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Such a Scream- Plastic Ono Band, October 4, 2002
Guest_TSMAdmin_*
post Nov 3 2002, 01:42 PM
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I suppose I should get this out of the way: I’ve never gotten into the Beatles. Those somewhat familiar with my listening habits may find this odd—what self-respecting rock fan does not own even a single Beatles album?—and the admissions department down at the Geeky Music Critic Society will tear up my application (it’s not easy to get in there; Danny Gregory’s application was thrown out when it was revealed that he is a closet Candlebox fan).

The reason I do not own a Beatles album stems from my childhood. As someone who watched way more TV than he should’ve as a kid, I was learning lessons in pop culture at an early age while my peers explored the world outside, climbing trees, playing tag and such. The Beatles, in spite of their dissolution nearly a decade before my birth, made their presence felt in my youth, as I was always exposed to them in some fashion. They were always there, and much like then current band Talking Heads—a group whose greatness I did not acknowledge until fairly recently—they never left their status of personal indifference in the ensuing years as my musical horizon expanded and my cd collection grew. Also, they did not fit into the kind of music I liked as a kid, as my tastes leaned toward Wham! (yes, I once owned a cassette copy of Make it Big) and Europe (THE FINAL COUNTDOWN~!).

Why did these bands not make the leap to my more mature music collection? I never gave it much thought until recently, and it wasn’t until a couple of days prior to writing this that it struck me: I never bothered with the Beatles or Talking Heads because I was not willing to accept that a band which was always in the background of my childhood as something I should accept now. (This didn’t rule out every act that recorded prior to the 90s. For instance, I didn’t discover the Velvet Underground until I was in high school; I’ve now loved them for the better part of a decade.) I use to enjoy Wham!, ferchrissakes. How could I trust anything from that time or before when nothing from the 80s could be trusted?

Getting back on track, I may not own a Beatles album, but I am one step closer to it, as I have in my possession John Lennon’s first proper solo platter after getting all the experimental nonsense with Yoko out of his system--Plastic Ono Band. I chose this as my first foray into Beatlemania (or post-Beatlemania) due to its legacy as being the darkest, most emotionally naked works to ever be issued by one of the lads from Liverpool. I wanted misery. I wanted suffering. I got it in spades.

Plastic Ono Band is filled with hurt. At times, listening to it is like eavesdropping in on one of Lennon’s sessions with his psychiatrist, and a particularly painful one, at that. It isn’t surprising to learn that this recording followed his sessions of primal scream therapy, with the famed Dr. Walter Janov. There are times on here where Lennon screams in anguish, as on “Mother,” where he begs “Mama don’t go” over a simple piano, bass and drum track, voice cracking from the strain on “don’t go.” His pain is undeniable, and the end result is disquieting in how much of himself he reveals. And it’s only the first song.

Most of the album is just as bleak. Lennon is found either dealing with personal demons—like on “Mother” and “Isolation” (“People say we got it made/don’t they know we’re so afraid?”)—and inhabiting characters with their own grief. The narrator of “Working Class Hero,” backed solely by a haunting acoustic guitar, tells of a hellish existence in the working class, where you’re beaten and broken down mentally and physically; a life spent being brainwashed into apathy. While one might expect this song to turn into an angry or stirring protest, no hope is to be found. Lennon’s narrator is resigned to his fate, and informs the person he is addressing “If you want to be a hero, well, just follow me.” No one must have expected this hardcore cynicism from a well known idealist like Lennon back then, and the song hasn’t lost any of its power over 30 years later.

Though Lennon does express some hope for the future in Plastic Ono Band (most notably in the sweetly pretty “Hold On”), the album is unrelentingly dour. When he isn’t engaging in self-pity, Lennon is spitting venom at whoever stands in his way, like in the up-tempo rocker, “I Found Out.” But it is Band’s finest track that is the most startling. Over a celestial piano, the confessional “God” sees Lennon rebuking everything that he’s ever loved or hated, disregarding people and items ranging from magic to yoga, Hitler and Jesus. After a litany of things he no longer believes in (including Bob Dylan, humorously namedropped here as “Zimmerman”), Lennon shouts, “I don’t believe in Beatles!” The song pauses for a few seconds following this revelation, as if it, like the listener, were surprised by the directness with which Lennon addressed his former band. Outside of rappers today, artists rarely discuss their public situations involving former associates in song so explicitly. When the song resumes, Lennon states that the only thing he believes in are Yoko and himself. Then, we are presented with the most memorable and affecting verse:

The dream is over
What can I say?
The dream is over
Yesterday
I was the Dreamweaver
But now I'm reborn
I was the Walrus
But now I'm John
And so dear friends
You'll just have to carry on
The dream is over


It can be argued that John Lennon was merely telling the Beatles’ fans to get over the break up, and while he was certainly doing that, there’s a shade of sadness in his delivery of it, specifically in the line “the dream is over.” It’s over, Lennon says, and on Plastic Ono Band, we’re presented with cold, hard reality.

While I’ve made this album sound like a wrist slitter, it, like all great works of art, is exhilarating in spite of its subject matter. Plastic Ono Band hasn’t lost any of its resonance or power three decades later, and any serious music fan should own it.


Hit me with feedback, please.

Matt D
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