Working class hero
One of the Dark Days of December is the 8th. On that day, 30 years ago, a mixed up, messed up superkook shot and killed John Lennon.
For me, the assassination of John was one of those handful of events where I clearly remember where and what I was doing when I heard the news. I was home on that night in 1980, and, like millions of Americans, I got the word from none other than Howard Cosell, who told us while calling the Monday Night Football game. The reaction in our house wasn’t tears or wailing or anything like that. It was more of a stunned “you gotta be kidding me.”
And so I’ve been listening lately to Lennon’s first solo album, called the Plastic Ono Band, which came out in ’70. It remains, 40 years later, a stark, dramatic, and truly powerful piece of work, an album that’s just as essential to a music collection as any made by his previous quartet. Here was a man who, upon wriggling free of his band, had something to say. And man, did he say it.
He grappled with the pain of his childhood on “Mother,” the gut-wrenching opening track. “Mother, you had me, but I never had you. Oh, I wanted you, but you didn’t want me.”
He fired up searing blasts against religion, which, back in 1970, was jaw-dropping stuff. It still is. “There ain’t no Jesus comin’ down from the sky, now that I found out, I know I can cry.” (“I Found Out”)
He didn’t cut us, the adoring fans still pie-eyed with Beatlemania, any slack whatsoever. “Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV, and you think you’re so clever and classless and free. But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see.” (“Working Class Hero”)
He dared to declare, as only he could, that the ’60s were history, and it was time to move on. “I was the Walrus, but now I’m John. And so dear friends, you just have to carry on. The dream is over.” (“God”)
Stoned apathy wasn’t happening in John’s new world. Political activism was. “Let us fight for people’s rights, let us fight for freedom, let us fight for Mickey Mouse, let us fight for freakdom.” (“Do the Oz”)
It wasn’t all angst and anger. Also in the mix were tender paeans of love to his partner, Yoko. But basically, the guy was saying, “OK, we had a nice little trip with all of our tangerine dreams and marmalade skies and goofy outfits and giggling mystics. Now let’s cut the crap and get down to business. We got us a planet to fix up.”
When you’ve had it up to here this month with chesting roastnuts and red-nosed drummer boys, slap this sucker on and see how it feels. It would be a fitting way to honor the dreary anniversary of his death. And Merry Grimble, as he used to irreverently pun on the Fab Four’s first holiday single.