Barenaked Ladies

If you’re my age (which is 31 – I can no longer be trusted), you probably remember the Barenaked Ladies. They didn’t fit any profile of rock stars, and you weren’t really sure if they were a gimmick band, a serious band, or somewhere in between. They had a gargantuan smash hit with “One Week” in 1998, which I bopped along to the first 100 times I heard it, and was completely sick of the 101st (which was in the same week as the 1st). Seriously, this song was everywhere. Besides being on my CD player (I’m one of the 4 million who bought Stunt), it was all over the radio, in movies and commercials, and blaring in the convertible next to me and my sister at a stop light. We were blaring it too, by the way…

Despite no one having heard of them one week before “One Week” came out, they had actually been around for 6 years, debuting in their native Canada in 1992 with Gordon. It had only three standout tracks: “Brian Wilson,” “If I Had $1,000,000,” and “Be My Yoko Ono.” The third is about a guy who wants his girlfriend to follow him around everywhere he goes, and would even break up his band and give up rock and roll stardom just to be with her. The lyrics include a pun on Ono (”oh no!”) and Ed Robertson doing an amusingly accurate imitation of Yoko’s trill voice effect.

To delusional Beatles fanatics who just can’t admit the truth or let things go, Yoko Ono is responsible for breaking up the Beatles. She’s a demonic witch who cast a spell on John Lennon, making him quit the band, keeping his spirit and his penis in a box for her own purposes and crushing his soul, meanwhile crushing everyone else’s souls by depriving them of the greatest rock and roll band that ever lived. Yadda yadda yadda…

Here’s the juice. John found something with Yoko that was bigger than the Beatles: eros. That’s one of the Greek words for love – the passionate, sexual and romantic love humans feel for other humans. I don’t just mean a roll in the hay, to use a rather innocent term. While sex is definitely involved, that’s only part of it. What John and Yoko had, and what literally billions of other couples have, is a deep, abiding and eternal connection that surpasses words. That connection is physical, emotional and spiritual all at the same time, and it is the most important and momentous thing a person can have with another person. Eros, despite what those Yoko-hating fanatics will tell you, is bigger than the Beatles.

“Oh My Love” captures a large part of the essence of eros. It’s a very simple and sweet song, disarming in the way it floats down slowly on the listener. The song is pretty short, so it’s easy to miss its soft and uncomplicated loveliness. John says his “eyes can see” and his “mind can feel.” It talks about trees and sky and clouds and wind (Yoko has been trying forever as an artist to film the wind), and how John never really experienced any of them before he met Yoko. The simplicity of the beauty here takes my breath away.

Eros, when misused, can turn to zilia, or “jealousy” to us American folk. John experienced that, too, and talks about it in “Jealous Guy.” Though it’s probably addressed specifically to Yoko, it’s really an apology from anyone who’s hurt anyone else in the past. This is probably John’s most naked and honest song, more so than anything on Plastic Ono Band. The first verse lays completely bare in the simplest of terms the progression that ends with John’s destructive behavior. John was always given to jealousy, and it sometimes manifested in the most violent ways. But when he met Yoko, something changed in him; not just his behavior, but his mindset, which gives rise to behavior.

But the ultimate statement of love between the two comes in the form of the song “Oh Yoko!” The arrangement is stupidly simple. The song has five verses, yet only one word is changed from verse to verse, and the chorus is merely one phrase repeated. But by God, if this isn’t one of the prettiest, most touching and gosh-darned lovely songs in the entire world. John reveals here that he just a huge, lovesick puppy dog. If this doesn’t melt your heart into a gooey and flower-smelling puddle, you may as well move to Tibet and become a monk.

days after John’s death, Rolling Stone ran this cover without comment

In all honesty, John’s had a lot of bumps in the road. His volatile personality with the press, his statements about Jesus, his egocentric habits, and his lack of respect for the Queen of England are unfortunate, but those things all fade. The things that last are his enduring spirit of harmony, his dogged quest for mutuality and peace, and of course his eros.

Next: What’s the most epic record of all time?

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