Tag Archive: Plastic Ono Band


Primal Scream

The Beatles died their first death in September of 1969 when John Lennon finally quit the band, but nobody knew it outside their tight circle. They were still on the airwaves with new music, since their final album Abbey Road was released that same month. John, at the behest of the other Beatles, had agreed to keep it a secret and not announce his departure publicly. In the meantime, John released “Give Peace a Chance” and “Cold Turkey” under the moniker Plastic Ono Band.

As late as April of 1970, the world was laboring under the delusion that the Beatles were still together, safe in the comfort that all was as it should be, despite the lack of a single release in 6 months. John had kept silent like he promised, but then Paul announced his own departure from the band, simultaneously releasing his first solo album, simply titled McCartney.

Paul beat John to the punch with the announcement of the breakup, put the attention solely on himself, and sold lots of records, the songwriting profits from which would go directly to Paul instead of the Lennon/McCartney team. With all three things, Paul left John royally screwed over. As you might have guessed, John was just a wee bit upset.

This latest act of selfishness on McCartney’s part was just the final straw in a long string of issues and complications John had endured throughout his life. They included the death of his mother, trouble at school, the death of Stuart Sutcliffe, his difficult relationship to his first wife Cynthia – and his physical abuse of her – and the baggage from the birth of his son Julian. That’s a lot of riders on the camel of John’s emotions. So what did he do? He screamed a lot.

Theoretically, primal scream therapy ought to work like a charm. You have a bad experience, you scream, you get it all out, and then it doesn’t bother you anymore. Arthur Janov basically says that we accumulate and hold on to traumatic experiences throughout childhood, and they manifest themselves repeatedly until they are finally let go of through some sort of release. That’s where the screaming comes in.

Despite John Lennon’s ringing endorsement (as well as that of a few other celebrities) that caused its popularity to spike in the early 70s, it fizzled soon afterwards due to the lack of definitive outcomes to prove its effectiveness. Real psychotherapists never put much stock in it, and it now exists as the quintessential psycho-fad.

John Lennon’s first proper solo album came directly out of his primal scream therapy. It was officially called John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, and it was the very first time the world was looking at John and seeing all his baggage lying nakedly out there for all to see. It’s a complete mess, formless and unregulated, unified only by John’s unhindered exploration of his entire psyche. Imagine has form and appeal that Plastic Ono Band doesn’t, and also has the beauty, grace and focus John found through his experience with primal scream. POB was John in the middle of his scream, and Imagine was where he took a deep breath and said, “let’s see about moving forward.”

However, John was not above personal attacks. There’s just one on Imagine, but it’s a doozy. “How Do You Sleep?” sees John simply letting his vitriol fly, all directed at Paul McCartney. John’s pretty nasty here; he calls Paul “a pretty face,” says he’ll last “a year or two” on his own, and is still holding on to bitterness over the Beatles’ most commercially successful song being the Paul-penned banal toss-off love song “Yesterday.” He insults his prowess as a songwriter, something only a consummate song-spinner like John can feel comfortable doing. The only thing left is calling Paul bad in bed.

The other Beatles must have thought Paul had been a real douche-bag, too. George lent his talents on the slide guitar to “How Do You Sleep?” and guested on 4 other tracks. Ringo was hanging around the studio, but didn’t play. Paul was nowhere to be seen.

Next: John and Yoko – stupidly, sickeningly, beautifully in love.

Fate

George

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is the first of four George offerings on The White Album, and it’s centered on the Eastern idea that everything is connected. George decided he would let fate lead him by the nose on this one. He took a random book from his parents’ bookshelf, turned to a random page, and randomly picked two words from that page. The words he found were “gently weeps.” A song was born.

My skepticism wonders if it really went down like that, if “gently weeps” really came on George’s first try. He might have had to plow through about 50 books before he got to a combination of words he liked and could actually write a song about.

Just as an experiment, I took three random books from my bookcase and did the same thing. I came up with “and tell,” “you would,” and “man’s outstretched.” I can’t even force that to make grammatical sense, much less write a song about it. It reminds me of something I did as a naïve teenager (and probably something every Christian teenager does at some point). My mother’s “life verse” (the nugget of the Bible someone chooses to live their life by) is Psalm 1, verses 2 and 3. As a teen, I heard about my mother’s and other people’s life verses, and was frustrated that I didn’t have one myself. So I picked up my Bible, turned to a random page and said, “wherever my finger lands is gonna be my life verse” – just so you know, it didn’t stick.

Out of curiosity, I tried it again just now. My finger landed on 2 Kings 11, verse 5.

“This is what you must do. A third of you who are on duty on the Sabbath are to guard the royal palace itself.”

I guess when my pastor asks why I wasn’t in church on Sunday, I can just tell him “sorry, but the Bible told me to guard a royal palace on the Sabbath. You’re not gonna argue with the Bible, are you?” The takeaway: George’s method usually doesn’t work.

Yoko & John

The most bizarre moment on the first half of the record (we’ll get to the second half and “Revolution 9” later) is definitely “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” John made three song fragments he had written into a pastiche, all of them in some way about his desire and sexual preoccupation with Yoko Ono. It’s here on The White Album – and a little on the singles after Sgt. Pepper – that we start to see John moving into deeply personal material, yet still keeping it clouded in the obtuse and obscure. With the release of his breakout solo record, Plastic Ono Band, the cloud is lifted and we’re forced to stare John right in the face. But in 1968, he’s couching his horniness in thinly veiled metaphors. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what “I feel my finger on your trigger” really means.

“Martha My Dear” is about Paul McCartney’s dog. I don’t think anything further need be said. Sweet though it may be, it’s still about a dog.

“I’m So Tired” is a down and out blues song, the first of two blues numbers John wrote for The White Album. After an intense meditation regiment for several days in Rishikesh, John had developed insomnia and longed for his new love. This song is among the most literal that John ever wrote, and the “what’s troublin’ ya?” aesthetic of the blues fits the theme quite well.

“Blackbird” is a seemingly simple song hiding a very complicated finger-picking style. The lyrics deal with the racial tensions in Scotland during the late 60s in beautiful poetic language. In terms of interpretation and art inviting the spectator in, this is the flipside of what was going on in “Glass Onion.” It may be about blacks and whites in Scotland to Paul, but it’s poetic enough that it could mean other things to other people.

Sherry Stringfield as Dr. Susan Lewis

To me, this song is forever tied to a scene from the first season of ER, when Dr. Susan Lewis delivers her sister Chloe’s baby in a frantic and mad rush. Chloe, who brought her boom box and a plethora of tapes, demands that “Blackbird” be played, and Carter struggles to find The White Album with no success, all the while with Susan yelling at him.  Chloe and Susan sing “Blackbird” a cappella as the baby is born. Even though it’s impossible to find in the lyrics, “Blackbird” is about new life to me.

On Monday: Cowboys, rich people and monkey sex; this could only happen on The White Album!