Tuesday, February 10, 2009

'John Lennon: The Life'

I had high-hopes for Philip Norman's new Lennon bio. After all, he wrote what I consider the best of all the Beatle books, 'Shout'. And while 'John Lennon: The Life' is a damn good read, I'm afraid most of the material has been covered before.

I found myself most interested in the early and later parts. The middle bits (1964-1970) has been done to death, and there's little new in that department. But Norman does uncover some interesting post-Beatles stuff, some good background info on Yoko (she was interviewed for it), and does a great job painting a picture of Lennon's childhood and teen years.

As time passes, the early life of the Beatles in Liverpool becomes more fascinating to me. Norman's description of early-fifties Britain makes one realize how the world has changed so very much. The Beatles grew up in a world where music was only heard on old-fashioned cranked turntables or on the radio (with one BBC channel) in the families home. No piped in music in shops, airports and waiting rooms. No portable devices. Television was non-existent.

Guitars, pianos and drums were a luxury. Lennon eventually picked up the harmonica, and started to make his own kind of music.

By comparison, my childhood (only ten years later in Portland) was filled with music. Everyone had records and record players and numerous radios, including portable transistor ones. There were a couple of rock 'n roll stations, four or five television channels, and if one was inclined, easy access to musical instruments.

But again, by comparison, the world today, thanks to the technology boom, makes Portland circa 1966 seem primitive.

I often wonder if the lack of music I find interesting is due to my age or to the fact that my nerve endings have been so honed down by over exposure to anything I fancy, nothing new seems all that special.

And what about the creative process itself? New music seems to be just variations of things that came before. Instead of being inspired by the music in their heads, are songwriters simply inspired by the music all around them? And in a world where you don't have to listen to anything you don't instantly enjoy, has their exposure to different types of music actually been hampered?

It could also be the fact that pop music (or pop culture in general) is spent. Sure, there's still good stuff out there, but face it. After punk rock and it's off-shot 'grunge', there hasn't been anything worth getting excited about.

Personally, I like the first theory better. That most of the great rock 'n rollers came from a era where you really treasured that new record and spent hours figuring out a song on the guitar. That being said, our only hope for a new phase in pop music will come from some dirty, little known city, from somebody without Internet access and a cheap broken down guitar. Just like Lennon in Liverpool.


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