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1. Joan Baez, Love is Just a Four Letter Word: From her 1968 album Any Day Now. All tracks were written by Bob Dylan although he never recorded the song. I have seen Joan Baez almost every decade since the 60's, the last time was at the Royal Albert Hall last month (May) which, given her age, she said would be her final tour. I think,without doubt, she is, along with Emmy Lou Harris. my all time favourite singer. I chose this song because of Dylan's usual enigmatic words and the line "Outside a rattling store front window, cats meowed to the break of day".
2. Joni Mitchell, Amelia: From her 1976 album Hejira. I saw her in concert at Wembley Arena in 1983 and it still remains one of the best concert evenings ever for me. The words are based on the aviatrix Amelia Earhardt who was the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic and who disappeared in July 1937 during a flight over the Pacific. I also like to think it could be about Amy Johnson,another heroine of mine, who crashed into the Thames Estuary in 1941 and whose body was never found.
3. Kate Wolf, Here in California: This song was featured on her album Close to You (1979). Kate was a singer/songwriter who died from leukemia in 1986 aged 44. I first heard one of her songs Across the Great Divide sung by Nanci Griffith and decided to find out more about her. Her album contained songs about longing and loss. This song,particularly, is a prime example of her talent, sadly cut short.
4. Don McLean, American Pie: Driving back to UK from Germany Christmas 1971, I first heard the song in a bar in Brussels but didn't know the song or singer. It was only later that I discovered it and, despite the innumerable times played since then, it still remains a beautiful anthem to rock n' roll.
5. Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Talk to me of Mendocino: From the debut album by Kate and Anna McGarrigle issued in 1976. I first saw them on The Old Grey Whistle Test and was smitten, buying all their albums and seeing them perform in 1976 (Victoria Palace) and in 1985 (Dominion Theatre). I found it most difficult to select one song from all those I love but this song had, in the end, to be my choice. Words and harmony are sublime. I made the mistake of visiting Mendocino in 2016. It was full of Starbucks, Taco Bell and Burgher King. It did not tarnish the song however. Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III (see below) are the parents of Rufus and Martha - some pedigree. Kate died in 2010 but what a legacy.
6. Loudon Wainwright III, The Acid Song: Taken from his album More Love Songs (1986). Cynical,world weary and funny, his tics and grimaces as he sings are priceless. Sometimes he lapses into bittersweet (Westchester County for example) but generally his songs are barbed and full of satire. I picked this track purely because it injects a bit of humour to my list.
7. Eric Clapton, Wonderful Tonight: I know it's near sacrilege but I don't go a bundle on Eric Clapton since he left Cream. However there are always exceptions to the rule and this is one. This track form his album Slowhand (1977) is, to me, one of the most romantic songs I've heard. OK, so Noel Coward said "How potent,cheap music" and this fits the bill. He hasn't the greatest voice but with words and music like this I'm more than ready to forgive him. The line about the car keys always amused my wife. How many time had she taken the keys when I had one too many.
8. Dire Straits, Romeo and Juliet: Form the 1980 album Making Movies. Probably one of the finest rock bands England has produced. I used to go to the Greyhound Hotel in Croydon on Sunday nights where they often headlined up and coming groups (sorry,bands!). Did I imagine I saw Dire Straits supporting Talking Heads? No! Hard to think that both went on to become iconic bands. On occasions, depending on the artist and price you could go up market to the Fairfield Hall acoss the road. A line that appeals "Oh,Yeah, Romeo, I used to have a scene with him".
9. Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni, Adagio in G Minor. Included for no other reason than it was from the soundtrack of the film Galipoli. I can't say anymore than that it is beautiful haunting music from a fine film.
10. The Pretenders, Back on the Chain Gang: Issued as a single in 1982 and included in their album Learning to Crawl. Sung by Chrissie Hynde, the original rock chick and dedicated to the band's guitarist James Honeyman-Scott who died of a drug overdose. The newspapers were cynical and unsympathetic about his death hence the scathing reference to the "News of the World" in the lyrics. The lines "come to ruin some day" were quite prophetic as the newspaper was shut down in 2011.
11. Leonard Cohen, Sisters of Mercy: From Leonard Cohen's first album Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967). This was the year I got married and one of my wife's flatmates bought us this album and also Sgt Pepper. I was familiar with Cohen having read his book Beautiful Losers the year before but did not know at the time he would become a singer/songwriter. I saw him a few years ago at the Echo Arena in Liverpool and although in his seventies he was still the urbane,laconic,fedora wearing, ladies man he ever was. On this album alone he should have beaten Dylan for the Nobel Prize. This was the first song I chose when compiling my list. Oh, that the rest were so easy to pick.
12. Jennifer Warnes, Song of Bernadette: Written by Leonard Cohen and (supposedly) Jennifer Warnes, this is from her album Famous Blue Raincoat (1986). Cohen never recorded the song but was happy for her to record an album devoted entirely to his songs. He refused point blank when she suggested the title "Jenny sings Lenny"!. The song refers to the young french girl who saw a vision of the Virgin Mary in Lourdes in 1858. Leonard Cohen picked and mixed his religions throughout his life but this is the nearest he came to writing a hymn and that includes "Hallelujah". What a song,what poetry.
13. Richard Thompson, Vincent Black Lightning: Written and sung by Richard Thompson and included in his album Rumor and Sigh (1991). My first interest in motorbikes stems from riding pillion on my dad's Scott Flying Squirrel bike some light years ago. My first bike was a Triumph Tiger Cub and then I graduated to a Norton. Mickey,one of my friends, owned a Vincent Black Prince which was one of the last models Vincent made. We were in awe of it. To my shame I swapped my leather jacket for a parka and bought a Vespa scooter; this, after a couple of near miss accidents on the bike. This song therefore reminds me of those days so there was no second thoughts about including it.
14. Emmylou Harris, Pancho and Lefty: I have always liked songs that tell a story and this one is no exception. It was written by Townes van Zandt, a talent which was somewhat wasted by drink and an early death. The song became an anthem for Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard but this version is by Emmylou Harris and is from her 1977 album Luxury Liner. Emmylou is the 7th female artist to appear on my list, what that says about me is anybody's guess. Van Zandt never explained the storyline but some in the music industry think it has connections with Pancho Villa, the mexican revelutionary. Emmylou Harris comes a very close second to Joan Baez when it comes to my all time favourite singers.
15. Pietro Mascagni, Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana: This comes from the opera by Pietro Mascagni and was featured in the film Godfather III. This is the final piece of music on my list and I have included it because I simply cannot imagine any other piece of music that can stir the emotions with it's beauty. Requested to be played at my funeral.
6 Legendary Mountain Men of the American Frontier
Virginia-born John Colter first answered the call of the West in 1804, when he took off on a journey to the Pacific Ocean and back as part of Lewis and Clark’s famed Corps of Discovery. Two years in the wilderness was more than enough for most of the expedition’s members, but as they made their way home in 1806, Colter decided to shun civilization and strike out on a career as a fur trapper. He soon established himself as one of America’s original mountain men, and may have been the first white man to lay eyes on Yellowstone National Park. A section of Wyoming’s Shoshone River even became known as 𠇌olter’s Hell” for his descriptions of its geothermal activity.
Colter was once wounded while fighting alongside Crow and Flathead tribesmen, but the most legendary chapter in his career came in 1809, when he was captured by a band of Blackfeet while trapping near Three Forks, Montana. After killing his partner, the Indians stripped Colter naked, gave him a brief head start and then chased after him as though he were wild game. Ignoring the rocks and cactus that were shredding his feet, Colter supposedly outran most of the warriors before disarming his closest pursuer and killing him with his own lance. The mountain man then staggered into a fort several days later, having trekked over 200 miles clothed only in a blanket. He would go on to participate in more trapping missions𠅊nd have even more run-ins with the Blackfeetore finally retiring to a Missouri farm in 1810.
Musical Memories of John Rawlings - History
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(John Lennon &ndash Paul McCartney)
&ldquoThere are places I remember&hellip&rdquo With these introductory lyrics, John Lennon begins what most regard as a personal reflection of the first twenty-five years of his life. Although no &ldquoplaces&rdquo or &ldquofriends and lovers&rdquo are mentioned by name, the listener is drawn in by the reminiscent tone of his vocals along with the tender feel of the melody line and musical arrangement. By the end of the song we feel like we&rsquove been taken on a hand-sketched two minute and twenty-three second journey through the life of John Lennon.
&ldquoHe did have a very warm side to him really,&rdquo recalls Paul McCartney, &ldquowhich he didn&rsquot like to show too much in case he got rejected.&rdquo Far from being rejected, the song &ldquoIn My Life&rdquo has always been viewed as a respected piece of music lodged toward the end of their 1965 pop masterpiece &ldquoRubber Soul.&rdquo John may have had the reputation of being the "rocker" in the group even during the early years but, as evidenced as early as the previous year's &ldquoIf I Fell,&rdquo he periodically allowed his softer feelings to show in his writing.
The perception of &ldquoIn My Life&rdquo as a nostalgic recollection from John was never stronger than after his untimely death on December 8th, 1980. The sentiments of the song rang true as &ldquoa personal epitaph, a warm-hearted salutation to friends and lovers,&rdquo as described by author John Robertson in his book &ldquoThe Complete Guide To The Music Of The Beatles.&rdquo The song was played endlessly on local radio stations throughout the world. The lyrics became all the more potent and poignant as we all exchanged accounts of how his music had touched our lives. It was only natural, even expected, that the soundtrack to the 1988 documentary movie &ldquoImagine: John Lennon&rdquo would feature the song.
However, it was amidst some controversy that Paul McCartney&rsquos 1997 published autobiography &ldquoMany Years From Now&rdquo (co-authored by friend Barry Miles) recounts in convincing detail how he himself played a very large part in writing the song. And not only musically, but lyrically as well. Paul&rsquos compositional involvement was admitted by John in interviews, but only as being of minor significance. For all intents and purposes, &ldquoIn My Life&rdquo had been considered to be a full-fledged "John song." Because we lost him in death, it seemed almost sacreligious to think he might not be its primary writer.
This chapter is written with the intention of presenting the facts using all of the known information up to this point. That being said, and unfortunately with John Lennon interviews that only go as far as 1980 without the ability to substantiate anything in print from Paul after that, both accounts will be discussed below to allow the reader to make his own determination. Happily, throughout the entire Lennon / McCartney catalog, there appears to be only two songs, &ldquoIn My Life&rdquo and &ldquoEleanor Rigby,&rdquo that reveals substantial disagreement among its composers as to who wrote what. All authors, writers, commentators and fans will just have to accept to the fact that we&rsquore never going to really know for sure.
The first germ of an idea that resulted in the song &ldquoIn My Life&rdquo came with an interview between John and journalist Kenneth Allsop in March of 1964. John remembers: &ldquoIt was sparked by a journalist and writer in England made after (John&rsquos book) &lsquoIn His Own Write&rsquo came out. He said to me &lsquoWhy don&rsquot you put some of the way you write in the book in the songs?&rsquo or &lsquoWhy don&rsquot you put something about your childhood into the songs?&rdquo
Taking this to heart, John began doing just that. &ldquoI wrote the lyrics first and then sang it,&rdquo Lennon recalls. &ldquoThat was usually the case with things like &lsquoIn My Life&rsquo and &lsquoAcross The Universe&rsquo and some of the ones that stand out a bit. I wrote it in Kenwood, upstairs.&rdquo
The original poem / lyric sheet for &ldquoIn My Life,&rdquo which Paul remembers having the title &ldquoPlaces I Remember,&rdquo still exists today as found by Elliot Mintz when he was hired by Yoko Ono to carry out an inventory of John&rsquos personal possessions after his death. Mintz explains: &ldquoIt was part of a large book in which he kept all his original Beatles compositions. He had already told me about how the song was written and that he considered it a significant turning point in his writing and, just as he had described to me, the song went on at great length and included lots of place names including Penny Lane.&rdquo
Although John had crossed out much of what he had written, the following is what can be deciphered from that document:
&ldquoThere are places I&rsquoll remember,
All my life, tho&rsquo some have changed,
Some forever but not for better,
Some have gone and some remain.
Penny Lane is one I&rsquom missing,
Up church and to the clocktower,
In the circle of the Abbey,
I have seen some happy hours.
Past the tramsheds with no trams,
Past the Dutch and St. Columbus,
To the Dockers Umbrella that they pulled down.
All these places have their memories,
Some are dead and some are living.&rdquo
Pete Shotton, who was a close childhood friend of John, has related how John once told him that the lyric about the friends who were &ldquodead&rdquo and &ldquoliving&rdquo were about Stuart Sutcliffe, a close friend and former Beatle who died of a brain tumor in April of 1962, and Pete himself as the &ldquoliving&rdquo friend.
Commenting about this poem, Lennon said in 1980: &ldquo&rsquoIn My Life&rsquo started out as a bus journey from my house at 251 Menlove Avenue to town, mentioning every place I could remember. I wrote it all down and it was ridiculous&hellipIt was the most boring sort of &lsquoWhat I Did On My Holiday&rsquos Bus Trip&rsquo song and it wasn&rsquot working at all. But then I laid back and these lyrics started coming to me about the places I remember&hellipI struggled for days and hours, trying to write clever lyrics. Then I gave up, and &lsquoIn My Life&rsquo came to me &ndash letting it go is the whole game.&rdquo
In an interview for New Musical Express on November 12th, 1965, nearly a month before the album was released, McCartney spoke of this poem as an upcoming song on their next album. He described it as &ldquoa number about the places in Liverpool where we were born&hellipPlaces like Penny Lane and the Dockers&rsquo Umbrella (which was the Liverpool Overhead Railway) have a nice sound, but when we strung them together in a composition they sounded contrived so we gave up.&rdquo
One may notice that Paul here describes these lines as if he had composed them with John, but when noticing many interviews given during their heyday, both Lennon and McCartney seemed to put forth great efforts to portray the &ldquoLennon / McCartney&rdquo partnership as collaborative with every song released. John, for instance, spoke of the song &ldquoYesterday&rdquo in 1965 with terms such as &ldquobefore we finally completed it&rdquo and &ldquowe almost had it finished&rdquo when in later years he readily admitted it was entirely a McCartney composition. Therefore, we can easily assume that John had indeed composed the &ldquoPlaces I Remember&rdquo poem by himself.
During a writing session arranged between John and Paul to complete songs for what became their upcoming &ldquoRubber Soul&rdquo album, John premiered his poem to Paul. This is where the discrepancies begin to appear. Note the following comment from John in 1980 about the melody used for &ldquoIn My Life&rdquo: &ldquoThere was a period when I thought I didn&rsquot write melodies that Paul wrote those and I just wrote straight, shouting rock&rsquon&rsquoroll. But of course, when I think of some of my own songs &ndash &lsquoIn My Life,&rsquo or some of the early stuff, &lsquoThis Boy&rsquo &ndash I was writing melody with the best of them.&rdquo From this, John appears to claim the melody of &ldquoIn My Life&rdquo as his own creation entirely. He also made the statement that year in regards to this song: &ldquoPaul helped with the middle eight, musically.&rdquo On another occasion, John stated &ldquoThe whole lyrics were already written before Paul even heard it. In &lsquoIn My Life&rsquo his contribution melodically was the harmony and the middle-eight itself&rdquo
However, in his book &ldquoMany Years From Now,&rdquo Paul gives this vivid recollection of that very writing session at John&rsquos Kenwood home, probably in early October of 1965: &ldquoI&rsquoll give my memories of writing &lsquoIn My Life.&rsquo I arrived at John&rsquos house for a writing session and he had the very nice opening stanzas of the song&hellipThat was what John had. But as I recall, he didn&rsquot have a tune to it, and my recollection, I think, is at variance with John&rsquos. I said, &lsquoWell, you haven&rsquot got a tune, let me just go and work on it.&rsquo And I went down to the half-landing, where John had a Mellotron, and I sat there and put together a tune based in my mind on Smokey Robinson and The Miracles. Songs like &lsquoYou&rsquove Really Got A Hold On Me&rsquo and &lsquoTears Of A Clown&rsquo had really been a big influence. You refer back to something you&rsquove loved and try and take the spirit of that and write something new."
&ldquoSo I recall writing the whole melody. And it actually does sound very like me, if you analyze it. I was obviously working to lyrics. The melody&rsquos structure is very me. So my recollection is saying to John, &lsquoJust go and have a cup of tea or something. Let me be with this for ten minutes on my own and I&rsquoll do it.&rsquo And with the inspiration of Smokey and The Miracles, I tried to keep it melodic but a bit bluesy, with the minors and little harmonies, and then my recollection is going back up into the room and saying, &lsquoGot it, great! Good tune, I think. What d&rsquoyou think?&rsquo John said, &lsquoNice,&rsquo and we continued working with it from then, using that melody and filling out the rest of the verses. As usual, for these co-written things, he often just had the first verse, which was always enough: it was the direction, it was the signpost and it was the inspiration for the whole song. I hate the word but it was the template."
&ldquoWe wrote it, and in my memory we tagged on the introduction, which I think I thought up. I was imaging the intro of a Miracles record, and to my mind the phrases on guitar are very much Smokey and The Miracles. So it was John&rsquos original inspiration, I think my melody, I think my guitar riff. I don&rsquot want to be categorical about this. But that&rsquos my recollection. We then finished it off and it was a fine song which John sang.&rdquo
As we can see from the original manuscript of his poem, the lyrics changed quite dramatically before it got to its final form, making the song much more generic and less specific. As for the melodic structure of the song, many commentators are quick to point out the similarities in style to McCartney penned compositions. Most noteworthy is the scholarly writing of Ian MacDonald in his book &ldquoRevolution In The Head,&rdquo which speaks of the songs&rsquo &ldquoangular verticality, spanning an octave in typically wide &ndash and difficult &ndash leaps (which) certainly shows more of (McCartney&rsquos) touch than Lennon&rsquos.&rdquo However, the third edition of this book counters with the added comment: &ldquoOn the other hand, the chromatic descent, via the minor subdominant, in the second half of the verse suggests Lennon. Perhaps McCartney did the first half of the verse, Lennon the second?&rdquo Therefore, maybe John did have a hand in the melody as he always insisted.
An interesting observation can be made when viewing the lyric manuscript that was made after John and Paul completed the composition. It was all written in one person&rsquos handwriting, is titled &ldquoIn My Life (New Song),&rdquo and has only one signature at the bottom: &ldquoJohn Lennon&rdquo!
A couple of final thoughts on the matter include a 1973 interview Paul did with Rolling Stone Magazine in which he was asked what his favorite Lennon / McCartney songs were. His first response was: "I liked 'In My Life.' Those were words that John wrote and I wrote the tune to it." Then, in a 2001 Readers' Digest interview, after Paul discussed the controversy about him wanting top billing in the 'Lennon / McCartney' catolog on songs where he was the primary songwriter, he acquiesced to let John have his way regarding "In My Life." Concerning the melody, Paul stated: "I think I wrote it, but John thinks he wrote it. So, you know what? He can have it. One out of 200!"
At any rate, John was always very proud of the song. &ldquo&rsquoIn My Life&rsquo was, I think, my first real, major piece of work. Up until then it had all been glib and throw-away. I had one mind that wrote books and another that churned out things about &lsquoI love you&rsquo and &lsquoyou love me,&rsquo because that&rsquos how Paul and I did it&hellipIt was the first song that I wrote that was really, consciously, about my life&hellipa remembrance of friends and lovers of the past.&rdquo
October 18th, 1965 was their fourth recording session for their &ldquoRubber Soul&rdquo album. This session was just over three hours long, which was quite short for Beatles&rsquo sessions these days, but quite a lot was accomplished in this short amount of time. They entered EMI Studio Two at 2:30 pm to add vocal overdubs and tambourine to George&rsquos &ldquoIf I Needed Someone&rdquo which began recording two days earlier, this being completed in about an hour. They then started rehearsing their recent composition &ldquoIn My Life&rdquo to get the arrangement perfected before the tapes starting rolling.
Three takes were made of the rhythm track, which comprised John on electric rhythm guitar, George playing the lead guitar riffs throughout the song, Paul on bass and Ringo on drums playing an interesting syncopated rhythm. The first two takes weren&rsquot quite right, one of which was a breakdown. The third take, however, was the keeper over which the overdubs would be superimposed.
They immediately started on these overdubs, John&rsquos lead vocals no doubt being the first performed, which entailed some skill on his part in order to match up his ending vocal line &ldquoI love you more&rdquo with the previously recorded rhythm track. Then John double-tracked his vocals followed by background vocal overdubbing from Paul and George. A tambourine was also overdubbed by Ringo during the bridge which was put on a separate track of the four-track tape. At 5:45 pm, the session was done for the day.
Only one thing was needed to complete the song. George Martin relates: &ldquoThere was a gap in the song, and I said, &lsquoWe need a solo here.&rsquo&rdquo John Lennon suggested for George Martin to supply one himself. &ldquoIn &lsquoIn My Life&rsquo there&rsquos an Elizabethan piano solo,&rdquo John stated in a 1970 interview. &ldquoWe&rsquod do things like that. We&rsquod say, &lsquoPlay it like Bach,&rsquo or, &lsquoCould you put twelve bars in there?&rsquo&rdquo With that vague instruction, George Martin was left to come up with something on another day.
&ldquoThere&rsquos a bit where John couldn&rsquot decide what to do in the middle,&rdquo George Martin remembers. Although he relates how he recorded the resulting solo for this section &ldquowhile they were having their tea-break,&rdquo this was actually done four days later on October 22nd, 1965. The Beatles were due to arrive at EMI Studio Two on that day to work on &ldquoNowhere Man&rdquo at 2:30 pm, but George Martin secured the studio earlier in the day, from 10:30 to 11:30 am, to superimpose a solo of some sort.
&ldquoI wrote something like a Bach inversion, and played it, then recorded it,&rdquo George Martin explains. But he first had to decide what instrument to use. According to what was written on the tape box for that day, he first tried it on a Hammond organ. Feeling that wasn&rsquot the right sound, he tried his solo on a piano.
In a 1990 BBC radio program entitled &ldquoSounds Of The Sixties,&rdquo George Martin gives some interesting details about the solo in this song: &ldquoIt was quite common practice for us to do a track and leave a hole in the middle for the solo. Sometimes George would pick up his guitar and fool around and do a solo, and we would often try to get other sounds. On &lsquoIn My Life&rsquo we left the hole as usual&hellipWhile they were away, I thought it would be rather nice to have a harpsichord-like solo&hellipI did it with what I call a &lsquowound up&rsquo piano, which was at double-speed &ndash partly because you get a harpsichord sound by shortening the attack of everything, but also because I couldn&rsquot play it at real speed anyway. So I played it on piano at exactly half normal speed, and down an octave. When you bring the tape back to normal speed again, it sounds pretty brilliant. It&rsquos a means of tricking everybody into thinking you can do something really well.&rdquo
Being satisfied himself, the only thing left was for The Beatles to approve. &ldquoI played it back to them when they returned, and they said, &lsquoThat&rsquos great!&rsquo So, we left it like that.&rdquo
The mono mix of &ldquoIn My Life&rdquo was made on October 25th, 1965 in the control room of EMI Studio Two by George Martin and engineers Norman Smith and Ken Scott. The first stereo mix was made the following day, October 26th, 1965, in the control room of the same studio with Martin, Smith and 2nd engineer Ron Pender at the controls.
This stereo mix places the entire rhythm track and the separate tambourine overdub track on the left channel. The right channel contains all of the vocal overdubs (with slight reverb) as well as George Martin&rsquos piano solo. A small bleed over of the rhythm track can be heard on the right channel due to it being played in the studio for The Beatles to sing along with, being picked up by their microphones. When the vocals are complete toward the end of the song, the engineers faded down the right channel so the bleed over disappears during the final seconds of the song.
As it turns out, George Martin&rsquos piano solo was played on the same track as the tambourine overdub. While they were creating this first stereo mix, they needed to pan that track from the left channel, where the tambourine is normally heard, to the right channel where they wanted the piano solo to be heard. After the solo, they needed to quickly pan that track back to the left channel immediately because the tambourine comes in on the very next beat. They didn&rsquot pan it quick enough, so the first beat of the tambourine is heard in the right channel before they had a chance to get it back to the left channel.
In 1986, George Martin returned to the master tapes to create a second stereo mix of the song for the 1987 released &ldquoRubber Soul&rdquo album on compact disc. This mix differs from the first stereo mix in a few ways. First of all, the vocals have a fair percentage more reverb than before and are panned slightly more to the left, giving it a slightly centered effect. This time around, they panned the piano solo very quickly back to the left channel so the tambourine comes in on the downbeat of the correct measure. Also, the drums are slightly quieter during the verses in this new stereo mix.
There are also a couple of small but noticeable differences in the 1986 stereo mix concerning John&rsquos vocal track. The first is the absence of John&rsquos intake of breath just before he starts singing at the beginning of the song, which is present in the 1965 stereo mix. Second, George Martin decided to leave the vocal track up on the right channel at the end of the song instead of fading it out as he had done in the original stereo mix. These are very minor anomalies but are worthy of mention.
Song Structure and Style
To define what structure &ldquoIn My Life&rdquo falls into is a complex task and varies from one source to another. Lennon referring to the second and fourth sections of the song as a &ldquomiddle-eight&rdquo may give us a hint, so therefore, for the sake of writing, we&rsquoll call these sections &lsquobridges&rsquo instead of refrains. Therefore, the structure would consist of &lsquoverse/ bridge/ verse/ bridge/ verse (solo)/ bridge&rsquo (or ababab). A fitting introduction, an interjected half-introduction after the first bridge, and a climactic conclusion are also included.
A four-measure introduction is heard first which is actually a two measure guitar riff (written by McCartney and played by Harrison) repeated twice with Lennon&rsquos rhythm guitar in the background. Paul&rsquos bass is also present with some interesting ascending runs to compliment the arrangement. With a slight intake of breath from John (in the 1965 mixes), the syncopated drums and three-part harmony vocals kick in for the eight-measure first verse that follows. The background vocalists harmonize the lyrics with John&rsquos double-tracked vocals on every other line starting with &ldquoThere are places I remember,&rdquo while they &ldquooooh&rdquo during the conclusion of each thought, as when John finishes the line &ldquoall my life, though some have changed.&rdquo
The first eight-measure bridge repeats the harmony pattern although they drop the &ldquooooh&rdquos to allow John to finish the thought by himself. The syncopated drums are replaced by gentle four-in-the-bar cymbal taps and tambourine shakes for measures one, two, five and six, each set ending with a simple fill. The remaining measures of the bridge introduce a traditional rock beat riding the bell of the ride cymbal. John&rsquos rhythm guitar strums are elongated to add fluency to the track.
After the bridge, Ringo immediately jumps back into the syncopated drum pattern as a two-measure reprise of the introduction is next heard as a spacer before the second verse. Otherwise, the same ingredients as heard in the intro are repeated but only with one phrase instead of two this time around.
A second eight-measure verse is then heard that is identical in structure and arrangement to the first verse but with different lyrics. A second bridge then follows which is also structurally identical but with new lyrics. One noticeable difference is the filling out of the syllables in the harmonized vocal lines. In the first bridge, most words take up two syllables each, such as on &ldquodead and some are,&rdquo while the second bridge usually fills out each syllable, such as with &ldquoI know I&rsquoll often stop and think about them.&rdquo
A new eight-measure verse follows right after this bridge, which this time is taken up by George Martin&rsquos incredible baroque keyboard solo. The final note of his double-timed downward run hits on the same beat that John begins singing &ldquoThough I know I&rsquoll never lose affection,&rdquo thereby introducing a repeat of the second bridge, which is essentially the same structurally and instrumentally.
After this is complete, the conclusion of the song begins, which starts out with a further half-reprise of the introduction as heard between the first bridge and second verse. After this, the song hangs in the air as Lennon jumps into falsetto for the first time in the song, repeating the final line of the last verse, namely &ldquoIn my life&hellip&rdquo After we lose the tempo of the song momentarily (not unlike what he does three years later in &ldquoHappiness Is A Warm Gun&rdquo), John finishes the line &ldquoI love you more&rdquo in his normal voice but with a stagnant beat to create an emotional impact on the listener. This is followed by a final repeat of the introductory line and then one final concluding phrase as a bow to satisfyingly end the song.
With such an intimate song as &ldquoIn My Life,&rdquo one would expect Lennon to don his Gibson acoustic guitar as he had done on many &ldquoRubber Soul&rdquo tracks. Surprisingly, yet appropriately, John picks up an electric guitar, probably his 1961 Sonic Blue Fender Stratocaster, to play his flowing, yet subtle, rhythm guitar part. John&rsquos most noteworthy contribution to the song, however, was his double-tracked lead vocals which convincingly deliver the nostalgic lyrics and touch a nerve with the listener in the process.
Paul may take a backseat in the proceedings but his presence is definitely felt. His bass work adds nuances throughout the song that work with the arrangement while not becoming too busy. His other contributions are his superbly performed harmonies and, one can assume from recent examples such as &ldquoTicket To Ride,&rdquo what are probably his suggestions to Ringo concerning the syncopated drum beat he plays.
Speaking of which, Ringo is always keen to play appropriately to any occasion, this time with a delicate smoothness on drums and tambourine that doesn&rsquot detract from John&rsquos vocal delivery. George once again plays a minor role here, one of background vocalist and lead guitarist, although his playing is only heard briefly four times in the song. It is, however, delivered perfectly despite a stray note appearing after the final note of the song is heard. The note does fit and was included, no doubt, to help contribute to the intimate feel of the song.
Lennon&rsquos powerful delivery works so well in this song because of the immensely nostalgic contents of the lyrics. At some point in everyone&rsquos life, we all wish to revisit the old town or neighborhood to see how things presently look. We inevitably find that &ldquosome have changed&rdquo and &ldquonot for better,&rdquo some buildings and homes being torn down or remodeled beyond recognition. But we&rsquore always happy to find that &ldquosome remain&rdquo exactly how we remember them, which may then bring a tear to our eye. After all, &ldquoall these places had their moments with lovers and friends,&rdquo and those "good old days" come rushing back to us. Then our focus turns to the people as we begin to wonder whatever happened to them. &ldquoSome are dead and some are living,&rdquo but we wouldn&rsquot trade those memories for anything. We &ldquoloved them all.&rdquo
The nostalgic trip of the song then switches gears to the present time, which shows that we don&rsquot just live in the past but appreciate where life has lead us up to this point in life. As may be our experience, John addresses his current partner saying that none of &ldquothese friends and lovers&rdquo of the past &ldquocompares with you.&rdquo Although he will always cherish his formative years and all of these experiences, &ldquothese memories lose their meaning&rdquo in comparison with the happiness of the present day. Like us, he will &ldquooften stop and think about them&rdquo from time to time but, as John relates in falsetto as a climax to the song, &ldquoIn my life, I love you more.&rdquo
It is no wonder that Lennon viewed this song as his &ldquofirst real, major piece of work.&rdquo
December 6th, 1965 was when US audiences first got to hear &ldquoIn My Life&rdquo as an album track on Capitol&rsquos version of &ldquoRubber Soul.&rdquo Its placement after the rousing conclusion to &ldquoI&rsquom Looking Through You&rdquo definitely made the emotional nature of the song stand out to be taken notice of. This US version of "Rubber Soul" was released on an individual compact disc on January 21, 2014, both the mono and stereo versions of the album being contained on a single CD.
An astonishing six tracks were taken from the British &ldquoRubber Soul&rdquo album to be included on their first official compilation album, namely &ldquoThe Beatles/1962-1966&rdquo (aka &ldquoThe Red Album&rdquo). The popularity of &ldquoIn My Life&rdquo had already taken its hold on Beatles fans by 1973, thereby its inclusion on this April 19th, 1973 released double album was a given. This album's first compact disc release was on September 20th, 1993, "In My Life" also being included on the composite "Red Album / Blue Album" promotional sampler that came out simultaneously. A remastered "Red Album" was then released on August 10th, 2010.
While in the habit of constructing double-compilation albums, Capitol released &ldquoLove Songs&rdquo on October 21st, 1977. Eight of the tracks on this set were repeats of what was included on either of the 1973 compilation albums, one of which was &ldquoIn My Life.&rdquo Although an official new stereo mix was not made at this point, the vocals had been artificially panned closer to the center of the channels on this release, this being easily accomplished by simply panning the right channel nearer to the center.
The first time the original British "Rubber Soul&rdquo album was made available in the US was the " Original Master Recording " vinyl edition released through Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab in June of 1984. This album included "In My Life" and was prepared utilizing half-speed mastering technology from the original master tape on loan from EMI. This version of the album was only available for a short time and is quite collectible today.
George Martin created a new stereo mix of the song with more centered vocals in 1986, this being included on the first compact disc release of &ldquoRubber Soul&rdquo on April 30th, 1987 and on the vinyl edition on July 21st, 1987. This album, which introduced the fourteen-track sequence of the British release in America for the first time, was then remastered and re-released on September 9th, 2009 on CD and on November 13th, 2012 on vinyl.
&ldquoIn My Life&rdquo was understandably included on the album &ldquoImagine: John Lennon,&rdquo which was the soundtrack to a documentary movie that saw national release in 1988. The soundtrack album was released on October 10th, 1988 and included nine Beatles songs, this being one of them.
On July 17th, 2001, Capitol released a 6 CD box set entitled "Produced By George Martin," which was an extensive selection of George Martin productions from throughout his career. "In My Life" was included on "Disc Three (That Was The Decade That Was)."
On November 16th, 2004, Capitol released the second in its series of Beatles CD box sets containing the original stereo and mono mixes of the American albums. This set, entitled &ldquoThe Capitol Albums, Vol. 2,&rdquo contains the entire &ldquoRubber Soul&rdquo album with its original US track listing. Although the original mono mix of &ldquoIn My Life&rdquo was accidentally not contained on the first pressing of the set, substituted by a &ldquofold-down&rdquo mix of the original stereo mix, the differences are so slight that it&rsquos hardly worth a mention here. Nevertheless, the real 1965 mono mix can be obtained in later pressings of this set.
Another place to obtain this mix is on the box set &ldquoThe Beatles In Mono,&rdquo which contains the entire mono Beatles catalog. This September 9th, 2009 released set also includes the original 1965 stereo mix with the vocals panned entirely onto the right channel, as is included on the Capitol box set mentioned in the previous paragraph.
In promotion of the 2014 box set "The US Albums," a 25-song sampler CD was manufactured for limited release on January 21st, 2014, this containing the stereo mix of "In My Life."
With the inclusion of George Martin&rsquos intricate piano solo recorded in double-time, &ldquoIn My Life&rdquo was always thought to be an album track with no consideration of it ever being performed live.
However, this is not to say that it never was. Astoundingly, George Harrison thought to work up a version of &ldquoIn My Life&rdquo and performed it with his band during his 1974 North American Tour. His rendition is drawn out over five minutes with bluesy lead guitar playing and a keyboard solo by band member Billy Preston. The most noteworthy element here, though, is his ending the second bridge with the line &ldquoIn my life I love God more,&rdquo which caused many to view this version with much disdain. Through hoarse vocal cords, George does dedicate the performance to his former band-mates with the words &ldquoGod bless John Lennon, Paul and Ringo.&rdquo
Although the exact collaborative nature of &ldquoIn My Life&rdquo is cloaked in controversy that will probably never be fully resolved, the song is itself testimony to the true genius of the Lennon / McCartney songwriting team. By late 1965, they had surely come a long way. Their early experimentations with songwriting may have been as explained by George Martin, saying &ldquoThey stole unashamedly from existing records.&rdquo However, as Paul humbly admits, &ldquoJohn and I were writing quite well by 1965&helliparound the time of &lsquoRubber Soul.&rsquo
This opinion was never more verified than by the song coming in at #5 in Rolling Stone Magazine's &ldquoThe Beatles 100 Greatest Songs&rdquo special edition of 2010. Even 45 years after its initial release, the respect for &ldquoIn My Life&rdquo is monumental. We can only expect this to continue for many future years to come.
In John They Trust
In the morning heat on a tropical island halfway across the world from the United States, several dark-skinned men—clad in what look to be U.S. Army uniforms—appear on a mound overlooking a bamboo-hut village. One reverently carries Old Glory, precisely folded to reveal only the stars. On the command of a bearded “drill sergeant,” the flag is raised on a pole hacked from a tall tree trunk. As the huge banner billows in the wind, hundreds of watching villagers clap and cheer.
Chief Isaac Wan, a slight, bearded man in a blue suit and ceremonial sash, leads the uniformed men down to open ground in the middle of the village. Some 40 barefoot "G.I.’s" suddenly emerge from behind the huts to more cheering, marching in perfect step and ranks of two past Chief Isaac. They tote bamboo “rifles” on their shoulders, the scarlet tips sharpened to represent bloody bayonets, and sport the letters “USA,” painted in red on their bare chests and backs.
This is February 15, John Frum Day, on the remote island of Tanna in the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu. On this holiest of days, devotees have descended on the village of Lamakara from all over the island to honor a ghostly American messiah, John Frum. “John promised he’ll bring planeloads and shiploads of cargo to us from America if we pray to him,” a village elder tells me as he salutes the Stars and Stripes. “Radios, TVs, trucks, boats, watches, iceboxes, medicine, Coca-Cola and many other wonderful things.”
The island’s John Frum movement is a classic example of what anthropologists have called a “cargo cult”—many of which sprang up in villages in the South Pacific during World War II, when hundreds of thousands of American troops poured into the islands from the skies and seas. As anthropologist Kirk Huffman, who spent 17 years in Vanuatu, explains: “You get cargo cults when the outside world, with all its material wealth, suddenly descends on remote, indigenous tribes.” The locals don’t know where the foreigners’ endless supplies come from and so suspect they were summoned by magic, sent from the spirit world. To entice the Americans back after the war, islanders throughout the region constructed piers and carved airstrips from their fields. They prayed for ships and planes to once again come out of nowhere, bearing all kinds of treasures: jeeps and washing machines, radios and motorcycles, canned meat and candy.
But the venerated Americans never came back, except as a dribble of tourists and veterans eager to revisit the faraway islands where they went to war in their youth. And although almost all the cargo cults have disappeared over the decades, the John Frum movement has endured, based on the worship of an American god no sober man has ever seen.
Many Americans know Vanuatu from the reality TV series “Survivor,” though the episodes shot there hardly touched on the Melanesian island nation’s spectacular natural wonders and fascinating, age-old cultures. Set between Fiji and New Guinea, Vanuatu is a Y-shaped scattering of more than 80 islands, several of which include active volcanoes. The islands were once home to fierce warriors, among them cannibals. Many inhabitants still revere village sorcerers, who use spirit-possessed stones in magic rituals that can lure a new lover, fatten a pig or kill an enemy.
Americans with longer memories remember Vanuatu as the New Hebrides—its name until its independence from joint British and French colonial rule in 1980. James Michener’s book Tales of the South Pacific, which spawned the musical South Pacific, grew out of his experiences as an American sailor in the New Hebrides in World War II.
My own South Pacific experience, in search of John Frum and his devotees, begins when I board a small plane in Vanuatu’s capital, Port-Vila. Forty minutes later, coral reefs, sandy beaches and green hills announce Tanna Island, about 20 miles long and 16 miles at its widest point, with a population of around 28,000. Climbing into an ancient jeep for the drive to Lamakara, which overlooks Sulphur Bay, I wait while Jessel Niavia, the driver, starts the vehicle by touching together two wires sticking out from a hole under the dashboard.
As the jeep rattles up a steep slope, the narrow trail slicing through the jungle’s dense green weave of trees and bushes, Jessel tells me that he is the brother-in-law of one of the cult’s most important leaders, Prophet Fred—who, he adds proudly, “raised his wife from the dead two weeks ago.”
When we reach the crest of a hill, the land ahead falls away to reveal Yasur, Tanna’s sacred volcano, a few miles to the south, its ash-coated slopes nudging the shoreline at Sulphur Bay. Dark smoke belches from its cone. “‘Yasur’ means God in our language,” Jessel murmurs. “It’s the house of John Frum.”
“If he’s an American, why does he live in your volcano?” I wonder aloud.
“Ask Chief Isaac,” he says. “He knows everything.”
Dotting the dirt road are small villages where women with curly, bubble-shaped hair squat over bundles of mud-coated roots called kava, a species of pepper plant and a middling narcotic that is the South Pacific’s traditional drug of choice. Connoisseurs say that Tanna’s kava is the strongest of all. Jessel buys a bundle of roots for 500 vatu, about $5. “We’ll drink it tonight,” he says with a grin.
For as long as Tanna’s inhabitants can remember, island men have downed kava at sunset each day in a place off-limits to women. Christian missionaries, mostly Presbyterians from Scotland, put a temporary stop to the practice in the early 20th century, also banning other traditional practices, or “kastom,” that locals had followed faithfully for millennia: dancing, penis wrapping and polygamy. The missionaries also forbade working and amusement on Sundays, swearing and adultery. In the absence of a strong colonial administrative presence, they set up their own courts to punish miscreants, sentencing them to forced labor. The Tannese seethed under the missionaries’ rules for three decades. Then, John Frum appeared.
The road drops steeply through more steamy jungle to the shoreline, around the point from Yasur, where I will stay in a hut on the beach. As the sun sets beyond the rain-forest- covered mountains that form Tanna’s spine, Jessel’s brother, Daniel Yamyam, arrives to fetch me. He has the soft-focus eyes and nearly toothless smile of a kava devotee. Daniel was once a member of Vanuatu’s Parliament in Port-Vila, and his constituents included John Frum followers from what was then the movement’s stronghold, Ipikil, on Sulphur Bay. “I’m now a Christian, but like most people on Tanna, I still have John Frum in my heart,” he says. “If we keep praying to John, he’ll come back with plenty of cargo.”
Daniel leads me to his village nakamal, the open ground where the men drink kava. Two young boys bend over the kava roots Jessel had purchased, chewing chunks of them into a stringy pulp. “Only circumcised boys who’ve never touched a girl’s body can make kava,” Daniel tells me. “That ensures that their hands are not dirty.”
Other boys mix water with the pulp and twist the mixture through a cloth, producing a dirty-looking liquid. Daniel hands me a half-coconut shell filled to the brim. “Drink it in one go,” he whispers. It tastes vile, like muddy water. Moments later my mouth and tongue turn numb.
The men split into small groups or sit by themselves, crouching in the darkness, whispering to each other or lost in thought. I toss back a second shell of the muddy mix, and my head tugs at its mooring, seeking to drift away into the night.
Yasur rumbles like distant thunder, a couple of miles over the ridge, and through the trees I glimpse an eerie red glow at its cone. In 1774, Capt. James Cook was lured ashore by that same glow. He was the first European to see the volcano, but local leaders banned him from climbing to the cone because it was taboo. Daniel assures me the taboo is no longer enforced. “Go with Chief Isaac,” he advises. “You can ask him tomorrow.”
After I drink my third shell of kava, Daniel peers into my undoubtedly glazed eyes. “I’d better take you back,” he says. By the seaside at my hut, I dance unsteadily to the rhythm of the waves as I try to pluck the shimmering moon from the sky and kiss it.
The next morning, I head to Lamakara to talk to Chief Isaac. Surrounded by an eerie doomsday moonscape of volcanic ash, Yasur looms behind the village. But at only 1,184 feet high, the sacred volcano has none of the majesty of, say, Mount Fuji instead, its squat shape reminds me of a pugnacious bulldog standing guard before its master’s house. My driver points at the cone. “Haus blong John Frum,” he says in pidgin English. It’s John Frum’s house.
In the village dozens of cane huts, some with rusting tin roofs, encircle an open ceremonial dancing ground of impacted ash and the mound where the American flag flies each day, flanked by the much smaller flags of Vanuatu, ex-colonial ruler France and the Australian Aborigines, whose push for racial equality the villagers admire. Clearly, John Frum has yet to return with his promised cargo because Lamakara is dirt poor in consumer goods. But island men, wrapped in cloth known as lava-lava, women in large flowered dresses and mostly barefoot children in T-shirts appear healthy and seem happy. That’s no surprise: like many South Pacific coastal villages, it’s a place where coconuts drop by your side as you snooze. Yams, taro, and pineapples and other fruit thrive in the fertile volcanic soil, and plump pigs sniff around the village for scraps. Tasty fruit bats cling upside down in nearby trees.
Chief Isaac, in an open-neck shirt, green slacks and cloth shoes, greets me on the mound and leads me into a hut behind the flagpoles: the John Frum inner sanctum, off-limits to all but the cult’s senior leaders and, it seems, male visitors from abroad. “Office blong me,” he says with a smile as we enter.
The hut is dominated by a round table displaying a small U.S. flag on a pedestal, a carved bald eagle and imitation U.S. military uniforms neatly folded and placed in a circle, ready for use on John Frum Day in a little more than a week. Above, suspended by vine from a beam, hangs a globe, a stone ax and a pair of green stones carved into circles the size of a silver dollar. “Very powerful magic,” the chief says as he points to the stones. “The gods made them a long time ago.”
Written on a pair of blackboards is a plea that John Frum’s followers lead a kastom life and that they refrain from violence against each other. One of the blackboards bears a chalked red cross, probably copied from U.S. military ambulances and now an important symbol for the cult.
“John Frum came to help us get back our traditional customs, our kava drinking, our dancing, because the missionaries and colonial government were deliberately destroying our culture,” Chief Isaac says, his pidgin English translated by Daniel.
“But if John Frum, an American, is going to bring you modern goods, how does that sit with his wish that you lead a kastom life?” I ask.
“John is a spirit. He knows everything,” the chief says, slipping past the contradiction with the poise of a skilled politician. “He’s even more powerful than Jesus.”
“Yes, John comes very often from Yasur to advise me, or I go there to speak with John.”
“Then why does he live in Yasur?”
“John moves from America to Yasur and back, going down through the volcano and under the sea.”
When I mention Prophet Fred, anger flares in Chief Isaac’s eyes. “He’s a devil,” he snarls. “I won’t talk about him.”
What about your visit to the United States in 1995? I ask. What did you think of your religion’s heaven on earth? He raises his hands apologetically. “I have much to do today. I’ll tell you about it another time.” On the way back to my hut, it occurs to me that I forgot to ask him to take me to the volcano.
Chief Isaac and other local leaders say that John Frum first appeared one night in the late 1930s, after a group of elders had downed many shells of kava as a prelude to receiving messages from the spirit world. “He was a white man who spoke our language, but he didn’t tell us then he was an American,” says Chief Kahuwya, leader of Yakel village. John Frum told them he had come to rescue them from the missionaries and colonial officials. “John told us that all Tanna’s people should stop following the white man’s ways,” Chief Kahuwya says. “He said we should throw away their money and clothes, take our children from their schools, stop going to church and go back to living as kastom people. We should drink kava, worship the magic stones and perform our ritual dances.”
Perhaps the chieftains in their kava reveries actually experienced a spontaneous vision of John Frum. Or perhaps the apparition has more practical roots. It’s possible that local leaders conceived of John Frum as a powerful white-skinned ally in the fight against the colonials, who were attempting to crush much of the islanders’ culture and prod them into Christianity. In fact, that view of the origins of the cult gained credence in 1949, when the island administrator, Alexander Rentoul, noting that “frum” is the Tannese pronunciation of “broom,” wrote that the object of the John Frum movement “was to sweep (or broom) the white people off the island of Tanna.”
Whatever the truth, John Frum’s message struck a chord. Villagers on Tanna began throwing their money into the sea and killing their pigs for grand feasts to welcome their new messiah. Colonial authorities eventually struck back, arresting the movement’s leaders—including Chief Isaac’s father, Chief Nikiau. They were shipped to a prison at Port-Vila in 1941, their subsequent years behind bars earning them status as the John Frum movement’s first martyrs.
The cult got its biggest boost the following year, when American troops by the thousands were dispatched to the New Hebrides, where they built large military bases at Port-Vila and on the island of Espíritu Santo. The bases included hospitals, airstrips, jetties, roads, bridges and corrugated-steel Quonset huts, many erected with the help of more than a thousand men recruited as laborers from Tanna and other parts of the New Hebrides—among them Chief Kahuwya.
Where the U.S. armed forces go, so go the legendary PXs, with their seemingly endless supply of chocolate, cigarettes and Coca-Cola. For men who lived in huts and farmed yams, the Americans’ wealth was a revelation. The troops paid them 25 cents a day for their work and handed out generous amounts of goodies.
The Americans’ munificence dazzled the men from Tanna, as did the sight of dark-skinned soldiers eating the same food, wearing the same clothes, living in similar huts and tents and operating the same high-tech equipment as white soldiers. “In kastom, people sit together to eat,” says Kirk Huffman, who was the curator of Vanuatu’s cultural center during his years in the island nation. “The missionaries had angered the Tannese by always eating separately.”
It seems this is when the legend of John Frum took on a decidedly American character. “John Frum appeared to us in Port-Vila,” Chief Kahuwya says, “and stayed with us throughout the war. John was dressed in all white, like American Navy men, and it was then we knew John was an American. John said that when the war was over, he’d come to us in Tanna with ships and planes bringing much cargo, like the Americans had in Vila.”
In 1943, the U.S. command, concerned about the movement’s growth, sent the USS Echo to Tanna with Maj. Samuel Patten on board. His mission was to convince John Frum followers that, as his report put it, “the American forces had no connection with Jonfrum.” He failed. At war’s end, the U.S. military unwittingly enhanced the legend of their endless supply of cargo when they bulldozed tons of equipment—trucks, jeeps, aircraft engines, supplies—off the coast of Espíritu Santo. During six decades in the shallows, coral and sand have obscured much of the watery grave of war surplus, but snorkelers can still see tires, bulldozers and even full Coke bottles. The locals wryly named the place Million Dollar Point.
After the war, when they returned home from Port-Vila to their huts, the Tanna men were convinced that John Frum would soon join them, and hacked a primitive airstrip out of the jungle in the island’s north to tempt the expected American planes from the skies. Across the South Pacific, thousands of other cargo cult followers began devising similar plans—even building bamboo control towers strung with rope and bamboo aerials to guide in the planes. In 1964, one cargo cult on New Hanover Island in Papua New Guinea offered the U.S. government $1,000 for Lyndon Johnson to come and be their paramount chief. But as the years passed with empty skies and seas, almost all the cargo cults disappeared, the devotees’ hopes crushed.
At Sulphur Bay the faithful never wavered. Each Friday afternoon, hundreds of believers stream across the ash plain below Yasur, coming to Lamaraka from villages all over Tanna. After the sun goes down and the men have drunk kava, the congregation gathers in and around an open hut on the ceremonial ground. As light from kerosene lamps flickers across their faces, they strum guitars and homemade ukuleles, singing hymns of John Frum’s prophecies and the struggles of the cult’s martyrs. Many carry the same plea: “We’re waiting in our village for you, John. When are you coming with all the cargo you promised us?”
Threaded among the singers’ perfect harmonies is a high-pitched Melanesian keening that hones each hymn with a yearning edge. I look around in vain for Chief Isaac until a senior man in the cult whispers that after drinking kava, Isaac has disappeared among the darkened trees to talk to John Frum. The weekly service doesn’t end until the sun comes back up, at seven the next morning.
The John Frum movement is following the classic pattern of new religions,” says anthropologist Huffman. Schisms split clumps of faithful from the main body, as apostates proclaim a new vision leading to sacrilegious variants on the creed’s core beliefs.
Which explains Prophet Fred, whose village, Ipikil, is nestled on Sulphur Bay. Daniel says that Prophet Fred split with Chief Isaac in 1999 and led half of the believer villages into his new version of the John Frum cult. “He had a vision while working on a Korean fishing boat in the ocean,” Daniel says. “God’s light came down on him, and God told him to come home and preach a new way.” People believed that Fred could talk to God after he predicted, six years ago, that Lake Siwi would break its natural dam and flood into the ocean. “The people living around the lake [on the beach beneath the volcano] moved to other places,” says Daniel. “Six months later, it happened.”
Then, almost two years ago, Prophet Fred’s rivalry with Chief Isaac exploded. More than 400 young men from the competing camps clashed with axes, bows and arrows and slingshots, burning down a thatched church and several houses. Twenty-five men were seriously injured. “They wanted to kill us, and we wanted to kill them,” a Chief Isaac loyalist says.
A few days before Lamakara’s annual John Frum celebration, I visit Prophet Fred’s village—only to find that he’s gone to the island’s northern tip to preach, most likely to avoid the celebrations. Instead, I meet his senior cleric, Maliwan Tarawai, a barefoot pastor carrying a well-thumbed Bible. “Prophet Fred has called his movement Unity, and he’s woven kastom, Christianity and John Frum together,” Tarawai tells me. The American messiah is little more than a figurehead in Fred’s version, which bans the display of foreign flags, including Old Glory, and forbids any talk of cargo.
All morning I watch as vocalists with a string band sing hymns about Prophet Fred while several wild-eyed women stumble around in what appears to be a trance. They faith-heal the sick by clutching the ailing area of the body and praying silently to the heavens, casting out demons. Now and then they pause to clutch with bony fingers at the sky. “They do this every Wednesday, our holy day,” Tarawai explains. “The Holy Spirit has possessed them, and they get their healing powers from him and from the sun.”
Back in Lamakara, John Frum Day dawns warm and sticky. After the flag raising, Chief Isaac and other cult leaders sit on benches shaded by palm fronds as several hundred followers take turns performing traditional dances or modern improvisations. Men and boys clad in stringy bark skirts stride onto the dancing ground clutching replicas of chain saws carved from jungle boughs. As they thump their feet in time to their own singing, they slash at the air with the make-believe chain saws. “We’ve come from America to cut down all the trees,” they sing, “so we can build factories.”
On the day before I leave Tanna, Chief Isaac and I finally climb the slippery ash slopes of Yasur, the ground trembling about every ten minutes with each thunderous explosion from within the volcano’s crater. Every ear-humming bang sends a huge plume of potentially killer gas high into the sky, a mingling of sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and hydrogen chloride.
Darkness brings a spectacular display, as molten lava explodes from the crater’s vents, shooting into the air like giant Roman candles. Two people were killed here by “lava bombs,” or falling chunks of volcanic rock, in 1994. Chief Isaac leads me to a spot on the crumbling rim, away from the drift of the hazardous gas but still within reach of the incandescent bombs the unpredictable volcano bursts into the air.
The chief tells me about his trip to the United States in 1995, and shows faded pictures of himself in Los Angeles, outside the White House and with a drill sergeant at a military base. He says he was astonished by the wealth of the United States, but surprised and saddened by the poverty he saw among white and black Americans alike, and by the prevalence of guns, drugs and pollution. He says he returned happily to Sulphur Bay. “Americans never show smiling faces,” he adds, “and so it seems they always think that death is never far away.”
When I ask what he most wants from America, the simplicity of his request moves me: “A 25-horsepower outboard motor for the village boat. Then we can catch much fish in the sea and sell them in the market so that my people can have a better life.”
As we look down into John Frum’s fiery Tanna home, I remind him that not only does he not have an outboard motor from America, but that all the devotees’ other prayers have been, so far, in vain. “John promised you much cargo more than 60 years ago, and none has come,” I point out. “So why do you keep faith with him? Why do you still believe in him?”
Chief Isaac shoots me an amused look. “You Christians have been waiting 2,000 years for Jesus to return to earth,” he says, “and you haven’t given up hope.”
Excerpt: Elton John Recounts His Drag History and Remembers ‘True Punk Rebel’ Divine
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In the upcoming book The Queer Bible, model, editor and queer activist Jack Guinness compiles a collection of essays celebrating LGBTQ history and culture through the eyes of some of art’s most prominent voices. In addition to essays by Tan France, Gus Kenworthy, Paris Lees, Russell Tovey and Munroe Bergdorf, Elton John discusses his life-long love for John Waters muse Divine, the “Queen of Filth” who made indelible impressions in such films as Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble.
In this exclusive excerpt, Guinness discusses the book’s genesis and John details how his love of Divine intersected with his own passion for drag.
Jack Guinness on The Queer Bible
There&rsquos a lovely tradition in the world of Drag, where &lsquoMothers&rsquo initiate ingenue Drag Queens into the queer world, schooling the next generation in LGBQTIA culture. I wanted to be able to create a resource that did this for the entire queer community and their allies, and thus The Queer Bible was born. The book is a compendium of LGBTQIA icons writing about someone who helped them to become the person they are today: helping them embrace their sexuality or gender identity, or inspiring their careers. The book features contributors from many backgrounds including music, activism, sports, literature, comedy, art and film.
Beyond They/Them: What Are Neopronouns?
While We Celebrate Carl Nassib for Coming Out, We Need to Talk About Feminism
25 Essential Prince Songs
Singer Paulette McWilliams on Her Years With Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, and Steely Dan
Elton John is my fairy Godmother – I&rsquod met him and David a few times, but never in my wildest dreams did I think they&rsquod agree to be part of The Queer Bible. It&rsquos a testament to their generosity and passion for sharing queer history with younger generations that they joined the list of incredible contributors. Elton&rsquos sheer joy and passion when talking about his chosen icon, the drag legend Divine, is life-affirming.
The AIDS epidemic cut down an entire generation in its prime, and stole the lives of so many promising young men and women who would have gone on to educate the next generation on queer culture. Elton and David&rsquos tireless work with the Elton John AIDS Foundation has raised millions, advocated for change and saved countless lives around the world – through education, prevention and treatment. It&rsquos an honour to have them featured in the book.
Editing the essays I understood that there can never be one type of queer experience. No matter our sexual orientation or gender, our point of view is singular, though our trials, tribulations and triumphs may be common. The journey of self-discovery is universal. We all have to break away, from the expectations of others and ourselves to live the most authentic versions of ourselves.
My journey, towards an authentic self – gosh I sound like a pound-shop Oprah – has been tumultuous. I spent years as male model selling a certain type of masculinity. I was told by numerous model agents to “butch” it up, whatever that means. I policed my mannerisms trying not to appear too feminine, adopting a “straight jacket” as Matthew Todd calls it in his fantastic book of the same name. In my essay in The Queer Bible – devoted to RuPaul of course – I describe this act as performing oppressive drag the opposite of everything real drag stands for. I wasn&rsquot challenging, exploring or playing with gender, I was hiding behind its most restrictive socially accepted forms. I was complicit in my own imprisonment, trapped in a prison of toxic masculinity.
So many people, gay or straight, cis or transgender, feel stuck performing gender roles. What a miserable existence. One day, I just had enough. It was making me sick. I lost a dangerous amount of weight and my anxiety was becoming unmanageable. Living a lie takes a terrible toll. When I eventually came out in an interview, a few clients stopped booking me, but then Levis cast me in their Pride campaign. They booked me for the very thing I&rsquod been told to hide. It was completely overwhelming. Things have changed so quickly, there are so many out and proud models now with brilliantly successful careers – it makes me so happy to see!
In these politically unstable times, with LGBTQIA rights under threat the world over, this book couldn’t be more necessary. This was never plainer to me than when one of our contributors was violently assaulted in a homophobic hate crime. Our trans contributors have to deal with horrific daily attacks online and in the press. I see The Queer Bible as a platform to elevate, celebrate and amplify the voices of our community. As a white cis man I benefit from so much unearned privilege, and I&rsquom so happy that this collection shines a light on members of our community who so often aren&rsquot given the attention they deserve. I hope that the range of voices and the varied stories, shared speak to the richness and diversity of our global queer community.
These beautiful essays have taught me so much – Graham Norton&rsquos will make you laugh and cry, Tan France will inspire, Founder Of Black Pride Lady Phyll will deeply move you, Munroe Bergdorf&rsquos words will spur you to activism, supermodel Hanne Gaby Odiele will educate, Mae Martin will challenge you to question boundaries and live a freer life. Each piece and accompanying illustration will open up new worlds. All our lives are richer because of the works of queer individuals, and reading this book will shine a light on the impact of these queer figures on shaping the world around us. We stand on the shoulders of giants. It’s time to learn their names.
Elton John on Divine
The very first time I saw Pink Flamingos, I fell for Divine. The film opens on a shot of her mobile home, surrounded by kitsch garden ornaments. Divine&rsquos in hiding with her misfit family because the tabloids have christened her the “Filthiest Person Alive.” Her look is instantly iconic: hairline shaved right back, a shock of tangerine hair and pointed high eyebrows. I felt an immediate connection. Firstly, because she was so funny. Secondly, there aren&rsquot many human beings like Divine, a quintessential, true punk rebel.
Divine was christened Harris Glenn Milstead but was better known as Glenn. He grew up in Baltimore in the fifties, came of age in the sixties and made friends with fellow upstart John Waters, with whom he developed his drag persona, a larger-than-life Queen of Filth, Divine. Pink Flamingos was an exercise in deliberate, exquisite poor taste. It purposefully revolted audiences everywhere, dotted with cannibalism, bestiality and foot fetishism. The world and I had never seen anything like it. It was banned in numerous countries, so of course gained instant cult classic status. Divine mutated into an international star, continuing to make films with Waters.
My relationship with drag has been a life-long love affair. The first time I ever saw anyone in drag was the early seventies. My manager, John Reid &ndash also the first person I ever slept with &ndash took me to Danny La Rue&rsquos club in London. I was a very sheltered gay man back then and I didn&rsquot know much about this sort of thing. But schooled on the kind of campness sequestered away on Radio 4, like Kenneth Williams, I was hungry for it all. I had no idea real drag queens existed until that visit started the ball rolling.
I quickly developed favourites. Lee Sutton at the Vauxhall Tavern Regina Fong at The Black Cap in Camden, who I would, incidentally, later get to appear with at a Stonewall benefit. The glamour of drag connected with something deep inside me. I can&rsquot remember the first time I dressed in drag privately, but it soon transpired into a public habit and to this day comprises some of my happiest memories.
If there was a chance to drag up, I would take it. I&rsquod rented a house in St. Tropez on holiday with my friend Tony King, who&rsquos looked after me throughout my career. The first time I met John Lennon &ndash another of Tony&rsquos designated charges &ndash was on a video shoot for the Mind Games album where Tony was in full drag as the Queen. So, Tony and I decided to throw a drag party in St. Tropez. The next day I took some of the other people out in drag and had pictures taken privately by the swimming pool on the diving board. Unbeknownst to us, there were paparazzi in the bushes and the photos ended up plastered all over Paris Match the next week. Another time, in Hawaii, I came down to dinner at the Four Seasons in full drag, looking like Audrey Hepburn. I appeared on the front of Richard Avedon&rsquos Versace book in a sequined dress. I can make reasonable claims to being an actual cover girl, darling. I have paid my drag dues.
“Designating someone with a drag name was my way of telling them I loved them.”
When I came out as gay and met John Reid, he had so many gay friends and employees it felt natural to give each other drag names. In a way, designating someone with a drag name was my way of telling them I loved them: drag is a communal sport &ndash I like to get everyone involved. Tony became &lsquoJoy&rsquo and I became &lsquoSharon&rsquo, because I was so common. Rod Stewart was always &lsquoPhyllis&rsquo. Freddie Mercury became &lsquoMelina&rsquo after Melina Mercouri, the Greek actress and singer. He was a real Melina, I can assure you. John Lennon became &lsquoCarol Dakota&rsquo after his New York building, the Dakota. If you can&rsquot think of the correct name, you go to the surname first and work it out from there. Not everyone gets a drag name. But all of my dearest friends are bequeathed with one.
It&rsquos a rare joy when you love the art, get to meet the artist and love them too. And that&rsquos what happened when I met Divine &ndash a friendship blossomed. Nights out on the town with Freddie Mercury and Divvy followed a certain rhythm. Divine would call, his raspy, lilting voice almost running his words together, &lsquoCan I come over to smoke a joint?&rsquo He would, then we&rsquod go out to dinner. Divvy was so lovely to be with. He was a very gentle character, nothing like as flamboyant as his film persona. Then again, a lot of performers aren&rsquot. I&rsquom not either. It was onstage and onscreen that he expressed himself, his alter-ego screaming to get out. He just wanted to be himself.
That is exactly who I was when I started wearing the costumes and flamboyant stage-wear that would become synonymous with “Elton John.” In my shows I&rsquom forever stuck behind a piano, so the outfits had to count. I looked to people like Liberace, to anyone who had that essence of glamour within them and weren&rsquot scared to let it out. Drag artists perform gender in exaggerated expressions which was exactly what I wanted to do. I lived my life so playfully and excessively in my twenties and thirties because I had never had the courage to live it in my teenage years. Like Divvy, I grew up in the fifties, a conservative era. I knew nothing about sex and wasn&rsquot allowed to wear the clothes I wanted to. Glenn&rsquos childhood had been similar in that respect, and I could see that Divine&rsquos spirit was very close to mine.
“It&rsquos a rare joy when you love the art, get to meet the artist and love them too. And that&rsquos what happened when I met Divine &ndash a friendship blossomed.”
For both of us, as soon as we could, we just burst onto the scene. Boy, did we make up for lost time. In 1976, I invited Divvy onstage to perform with me for an encore at Madison Square Garden. In hindsight, perhaps I should have warned my band first. Still a cult star under Waters&rsquo direction, confined to the arthouse extremes, they had no idea who Divine was. I sat at my piano and watched in awe as she climbed up the stairs to the stage in an amazing foil dress. One of her heels snapped on the stairs, but of course she styled it out, screaming, into her mic, “Oh fuck, my heel&rsquos just broken!” She rolled onstage and you could visibly read “Who the fuck is this?” on the band&rsquos faces. They had absolutely no idea. That night was just me and Divvy having fun onstage in front of thousands of people.
Divvy set something of a precedent at that show. On a later night of my tour, I came onstage in drag as Tina Turner, in full “What&rsquos Love Got To Do With It” regalia. Skirt, wig, everything. I didn&rsquot tell my band about that either &ndash just arrived onstage, sat down, and nobody knew who the fuck I was until I started playing.
Elton John with Divine in the 1970s.
Robin Platzer/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
The New York club scene in the seventies was incredible. It was all about the music. Crisco Disco, Le Jardin and 12 West were fabulous, even though one night, Crisco Disco refused Divvy and I entry. We&rsquod gone out for a lovely dinner and had both stolen ashtrays from the restaurant. We turned up at Crisco Disco, Divine in a kaftan, me in some colourful, outrageous outfit. The doorman shouted, “What do you think this is? Fucking Halloween? You ain&rsquot comin&rsquo in here like this.” And Divine yelled, “Fuck you” exactly in the manner of Dawn Davenport in Female Trouble and we both threw and smashed our ashtrays and hotfooted it off to 12 West to dance the night away.
Divine and I certainly shared compulsive behaviours. I completely understand where Divvy ended up. I was just as ravenous for my addictions as he was for his. Luckily it didn&rsquot kill me because I saw the light. For Divvy, eating got so out of control that he became very unhealthy. I didn&rsquot do drugs all the time and was lucky in the sense that I worked, frequently on the road. If drugs had kept me from touring, I&rsquod be dead by now. There were periods where I got and stayed clean, but I always went back to the drugs. I finally got clean for good in 1990. It&rsquos different for everyone. As much as I loved Divvy, I can&rsquot tell you what was going on inside him.
Divine passed away from a heart attack in 1988. It was the night before shooting was to begin on a role in the sitcom Married &hellip With Children. Divvy was about to finally fulfill his dream of performing as Glenn, as himself, out of drag in a major role on television.
“For me, Glenn&rsquos death will always feel tied up with the height of the AIDS epidemic.”
For me, Glenn&rsquos death will always feel tied up with the height of the AIDS epidemic. It isn&rsquot just the coincidence of the timing, at the height of the pandemic. His life and career were cut short just as he was breaking into the mainstream, on the eve of his acceptance as Glenn. That feeling of lives being cut short, abbreviated at the precise moment they were blossoming, was commonplace. It was simultaneously heartbreaking. In the eighties we lost an entire generation of young gay men in their prime. It was a period of intense loss, horrific both for me personally and for the gay community as a whole. I was losing two or three people a week and it was all so overwhelming. No one cared about what was happening. The press called AIDS the “gay plague,” as if we had caused it. It was fucking frightening.
Divine was the best of us. He was so brave, unique and fearless. He laughed in the face of a conservative society which ridiculed and rejected him. But Divvy internalised a lot of that trauma and pain and that certainly led to his premature death. That&rsquos why we need to protect the next generation of LGBTQ+ people &ndash especially those challenging gender norms &ndash so that they can go on to have long, happy, brilliant lives, living however they want to, saying “fuck you” to all the hypocrisy, fear and shame built into so much of mainstream society.
“Divine was the best of us. He was so brave, unique and fearless. He laughed in the face of a conservative society which ridiculed and rejected him.”
I rewatched Female Trouble about a month ago with my husband David and was utterly overwhelmed by how ahead of its time it was. Divine was a ray of sunshine. And today I see so many drag queens performing, and non-binary and transgender activists doing the most incredibly brave things. They are the trailblazers, and we must applaud and support them. That&rsquos what the Elton John AIDS Foundation does.
We want the people pushed out by society, the people John Waters loved and championed, to know what they are worth. “No one gets left behind” is our motto, and that&rsquos what my life is all about. Whatever you&rsquove been through, whatever you&rsquove done, everyone deserves redemption. Divine&rsquos fearlessness inspires me to this day. Divvy&rsquos spirit will linger forever. Glenn was a lesson to us all.
From THE QUEER BIBLE: ESSAYS edited by Jack Guinness. Copyright 2021 © Elton John. To be published on June 15, 2021, by Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.
Cleveland rock 'n' roll landmarks that made history: a tour (photos)
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Some of the places have survived, weathered and tough. Some linger on waiting for a new life. Others have been obliterated by time, neglect and a wrecking ball.
But they all have something to say about Cleveland’s role in rock ‘n’ roll history.
This, you see, is a tour of ghosts as much as travel back into time.
There are countless reminders of Cleveland’s musical glory days around the city.
Story by John Petkovic, The Plain Dealer
John Petkovic, The Plain Dealer
Story of rock 'n' roll told by ghosts
The church where Bobby Womack met Sam Cooke. The building where rock ‘n’ roll was christened by Alan Freed and Leo Mintz. The club where Green Day played for $100.
Even the vacant lots that once housed Cleveland’s most influential clubs and legendary shows are telling: They reveal the parts of the city that played vital roles in Cleveland becoming such a hotbed for music. (Photo of Euclid Tavern booking manager Derek Hess' booking calendar showing the night in 1992 when Green Day played there for $100)
John Petkovic, The Plain Dealer
Cleveland places that recall music and past glory
They also tell the true story of rock ‘n’ roll -- a transient art form where special moments appear out of the blue only to disappear again. The melodies and memories remain the buildings often perish.
Here are 21 places that recall past glory and the music that made it… (Photo of the building that once housed Record Rendezvous by John Petkovic, The Plain Dealer)
John Petkovic, The Plain Dealer
Cleveland Municipal Stadium, 1085 West Third Street, Cleveland
The circa-1931 mammoth on the lake housed the Indians and Browns. It made music history on August 14, 1966, when the Beatles played to 24,646. The Fab Four played the first concert at the stadium, but it was far from the last. In the 1970s, a number of “World Series of Rock” shows featuring bands such as Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd packed the place (with the ’78 Stones show drawing more than 82,000 fans). The joint hosted a number of big shows – the Who, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and U2 – before getting demolished in 1996. It hosted one last concert, on Sept, 2, 1995, that brought together Bob Dylan, Prince, Aretha Franklin, the Kinks, Pretenders, Johnny Cash and Neil Young to celebrate the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (Photo of The Rolling Stones "Tour of the Americas ❵" concert at Cleveland Municipal Stadium -- June 14, 1975 -- by Robert Dorksen, The Plain Dealer)
I first came across the visual art of metal musician John Dyer Baizley last year. I saw a band T-shirt that was so stunningly beautiful it made me stop in my tracks. The shirt, advertising the Norwegian punk/metal band Kvelertak, interlaced women and an owl with black ink outlines and delicate watercolor shading. The artwork recalled the style of 19th-century Art Nouveau lithographic artist Alphonse Mucha, and included women who looked like they stepped out of 17th century Baroque paintings. Intricately detailed animals and plant forms, intertwined together like Celtic knot work, hearkened ancient mythologies. Artist John Dyer Baizley is creating some of the most fascinating album covers in music today.
Baizley is the singer and rhythm guitarist of the American metal band Baroness. His art and music are intimately linked, with both informing and advertising the other. Over the last few years, Baizley’s art and Baroness’ music has gained a cult-like following. In addition to the artwork Baizley creates for his own music, he has also created ornate album covers for artists including Skeletonwitch, Kvelertak, Flight of the Conchords, and Gillian Welch.
On Saturday May 5th, I sat down with Baizley on the front porch of the House of Blues Sunset Strip, about two hours before his band played a passionate opening set for the Swedish metal band Meshuggah. Baizley, a charismatic and thoughtful artist, spoke to me about the creation process of his visual art and music. Baroness has put out two records, the Red Album and the Blue Record, and is about to release their third this July: a double album called Yellow & Green. Baizley uses ink and watercolor to create his intricate figure-based compositions that are loaded with elaborate symbolism. Baizley’s art is influenced by Baroque artists like Caravaggio, western classical mythology, the writings of Joseph Campbell, and the theories of the subconscious of Carl Jung.
In our interview, Baizley described to me how he believes in reviving the art of the vinyl album. Each of Baroness’ album releases are best experienced on vinyl, both in sound and their visuals. The art is specifically created at the size of a vinyl record cover and the albums are pressed in colored vinyls, which coordinate with the color themes of each album.
On a personal level, Baizley described making sacrifices and facing obstacles in the pursuit of his art and music career, much like what Opeth-frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt expressed in my last interview. Both Åkerfeldt and Baizley have demonstrated that creating a career that allows you to make exactly the type of art you want to is possible, if you do not give up on your vision. At the end of my interview, I came away inspired by Baizley’s dedication and commitment to his path in life.
John Dyer Baizley speaking with OC Art Blog's Joy Shannon. (Photography by Kale Stiles)
Interview with John Dyer Baizley: (to view some of the interview click here)
How does your art and music work together? What is your artistic process?
When I’m working on Baroness artwork and music, there tends to be this sort of counterbalance between what I want to accomplish visually and what I want to accomplish sonically. Sometimes little bits of the artwork I am creating inform the music I am playing. More often than not, it’s easier to write music first and then, once those themes become apparent, you try to capture the imagery. For instance, for the Blue Record, I started doing the artwork while we were in the studio recording. I was doing artwork and writing lyrics at the same time. For the most recent record (Yellow & Green), the entire record was written and all the concepts for the artwork were on notebook paper- ideas or sketches and thoughts. The recording took a long time and was very mentally, physically and psychically draining. I couldn’t even consider picking up a pencil while (recording). On Thursday I was done with the record and on Friday I just dove into (the artwork) and spent hundreds of hours on the details (of the album).
How big do you make these album art pieces?
I’m old school when it comes to album design. I design it at about 13″ x 13″ or 14″ x 14.” I design it a little bit big so that when it squashes down by an inch or two, everything tightens up a bit… But it’s difficult because then you cut (the artwork) into this little square (of a CD), so much of the subtly and the detail… gets compressed away. Now you’re talking about 1 inch by 1 inch in iTunes. I think in some ways the art of making album covers is dying very quickly. I put my feet down years ago, at least in terms of the musical side of my art career. (Music) is always meant to be listened to on vinyl as far as I’m concerned. It’s the ultimate listening experience, so that’s how I design all my albums.
Would you say that your pieces are created out of dreamscapes or your subconscious?
They are entirely from my subconscious. Part of my process involves some very permanent media. The black ink that I use is a permanent media. There’s no erasing. The balance that I find myself striking is how to work in a permanent media and add spontaneity. I work very geometrically. I map out compositions that are appealing to me, that have the flow of air or textures I like. Then I start designing these symbols or icons that support the narrative that I am vaguely aware of, because I’ve just written a series of songs.
There is this narrative that begins to unfold itself when I am writing music. For instance, when you write a song, it doesn’t all hit you at once. You have to start with something simple that draws out the emotion, and then you have to refine, reflect, and balance things which have technique and things which speak to the heart. Artistically it’s the same thing. First I need to lay down a little bit of the heart and soul of it- the flow, the feel, the pulse- and then I have to become technical on top of it. When I am doing that, I try to leave as much up to happenstance as possible. Some people call it happy mistakes or lightning in a bottle… That’s what I judge the success or failure of a lot of my pieces on: whether or not something unintentionally cool happens with it. It’s the same with music. We could be talking about either subjects.
There’s an intuition and there’s subconscious at play in the artwork, but I am working rationally I am working while awake. In order to access the intuitive aspects of the work, I have to really keep my mind open and allow for and embrace things that aren’t, technically-speaking or conceptually-speaking, very good ideas. In the long run, what I am doing is I am mapping out something that I don’t quite understand as I am doing it. Part of the fun for me is, I get to go back and look at these things and wonder about them.
Your design-style is reminiscent of the look of lithography. Have you done any printmaking?
I took a few classes in printmaking and found that it wasn’t for me. The process of printmaking requires a meticulous eye for detail and requires a whole lot of accuracy and you really have to fact-check yourself. I am the exact opposite. I am a very anxious person and (my artwork) happens very quickly and in big rushes. (The art) may appear printed on an LP jacket as something clean, but if you were to witness the creation of it, it’s anything but. I am more happy being looser and more expressive.
You are primarily working in ink and watercolor, correct?
Yes, I have been working with this same type of process for about 8 years. I think I am growing a bit tired of it now. I have enjoyed its limitations as well as its freedoms, but I think that in the not-too-distant future I will move on and do something that’s a little different… just in terms of media.
I think it’s important to note that I don’t use computers. I have used computers for layout, and I have only done that because I don’t want someone else marring up something I have poured my life’s blood into.
Are you inspired by mythology when you create your artwork?
I have been a student of art history and classical mythology. When I was young I read Joseph Campbell. I was thoroughly interested in the Greek, Roman, Scandinavian, and Babylonian mythologies. In recent years, I have become really interested in the writings of Carl Jung. I have applied the idea of the archetype… and I am creating my own (mythology) that works for the music.
You have made quite a name for yourself as an album cover artist.
When I started making artwork like this for records, there weren’t as many artists doing this. It’s cool to me that now you don’t have to sexualize women on album covers anymore. If you’re a heavy band, you can put something beautiful on your record cover, but it (can still be) dark and (tie) into the music being made. That’s the type of music that I am interested in. I thought it was funny at first that I was doing something that was running counter to the status quo at the time. Rock bands (at the time) used imagery of exhaust pipes and busty, illogical women. That’s not me.
I like your representation of the female body. It reminds me of the Baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens.
It’s just my hand. It happens that the models I used for this record (The Blue Record) were pregnant.
Most of your album covers are brightly colored, but your piece for Gillian Welch’s album is black and white. How did that design choice happen?
When I did that, (Gillian and I) intended that to be a painted piece. I worked the line art to such a point, that when I showed it to her and we were talking about how we’d go and paint it and I said “I think the vibe’s there.” She and David (Rawlings, Gillian Welch’s long-time musical partner) agreed very quickly. The LP version hasn’t come out for it yet. The piece is considerably larger than an LP, (so) there’s so much detail that you haven’t seen yet.
What’s the story behind the artwork for Baroness’ Yellow & Green album (that comes out this July)?
With this record we knew we were going to do a double CD thing. I thought it’d be cool to do a gatefold that had basically two covers. At the time I was looking at a piece by Caravaggio where they are crowning Jesus with thorns and there are 5 dynamic figures composed in this very amazing way. Composing 5 people is a very, very difficult thing. Composing a piece that works in itself and then bisected is very daunting. I don’t think I was completely successful in it, but I think I did a good enough job. I am really happy with how it came out. It’s basically the same archetypal women who each represent some experience and some dream. The animals always represent something and then, of course, as always we have eggs being fertilized.
Do you have formal visual art or music training?
I have had some, but more importantly, I have always been creating music and art. My mother has pictures of me doing this before I have memories of actually doing it. She was especially supportive of my drive to do it. I always knew this was what I was going to do, but I didn’t know exactly how I was going to do it.
I went to the Rhode Island School of Design (as an illustration major) for a couple of years before dropping out. It was a great experience because it opened my mind up in so many ways and helped me begin to understand art in a broader context with a world-view attached to it. I had some serious substance issues when I was in school, which forced me to leave. Beyond that, I was getting a bit disillusioned after two and half years at that school, because it was going to lead me to an artistic realm which was not going to be satisfying to me… (There was) talk of clients and making things commercial and developing a style, and all these things which they urged you to do in an illustration department. When I was taking fine arts classes, the mentality was more: “you have this inside you, develop what you have until it’s unique, until its challenging.” That became ultimately the lesson that I learned, even though I ended up in the wrong department for that.
My life was sort of falling apart. I stopped making art for two years because I associated it with some dark moments. (For two years I lived) deep in the country-side (of Virginia) with no car, no phone, (and) no TV. I lived on the side of a river, I just painted houses, and just sort of sweated out my demons. This is when I met the guys in Baroness. We started playing music and eventually turned into what we are now. (The band became) a great reason for me to start making art again.
When I started Baroness it became the best outlet that I could come up with. I had all this stuff that had been pent up for so long and I didn’t know what to do with it because I didn’t want to do it for someone else. The fine art world was so far from where I was and I didn’t understand it at all, so I just decided to work in my own world for a while. I worked for other bands for free. I wasn’t making any money. When we’d tour we’d go out and make $25 bucks a day, enough for a tank of gas to go play another show. We did that for years and years and years, and while it sort of physically crushed me, it freed me up in so many ways because it allowed me come up with a way to be self-sufficient making this type of artwork and this type of music. The way that I did it… I would never consider doing it another way.
To do (art and music), you’re asking a lot of the people who love you. My parents thought it was crazy. Everybody thought it was crazy. It didn’t seem like there was ever going to be any bills paid through that. I came up through the ranks, I worked in clubs and restaurants. While that makes you money and that will get your rent paid, it just screws your spirit. So at a certain point, I just said fuck it, I’m just going to live extra lean for a few years and if it works, it works and if it doesn’t… we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. So far, it’s basically worked. There’s no real money in it, but there’s a real satisfaction for somebody like me. I don’t want to work for somebody else. I’d rather my path be difficult, arduous, and sort of draining externally, but internally my fire continues to grow.
For more information on John Dyer Baizley’s art: http://aperfectmonster.com/
Photography by Kale Stiles
Review: ‘Rocketman’ is an affecting, sprawling musical about the life of Elton John
“Rocketman” tells the early life story of one of the most successful and beloved rock stars in history, using Elton John’s music to illustrate and amplify key moments from his extraordinary and tumultuous life.
There are a few surprises tucked in amid the sweet sounds and bright, kaleidoscopic visuals of “Rocketman,” though the way it ends is not one of them. It plays out its final moments, as all biopics these days apparently must, over a montage of photos of its real-life subject. Still, because that subject is Elton John, this conventional postscript has its bonus pleasures, and not just because the images we see are unusually colorful and extravagant to behold.
The sight of John at some of his most memorable concert performances, many of which are re-created in the movie, will probably only burnish your admiration for Taron Egerton, the game and gifted 29-year-old actor who plays him. You are also likely to come away satisfied that the English director Dexter Fletcher and his collaborators (including costume designer Julian Day and production designer Marcus Rowland) have re-created those moments with meticulous accuracy and minimal exaggeration, down to every last sequin and pair of specs.
Of course, for the millions of fans who have made Elton Hercules John one of the most popular entertainers of all time, the side-by-side visual comparisons may well be unnecessary. They may have eternally fresh memories of the rainbow-hued feathers John wore on “The Muppet Show,” the sparkly baseball uniform from his sold-out shows at Dodger Stadium or his star-making, gravity-defying L.A. debut at the Troubadour.
But the movie gives you those moments anyway, and a lot more besides. The commercial imperative of fan service, a term often discussed in the context of mega-franchises like “Star Wars,” also applies to movies about bestselling musical artists. You might call “Rocketman” conventional, and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. (The fact that the title is one word may be its most surprising element.) But as with its beloved subject and his enormous catalog of multiplatinum earworms, the movie’s familiarity turns out to be crucial to its charm.
Mild-mannered English piano player Reginald Dwight transforms into rock superstar Elton John in this musical fantasy biopic starring Taron Egerton
Now might be a good time to dispense with the sensitive subject of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and not just because that hugely successful, Oscar-winning Freddie Mercury biopic also centers on a hugely popular musician whose long-repressed homosexuality found both expression and cover in an outsize, often outrageous sense of style. There’s also the fact that an uncredited Fletcher wound up completing “Rhapsody” last year, after the director Bryan Singer was fired mid-production.
The difference between that movie and this one is basically the difference between a tissue of cliches and a straightforward but well-told story. But it is also the difference between a musician’s biopic and a biographical musical. One of the more intuitive gambits of the screenplay by Lee Hall (“Billy Elliot,” a resonant touchstone here) is to structure the picture as a full-blown song-and-dance spectacular, in which fantasy and reality often blur together — sometimes with seamless fluidity, and sometimes with quasi-Brechtian distance.
Egerton’s John interacts at key intervals with his younger self, born Reginald Dwight (played at different ages by Matthew Illesley and Kit Connor). The inevitable performances of “Your Song,” “Tiny Dancer,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “I’m Still Standing,” “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” and, of course, “Rocket Man” are treated not just as career milestones but also as thoughtfully staged, psychologically revealing musical numbers.
There’s a lot of psychology to reveal. John’s story, with all its chart-climbing highs and bottle-hitting lows, has been told before, in salacious tabloid chunks and unauthorized biographies. (His official autobiography will be published this year.) But those who know him as an unparalleled success and a trailblazing LGBTQ icon, or who associate him primarily with the joyousness of so much of his music, may be caught off-guard by some of the more harrowing moments in this particular telling.
We are thrown into a series of extended flashbacks seen from the painful vantage of John’s 1990 stint in rehab — a blunt but effective framing device that forces him to grapple with the past through a mid-recovery haze of depression and anger. Most of that pain is rooted in his boyhood, spent growing up in 1950s London with his unhappily, temporarily married parents. Stanley (Steven Mackintosh) is distant and stern, quick to stamp out any trace of softness in his son’s temperament. Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard) takes more of an interest in the boy’s prodigious musical abilities, though she too is always finding new opportunities for distraction and disappointment.
The exception is Reggie’s loving grandmother (Gemma Jones), always the first one whose ears prick up when Reggie begins improvising at the piano — or, years later, when he stumbles on the immortal tune for “Your Song,” in one of the movie’s unmistakable highlights. By that point, after a decade-collapsing tracking shot set to the pulsing beat of “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” Reggie (now played by Egerton) has already studied at the Royal Academy of Music and backed up soul singers with his early band, Bluesology.
He has also begun his inseparable friendship and professional collaboration with the brilliant lyricist Bernie Taupin (a terrific Jamie Bell), together forming a two-man hit machine that earns them a three-album deal. It’s during their first U.S. tour that Reggie, now going by Elton John (a name he arrives at by way of one of the movie’s clunkier moments), meets and falls in love with a music manager named John Reid (Richard Madden, in a stark departure from “Game of Thrones”).
Reid provides him with some much-needed sexual release as well as a bitter education in the monstrous, endlessly exploitative nature of celebrity. Their sex scenes are brief and isolated, though the mere fact that they exist at all — and without the punitive air that marred “Bohemian Rhapsody” (last time I mention it, I promise) — will probably earn the movie more praise for candor than it deserves. “Rocketman” may push the envelope by the undemanding standards of the Hollywood mainstream, but its depiction of rock ’n’ roll debauchery still falls within a range of perfunctory, somewhat sanitized gestures.
And so you will nod dutifully as John launches into his downward spiral into booze and blow, fame and misfortune. You will wince in disapproval as he squanders emotion on those who don’t deserve it and pushes away those who do — like Ray Williams (Charlie Rowe), the music publisher who first discovered him and Taupin. You will make peace with the fact that his musical genius, his ability to draw on a vast array of musical traditions and genres and pull infernally catchy compositions out of thin air, lies beyond this movie’s ability to evoke.
What you may not always anticipate is the wit and imagination of the staging, the way the script repurposes some of those John-Taupin hits to underscore crucial dramatic moments. “Honky Cat” is reborn as an anthem of celebrity greed, “Bennie and the Jets” as a song of hedonist excess. The conceit of performing “Rocket Man” at the bottom of John’s swimming pool achieves a gorgeous lyricism that Fletcher pulls back from too soon. Given the endlessness of the offerings, it’s understandable that the movie has to make do with excerpts, but you always want more of the music rather than less.
That is hardly the worst thing one could leave this movie thinking. Much of that has to do with Egerton, who is far from a perfect physical match for his subject, but who wisely makes up for the difference through understated evocation rather than showy mimicry. He doesn’t disappear into the role, exactly, but he accomplishes something nearly as remarkable, which is to locate subtle depths of feeling in a character we first see wearing a devil-horned chicken costume. In his most aching moments, this Elton John seems to be singing not to others but to himself, reminding us that even the most universal pleasures can have intensely personal roots. Before it was your song, it was his.
Rating: R, for language throughout, some drug use and sexual content
Rogers Bridge Update - Saving this historic structure's salvage for future projects
June 18, 2021 - Johns Creek will be discussing the disposition of the historic Rogers Bridge salvage at its work session on June 21, 2021. The Historical Society and other Johns Creek organizations are requesting that the city store the salvaged steel as an important, unique, and irreplaceable part of the City's history - to be used for creating public art pieces, historical components to Cauley Creek Park, and other projects not yet imagined.
It's also important to keep the bridge salvage as intact as possible, and not cut the majority into small 5-foot sections as proposed. The most striking uses of the bridge structure will be for sections showing the bridge's engineering and for the longest pieces to create large-scale, iconic, place-making, and destination-worthy public art that will be unique to Johns Creek.
Johns Creek has few historic structures left, making the salvage from the Rogers Bridge a very important link to the City's past. Hopefully, the opportunity to use it in impactful, imaginative future projects will not be lost.
Drone Photo: AJC (City of Duluth)
Rogers Bridge Road trail access to the bridge off of Bell Road closed March 1, 2021 and will remain closed until the project is completed. Currently, prep work is in progress with the bridge expected to be demolished by early summer. Construction cost is expected to be $7.2 million with a cost share of $5.1 million from the Atlanta Regional Commission, $700,000 from GDOT, and $350,000 from each of Duluth, Johns Creek, Gwinnett, and Fulton counties.
Doors drummer John Densmore: ‘It took me years to forgive Jim Morrison’
When he was at the centre of the US counterculture, he lived in terror of his bandmate. Yet after the singer’s death, he fought ferociously to protect his legacy. But, he says, he still regrets not calling out Morrison on his abusive relationships with women
Last modified on Tue 21 Jan 2020 15.46 GMT
I t took the Doors’ drummer, John Densmore, three years to visit the grave of his bandmate Jim Morrison after he was found dead in a Paris bathtub in 1971. He didn’t even go to the funeral. “Did I hate Jim?” Densmore pauses, although he is not obviously alarmed by the question. “No. I hated his self-destruction … He was a kamikaze who went out at 27 – what can I say?”
Quite a lot, it transpires. Morrison was a man who was spectacularly good at being a rock star – a lithe figure in leather trousers, prophesying about death, sex and magic on some of the biggest hits of the 1960s – Light My Fire, Break on Through and Hello, I Love You. But he was catastrophically bad at the rest of life. Like many alcoholics, he could be reckless, selfish and mercurial. “The Dionysian madman,” Densmore has called him – a “psychopath”, a “lunatic” and “the voice that struck terror in me”. He had lobbied to get Morrison off the road before his death, and even quit the band at one point. “Some people wanted to keep shovelling coal in the engine and I was like: ‘Wait a minute. So what if we have one less album? Maybe he’ll live?’” Why did he carry on? “Because I wasn’t mature enough to say that at the time. I wasn’t trying to enable him. It was another era. I used to answer the question: ‘If Jim was around today, would he be clean and sober?’ with a ‘no’. Kamikaze drunk. Now I’ve changed my mind. Of course he would be sober. Why wouldn’t he be? He was smart.”
Densmore, 75, is a defiant survivor of the music scene he helped build. This, perhaps, is why, in the decades since Morrison’s death, he has become not only one of the great chroniclers of the Doors, but the fiercest protector of Morrison’s legacy. To anyone who has read Densmore’s 1990 memoir – a book he says was “written in blood” – this may come as a surprise later the book would form the basis for Oliver Stone’s (dreadful) Doors biopic. “It took me years to forgive Jim,” Densmore says. “And now I miss him so much for his artistry.”
Next month, a documentary about another of his bandmates, the keyboardist Ray Manzarek, who died in 2013, will be released. Manzarek’s relationship with Densmore was not smooth either. From the early 2000s, they were embroiled in a vicious six-year legal battle in which Densmore tried to stop Manzarek and the band’s guitarist, Robby Krieger, from touring under the Doors name as well as selling the band’s music for use on a Cadillac commercial. “I know. I sued my bandmates – am I CRAZY?!” he yells. People certainly thought he was. It is not usual to spend years in court trying to stop yourself from earning millions of dollars to prove a point about the value of artistic integrity over the pursuit of money. “What can I say? Jim’s ghost is behind me all the time,” Densmore says. “My knees were shaking pretty strong when they upped the offer of $5m (£3.8m) to $15m. But my head was saying: Break on Through for a gas-guzzling SUV? No!”
The Doors: Jim Morrison, John Densmore, Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger. Photograph: Estate of Edmund Teske/Getty Images
Manzarek and Krieger’s lawyers tried to paint Densmore as a dangerous communist – even citing a piece he wrote that was published in the Guardian as evidence for this – but eventually, and spectacularly, he won. He wrote a book about the case, published in 2013, and donated the profits to the Occupy movement. “Money is like fertiliser,” he says. “When spread around, things grow when it’s hoarded, it stinks.”
Densmore is fluent in the language of the 60s elder: on the one hand, he talks of peace rainbows and pots of gold filled with love, despairing at the rise of “separatists and populists and borderline racists” running the US. On the other, he displays an almost chilling pragmatism about life and death, not uncommon among musicians of his generation, who lost so many friends to the era’s excesses.
“I interviewed Tom Petty a few months before he died,” he says quietly when I bring this up. The pair became friends during the court case – Petty’s song Money Becomes King, about a singer he once idolised who was selling his songs for a light beer advert, struck home with Densmore. “He had trouble with his hip. I guess he was taking painkillers and brown powder, too. Damn it …” he breathes deeply. “I just ache losing him.” He pauses. “Maybe it’s more noble to die in a friggin’ hospital with a bunch of tubes up your arm. I mean, it sounds horrible, but at least you rode the train all the way to the end – you never checked out early.”
Densmore grew up in the west LA suburbs. He was a gifted drummer from an early age, starting out in the high school marching band (an activity that in those days “ranked next to having leprosy” he once wrote). College put him on to jazz, and he worshipped at the altar of Coltrane and Davis. He was 21 when he met Morrison, who was tall, bookish and handsome. “I’m not into guys, but he looked like Michelangelo’s David,” he says. They had met through Manzarek, a friend of Morrison’s from UCLA film school, at a transcendental meditation workshop run by the guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He took up meditation, he says, because he couldn’t take acid all the time and liked the “separate reality” meditation offered. “When we took LSD, it was legal. We were street scientists exploring the mind. I experimented with cocaine during the 70s and 80s. But it wasn’t my drug of choice. Ugh … drug. I hate that word. I was shocked when heroin became popular. Even Jim knew heroin was a serious drug. Heroin tried to make you forget everything. It scared me. So I stayed away.”
Compared with his bandmates, Densmore was a square. He wasn’t the film-school/literary type. He couldn’t understand Morrison’s obsession with Nietzsche (“Why would anyone want to read a whole book of such double talk?” he wrote) when Manzarek suggested he watch the François Truffaut film The 400 Blows, he ran out and got it, thinking it was The 400 Blowjobs. “Adolescence!” he laughs. At times, he was envious of the attention Morrison got – particularly from women. “Sure, I was jealous. I’d been a teenage drummer with acne. I remember thinking: ‘Why is Jim’s face so big?’ on the cover of our first album, The Doors. Probably because it wouldn’t have sold a lot of copies if it were my face!”
While he may not have been the centrepiece of the group, there is no doubt Densmore was pivotal to the band’s sound. It is hard to imagine Break on Through without his shimmying bossa nova rhythm, or LA Woman – a song that pulses with the hum of a hot California night – without the cascading drum break that makes way for Morrison’s growls of “MR MOJO RISIN’”.
Densmore in the 60s. Photograph: Tom Copi/Getty Images
But as he toured the world with the Doors, Densmore’s family life became more unsteady. His brother had several stints in a psychiatric hospital. He describes going to visit him, finding him heavily sedated, and wondering how sleeping for 17 hours a day could possibly help his schizophrenia – a point that will be familiar even now to anyone who has had to endure acute mental illness. His brother killed himself in 1978. He was also called Jim he also died at the age of 27. Densmore later wrote that he struggled handling sharp objects after his brother’s suicide. “I thought that if I did it, too, it would somehow make it better – atone for not saving him.”
“My sister got angry at me for writing about it,” he says. “For revealing the family secret. Our brother killed himself and back then it wasn’t talked about. And I apologised. I said I was sorry. I said: ‘I know it hurts, but I also want you to read these letters I’ve got from fans who say they wanted to commit suicide and didn’t because of this book.’ And that’s why it’s there. Because, as difficult as it is, it’s healing to get this stuff out on the table.”
Densmore made more music after the Doors split in 1973, and then turned his hand to acting and dance. But it was grief, it is clear, that drove him to the written word. “It’s funny. I got Cs in English at school. I hated it. But now I want to be a writer and I’m voracious for new vocabulary and new ideas. I like connecting new synapses. Like Jim Morrison did. I do sort of feel as if I’m channelling his passion for life.” He stops. “Actually, not for life – as I said, he was a kamikaze who went out at 27. But I want to set an example.”
Kyle Maclachlan, Frank Whaley, Kevin Dillon and Val Kilmer in Oliver Stone’s The Doors. Photograph: Moviestore/Rex/Shutterstock
Densmore’s writing about Morrison often reads as if it were done by someone who has survived an abusive relationship, such was the terror he felt around Morrison towards the end. “On the outside, Jim seemed normal,” he wrote. “But he had an aggressiveness toward life and women.” One such incident was early in their friendship when he went to pick Morrison up from a woman’s house and found him brandishing a knife at her while holding her hand behind her back. At the time, Densmore did nothing because he was worried that if anyone found out about Morrison, the band – and his own career – would be over. What does he make of this now? “I was really young,” he says. “I couldn’t figure out whether they were lovers, friends or enemies. I just felt like I needed to get out of there.” Would he have acted differently if it happened today? “Yeah, I would say: ‘What the fuck are you guys doing? Please take it down a few notches here.’”
There is also an anecdote in his memoir, one that makes it into the Stone film, too, in which Morrison’s partner Pamela Courson is brought into the vocal booth and asked to perform oral sex on the singer while he is recording the track Lost Little Girl. “Urgh,” he groans, when I bring it up. How does it make him feel? “Not so good. I mean, I don’t think he … Well, yeah … See, I’m at a loss for words. SEXIST, what can I say?” How did it feel at the time, when the whole band was there, seeing it happen from afar? “Well, you know, it didn’t really happen. They were just sort of kissing, and then she left.”
That’s odd, I say, because Stone creates a scene out of it in his film. “Oh, my goodness. Well, you know, Hollywood movies are an impressionistic painting of the truth,” he says.
Later in the interview, we go back to this point. “I’m a little nervous that I’ve said stupid things,” he says. “But life is messy.” It is true – if you have lived as many lives as Densmore, seen generations change and shift, there is no doubt that what was acceptable 50 years ago is no longer so.
Densmore’s next book will be about his meetings with musicians. “Each chapter is about a different artist who has fed me artistically,” he says. It will go from his time learning to play the tabla with Ravi Shankar to his adoration for Patti Smith to the time he met Bob Marley. “Writing is a little easier on a 75-year-old,” he says. “I gotta pace myself. No disrespect to Jim and his 27 years, but I’ve been in it for the long run.” He will also get married this year “for the hundredth time” (it is his fourth time), to his partner of 13 years, the painter and photographer Ildiko Von Somogyi. “I guess I believe in the institution,” he laughs. He is proud he has found another career after music. “You want to have a bunch of lives,” he says. “And life does go on – if you stay vital.”