drugs at home with his longtime buddy Pete Shotton (his wife and young son were presumably elsewhere). According to Shotton, John started uncontrollably rotating his arms in a slow dual propeller motion while alternating between hideous laughter and uncontrollable sobbing. Every time Pete asked him what was wrong, he denied that there was any problem, which must have been unintentionally hilarious. Finally, he came to the realization that he was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. That seemed to calm him down and he spent the rest of the night babbling about it. The next day, surprisingly, he was still on the same track. He called an emergency Beatle meeting at Apple (highly uncharacteristic for John) and told the rest of the boys the news. They reacted with cartoonish, exaggerated “Oh wow, look at the time!” gestures while pointing at their watches and hastily exiting the meeting room for some lunch. By now he was pretty despondent, on a heavy bummer. He decides to invite Yoko over that night. They take more drugs and stay up all night playing with his tape recorders and primitive sound manipulation equipment – creaky Mellotron, vintage Binson tape-delay Echoplex unit, microphones with curly telephone-style cords attached, a radio and a couple record players. When the sun came up, they made love. Those tapes became the “Two Virgins” LP.

It certainly doesn't smell like a rich person's house in here!
Richard Furnstein: Of course, you're right. Here's the big question: is there more to this album than the story of two married weirdos falling in love? We've all heard stories about how couples first got together. Typical relationship origins stories are more about three dollar you-call-its at a dank bar or meeting that special someone in a co-worker's depressing kitchen than Echoplexplorations fueled by high grade heroin. These stories are nothing more than ice breakers at awkward dinner parties. Sure, this union had a tremendous impact on Lennon's creative output and the group's increasingly splintered identity, but do we really need this memento of this landmark event? Is this just an excuse to stare at the deflated genitals of famous people? What the hell am I doing listening to this, Bunter? Help me out.

Robert Bunter: Well, I think it was Lennon’s way of childishly thumbing his nose at the world. He regarded the general public with barely-concealed contempt, despite his popular image as a peaceful dreamer. The product of a childhood shattered by parental abandonment and a young adulthood filled with screaming lunatics, worshipful adulation and powerful drugs, circa-’68 Lennon was like a screeching monkey in a gilded cage, exposing himself and violently slinging excrement at the terrified masses. Taking up with Yoko and releasing an album with a shocking sleeve and incomprehensible contents was his attempt to express the nauseous revulsion he felt for his audience. He tried to offer a lot of different rationalizations for this ugly side of himself – it was variously passed off as highbrow avant-garde art (Two Virgins), primal psychiatric therapy (Plastic Ono Band), raw hairy rock (Live Peace In Toronto, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”), political activism (“Give Peace A Chance” and the Bed-Ins), personal journalism (“Ballad Of John & Yoko”) or radical revolutionary rabble-rousing (Some Time In New York City) – but underneath it all you’ve got the stinky tantrums of a messed-up baby crying for attention. A long-haired, bearded feral baby with a huge ego, millions of dollars, piles of drugs and the attention of the entire world.

Richard Furnstein: It's the ultimate desperate play for attention. This junkie shell invites the world in to sift through the audio reminders of his first date with Ono. There's no way you would turn away an invitation for an intimate view of a millionaire genius. Once inside, however, you get a better understanding of the sadness in Lennon's life. The tape plays much more than just the audio-fartistry. The stink of the session wafts out of the speakers: stale incense, body odor, rotting fruit, and hashish laced cigarettes. It certainly doesn't smell like a rich person's house in here! The paper bag texture of the outer sleeve doesn't just hide the scandalous cover photo, it serves as a mocking reminder that this impossible album is a commodity. Nothing more than a can of fruit cocktail or some mousetraps from the corner store. Use once and destroy. The outer shell mocks the consumer from the record shelf. Enjoy the tuneless whistling, warped piano fondlings,and overexposed celebrity genitalia, Beatlemaniac. Is this what you wanted?

Robert Bunter: I need a sick bag. I'm going to be sick.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Every Little Thing

Robert Bunter: This song (from 1964’s Beatles For Sale LP) sits solidly among the late early period (or the early middle period). The acoustic textures, chiming 12-string guitars and harmonic maturity point the way ahead to Help! and Rubber Soul, but the simplistic boy-girl lyrics seem to be a relic of an earlier time. This is one of those songs where I can’t quite tell who was the primary songwriter, and I’m not going to cheat by looking it up. John and Paul blend their voices in practiced unison on the verses, although Lennon seems to dominate. In the chorus it’s the opposite, with Paul’s high harmony in the foreground. The absence of barbed lyrical wordplay and edgy expressions of hurt and anger lead me to believe it was Paul. What do you think Richard? Am I right?

Richard Furnstein: You are deep in the groove in this one, old friend. It was written by Paul but sung by John. This bit of rock and roll masquerade fits nicely next to Ringo's "Honey Don't" on Beatles For Sale; the Carl Perkins song used to be sung by John back in the rock and roll toilet days. I hear "Every Little Thing" as the last Beatles tribute to the American girl group sound that dominated the first two albums. That's why I think Lennon is the perfect lead on this track; he absolutely captured the angst and fury of the girl groups in their early repertoire. "Every Little Thing" is definitely one of those minor but pleasant transition numbers for the group. Imagine "Every Little Thing," "You Like Me Too Much," "It's Only Love," and "Tell Me What You See" comprising an extended play in early 1965. These songs find the band stretching out ever so slightly. They just lack the inspiration and pharmaceuticals to blast off to the next level.
Throw a Lennon wheezing harmonica over the instrumental breaks and I'd be in heaven!

Robert Bunter: I will imagine it. [pause] Wow! What a terrific EP! The prospect of hypothetical should-have-been Beatle records from this period is intoxicating. Of course, they did what they did and it stands perfectly as it is, but if they’d taken just a few different steps, we might have had even more and better discs to cherish. How about this scenario: John explores his nascent interest in downhearted Dylan-influenced folk rock on a solo LP. Meanwhile, the boring ‘50s rock and roll crap on Beatles For Sale gets shunted off to an EP, to accompany the early ’65 just-starting-to-spread-their-wings EP you described above. So where does that leave Beatles For Sale? I’ll tell you where: with another dozen bracing, innovative rockers like “I Feel Fine” (released alongside Beatles For Sale as a standalone single backed with “She’s A Woman.”) Here are the titles: “Without Love,” “Think About It,” “Take A Number,” “You’ll Always Know,” “After Someone,” “Call To Her,” “Until Another Time,” “Suit Yourself,” “Your Love Is Still Here,” “Look Out My Door,” “Every Letter” and an uninspired 12-bar-blues instrumental called “Squeaky.” Beatles For Sale? I’M BUYING.

Richard Furnstein: What a pants-shifter of a dream, my dear pal. Your album of mid-period mediocrity would have surely been a huge hit with the power pop universe of grown men in ill fitting dungarees singing vague songs about teenagers in love. Imagine if Matthew Sweet or the jugband cretins in Brinsley Schwarz grabbed hold of another cache of indifferent 1964 Beatles songs. It's easy to think about the "what if" scenarios in the Beatles For Sale/Help! era as the exhausted band was trying to find the next big thing while legions of Americans with shaggy haircuts and Rickenbackers were approaching their throne. Beatles For Sale is a little unsettling because the band isn't quite sure how to set themselves apart, both in terms of songwriting and the sonic touches. The mopey-Lennon-does-Dylan direction has promise but little box office appeal. Beatles For Sale was definitely rushed for Christmas delivery, so even the production innovations and mood swings from A Hard Day's Night are largely absent. "Every Little Thing" has more of a spark than most of the songs on this set, but it suffers from a drag on the verses, dopey lyrics, and stale 12 string touches. I'd love to hear a version of this with a bit more of the With The Beatles amphetamine flexing. Criminy, throw a Lennon wheezing harmonica over the instrumental breaks and I'd be in heaven!

Robert Bunter: Yeah, but these are all just so many pennywhistles and monkeydreams. Let’s keep our feet on the ground in the real world and deal squarely with the plain facts: Beatles For Sale served up a relatively lean meal and left listeners wishing for more. It’s a nice album to discover tucked in the back of the cupboard after you’ve gorged yourself sick on the more immediately appealing platters, but when push comes to shove you’re left sitting there with an empty bowl and some crumbs stuck on your face.

Richard Furnstein: Welcome to my lifestyle, mon frere.