“And so this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over, a new one just begun”.
John and Yoko/Plastic Ono Band, the Harlem Community Choir and producer Phil Spector recorded the track “Merry Xmas (War Is Over)” in 1971.
Other than melodically built around what sounds like the folk song “Stewball”, there’s that cutting edge voice of John Lennon- acerbic, cynical, caustic, prodding, angry, sensitive, perhaps mocking, and cathartic in helping him cut himself out of ever having been a Fab.
Maybe there’s some spite in all of this, too. He definitely wasn’t shy to use his songs to send out some not-so-subtle personal messages.
Remember getting George involved in his musical war of words with Paul on “How Do You Sleep”?
Having watched the many hours that made up the “Get Back” documentary, it’s probably an understatement to say that this wasn’t John’s happiest time being with the band. He had Yoko and his songs and was seeing the end of the Beatles and childhood friendships that had taken each of them on such incredible life journeys.
The individual journeys hadn’t ended during those Get Back sessions, but, as a group, they had. The Magical Mystery Tour was over.
Often, I think how much my life would have changed without not only having their music, but their personalities, and how some of us might have lived vicariously through them- and everything they inspired to make happen.
I remember telling the girl I married that I was gonna be more famous than John Lennon. She still married me. But that’s another story...
Spector’s reputation as a brilliant record producer shines through on “Merry Xmas “. When one thinks of tracks like “Instant Karma”, “Power To The People”, the Imagine album etc, he helped Lennon to make some fabulous records.
Phil Spector was to John what George Martin was to Paul.
The differences and rivalry between these four complex personalities would make one helluva interesting documentary. But we’re veering off course here...
With Christmas around the corner, at least for myself, there’s so much to absorb in this one track- an outwardly simple sing-along song. But then so was “Imagine”, I guess. You can’t have one without the other. Either that, or you need both for there to be a balance.
The older I get, and possibly because of a few side trips where there was always the music of the Beatles playing in the background, other than having one’s own “In My Life”/“Long And Winding Road” Moments, their songs seem to have been put here to make many of us look past yesterday and what’s after today.
“Tomorrow Never Knows” does this to me all the time whereas love lives in the Lost And Found Department in “Something”, “Golden Slumbers”, “And I Love Her”, “Here, There And Everywhere”, and so many songs on their solo albums. But love isn’t what it used to be and that love doesn’t live here anymore...
As for this Christmas/anti Christmas/Anti War track, the way John Lennon’s voice has been recorded- and Phil Spector knew how- the listener can tell he’s right there sitting next to John, being a collaborator and friend, and, as a friend, gently needling him to do better. The listener becomes part of the process and the teamwork.
It’s a much-needed Wake Up call. It’s not unlike reminding me of the times I had with my best friend Steve from those school days that moulded us.
We lost Steve way too early, but in the short time we were together, and busy discovering the overload and underbelly of Hong Kong life, he always kept things real even if this meant being harsh.
Steve placed a huge importance on honesty, especially in the music we, though still in school, were trying to work our way through without even knowing it.
Having John Lennon as the key driver in everything that’s creative is something I miss everyday. If still here, whatever he was doing would stop me from accepting Okay as good enough and not demanding only the very best. Hey, I even went and planted Acorns For Peace for John and Yoko...
Accepting half-way measures in life can always be crippling inside. It creates a void. There’s only emptiness and crutches. There’s nothing and no one of substance to break the fall except for some bumbling clowns play acting for the benefit of Mr Kite.
Everyone needs to dig a pony. And by this, I don’t mean sinking into the bowels of horse racing either or vapid small talk.
There’s an enormous emotional void out there today full of the blah blahs. One often needs to get out of their head to sit there and accept/tolerate bullshit.
When Lennon asks, “And what have you done?”, it’s like Steve saying to me, “Careful of the wankers around you and don’t ever become one. Wankers slow you down by wasting your time”.
With this being the season to be jolly, but merriment in short supply, and being another year older, it’s a hard day’s bridge of sighs- not of resignation, but looking inwardly and going through a thought process that usually leads to answers.
First, however, it’s reminding one’s self in the dangers of being a Nowhere Man and not losing sight of all those lonely people with their Hallmark greeting card words and wondering where they come from.
These are more life lessons left by the Beatles in their songs, whether they knew it or not, or how we might wish and need to interpret them to suit our own narrative.
As for answering how, so this is Christmas and what have I done, well, taking a personal audit in what’s been another criss-crossed and upside down fruitcake year, and where one is almost always alone, the productivity has been good.
There have been songs written and recorded along with the poems, short stories and starting work on a documentary.
What’s clear is that these labours of love are important to keep one motivated enough to keep going. The rest of the stuff is just that: stuff. Or soon, Christmas stuffing.
Bottom line: You come into this world alone, you leave alone and in the middle you’re alone with your thoughts and doing the best you can with that inner resolve to get you through the night- alone- and if you want it.
Merry Everything Every Day, Everyone.