wed 24/04/2024

They say it's John's birthday | reviews, news & interviews

They say it's John's birthday

They say it's John's birthday

To celebrate Lennon's 75th, we revisit everything we've ever said about John (and Yoko)

Happy birthday, nowhere man

Not just a mere rock star but spiritual guru, peace campaigner, political icon, thorn in the flesh of Richard Nixon and the CIA, and ultimately martyr. John Lennon, who would have been 75 today (9 October), has proved an impossible act to follow. Even his former songwriting partner Paul McCartney, who's hardly been deprived of adulation over the last few decades, can't get over the fact that Lennon has achieved that mythic status known only to a rarefied handful.

"The fact that he's now martyred has elevated him to a James Dean, and beyond," Macca moped in a recent Esquire interview. We can only suggest that Sir Paul should pour himself a glass of Old Kintyre to celebrate his own longevity, then sit back and immerse himself in theartsdesk's archive of vigorous and varied Lennon coverage across stage, disc, screens large and small, print and art gallery.


John Lennon's Love and Death: 30 Years On, Part 1

A portrait of The Beatles' end and of Lennon just before he died

The couples profiled in the series included the likes of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Sartre and de Beauvoir, Monroe and Miller, and remoter figures from the German 19th century. Pop hadn’t made it onto the list, though I learnt, once embarked on the commission, that Lennon-Ono had been considered but no author found. In 1996, I happened to be in the right place (Berlin) at the right time... Read the full article by James Woodall

Classic Albums: John Lennon/ Plastic Ono Band

Superb doc probes the troubled psyche of John Lennon

Everything you wanted to know about what the Caustic Beatle was going through at the end of the 1960s is contained, and indeed enacted before your mind's eye, in the Plastic Ono Band songs (John's songs that is, not the stuff on the simultaneously recorded Yoko Ono/ Plastic Ono Band set, discernible by its horrific caterwauling)... Read the full article by Adam Sweeting

10 Questions for Yoko Ono

Twentieth-century icon on the Beatles, Meltdown, and a new album at 80

Normally we introduce these interviews with a few biographical details about the subject. With Yoko Ono, however, there hardly seems any point: she’s as much a part of late 20th-century history as an musician. But if the whole world knows who she is, her work is a different matter. John Lennon memorably described her as “the world's most famous unknown artist”. And despite recent critical success and an album out this week (Take Me to the Land of Hell), her reputation is still for being obscurely arty. Memorably, The Simpsons once affectionately sent her up as a woman who goes into Mo’s Tavern and orders a single plum floating in a pool of perfume served in a bowler hat... Read the full interview by Russ Coffey

Hot August Night: The Beatles at Shea Stadium

Fifty years ago today, The Beatles played their largest-ever concert

On a warm August Sunday night in New York, The Beatles played a 30-minute concert in a baseball field. Home to the New York Mets the venue was called the William A Shea Municipal Stadium and had opened in spring 1964. In January 1965 Beatles manager Brian Epstein and US promoter Sid Bernstein had struck a deal to present the boys in the largest space they’d played in: it would be the first gig of the third US tour, and remained, by far, the biggest live event The Beatles ever did. It was, indeed, at the time the biggest instance of outdoor entertainment in history... Read the full extract by James Woodall

Nowhere Boy

Aaron Johnson triumphs as the teenaged John Lennon

It’s been a very good year for Beatlemania, with all the albums re-repackaged and the group going virtual in Rock Band. The BBC lobbed in their own Beatles season-ette, and one of the more striking images from their riot of documentary footage was of John Lennon escorting his Aunt Mimi up the steps onto the plane taking them to America, with her handbag and Sunday-best hat. That surely settles any debate about his real feelings for Mimi. She is depicted in Sam Taylor-Wood's absorbing film (starring Aaron Johnson, pictured) about Lennon’s teenage years as a stern exemplar of moral discipline, but driven by honourable motives and very far from heartless... Read the full review by Adam Sweeting

Yoko Ono: To The Light, Serpentine Gallery

A perfectly balanced mix of the whimsical and rigorously conceptual

The Eurozone is in crisis and the American economy stagnating; Syria is self-destructing, the Arab Spring has stalled and climate change threatens the whole planet, yet Yoko Ono believes that “the world, now, is really turning towards the light”. In 1969 when she and John Lennon staged their famous “Bed-In” for peace in a Montreal hotel, optimism was in the air we breathed and their plea to “Give Peace a Chance” felt like a genuine call to world leaders to choose accommodation over confrontation. In our youthful euphoria, we even believed it was possible... Read the full article by Sarah Kent

John Lennon's Love and Death: 30 Years On, Part 2

The story of the Beatle's murder on 8 December 1980

The first words of "(Just Like) Starting Over" weren't bad but they weren't that good either; a bit mawkish, a bit sentimental, but plain, honest, unambiguous. They were a very long way from Lennon's anguished recollection, in an interview shortly before 8 December 1980, of how things had been when he and Yoko had first got together... Read the full article by James Woodall

Lennon Naked

Christopher Eccleston plays John Lennon, but not as we know him

Films about rock stars usually fail, because it's impossible to recreate whatever larger-than-life qualities made them unique and famous in the first place. You frequently end up with a slightly embarrassing party-piece impersonation that captures some of the mannerisms but misses the essence of the character... Read the full review by Adam Sweeting

theartsdesk in Bilbao: Yoko Ono at the Guggenheim Museum

A fine retrospective of a conceptual artist whose work offers more light and shade than her spoken words

Addressing a crowd of journalists gathered at the press launch of her major retrospective at the Guggenheim Bilbao, Yoko Ono begins by telling us how cynical she is. It’s quite a claim considering it’s just about the last thing you’d ever think to call her. Perhaps she’s finally tired of being dismissed as a naive idealist. But no, it’s just a roundabout way for her to express her astonishment at the extraordinary architecture of Frank Gehry’s glinting, titanium-clad masterpiece, which opened 16 years ago in this Basque city of northern Spain. Being “naturally cynical” she hadn’t, she said, quite believed any of the claims made for it until she saw it for herself.  Now she wants to tell us that it’s the best museum in the world. Read the full article by Fisun Güner

Backbeat, Duke of York's Theatre

Woeful retelling of the story of the ill-fated early Beatle who chose art and love over pop

It’s obviously a coincidence. Backbeat, the story of The Beatles’ Hamburg days, their ill-fated bassist and John Lennon's art-school mate Stuart Sutcliffe hits the West End the same week that Martin Scorsese's George Harrison documentary Living in the Material World comes out. Even ignoring comparisons between the two, Backbeat is an incoherent mess. Read the full review by Kieron Tyler

The Story of The Beatles' Last Song

Extract from a new Kindle single about the recording of Abbey Road

Summer was nigh. In May 1969 the Lennons bought Tittenhurst Park, an 85-acre estate in the same stockbroker belt as John’s first Beatles home, Kenwood. It needed work and a while would pass before they moved in. At EMI, John and Yoko busied themselves with their resistible third LP, The Wedding Album. Heroin intake was vigorous... Read the full extract by James Woodall

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