Saturday, April 21, 2012

Re: "The dream is over"

While John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band is still fresh in our minds, I want to comment on a criticism of the album that comes from this Pitchfork review of the John Lennon Signature Box.

Here's the line in question: "The Achilles' heel of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band is that it's functionally very similar to the world's most privileged man having a tantrum."

Even if this was understood to be an overstatement, it's still too reductionist. I don't think it should matter what JL/POB resembles "functionally" when, on a substantive level, it's obvious that the album amounts to something much more significant than a tantrum. John didn't work himself into a frenzy over petty issues like media intrusion or greedy record executives. No, he was trying to exorcise some weighty demons and warn against what he saw as the false hope of religion and cultural totems (like The Beatles). Far from being the kind of trivialities that would add up to a tantrum, these were earnest, deeply personal matters - ones of pain, bitterness, and anger. Moreover, John was indeed "privileged" in terms of his talent, wealth and celebrity, but he was far less fortunate on more important counts. His well-known childhood abandonment issues left him pretty damaged. To allude to him as "privileged" obscures more than it illuminates. Finally, when discussing the severity of JL/POB, I think it's crucial to keep in mind the context of the album's release. It was John's first proper record after The Beatles' breakup. As a member of the Fab Four, he had often been forced to make creative compromises. This obviously didn't sit well with him; he was a needy, difficult and emotional individual with pent-up afflictions. Liberated from The Beatles, he was finally in a position to write songs on his own terms - songs that explored lifelong sources of fear and anger. Considering all of this, I think it best to give John the benefit of the doubt with respect to the album's excess of emotion. In fact, that excess was kind of the point.

No comments: