Rubber Soul Deep Dive Part 14: Run For Your Life

Side Two, Track Last

“Run for Your Life,” The “Excellent” Potboiler Closer

 

by Jude Southerland Kessler and Jim Berkenstadt

 

For the last 18 months, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog has explored the intricacies of The Beatles’ remarkable 1965 LP, Rubber Soul. This month the Rock and Roll Detective, Jim Berkenstadt, author of Black Market Beatles, Nevermind Nirvana, The Beatle Who Vanished, and his recent best-seller, Mysteries in the Music: Case Closed, joins Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series, for a fresh, new look at the raucous early-Beatles-sounding final track of this creative LP. Jim – who served as the official historian for the Harrison family in the making of George’s biopic film, “Living in the Material World” – has been the Featured Author at Beatles at the Ridge and is a long-time Guest Speaker the Fest for Beatles Fans. We’re honored to have him with us.

 

What’s Standard:

 

Date Recorded: 12 October 1965 (the first day of recording for Rubber Soul)

Time Recorded: 2:30 – 7:00 p.m. (In his Complete Beatles Chronicle, Mark Lewisohn says this was the time frame spent on “Run for Your Life.” The session continued until 11:30 p.m., but the rest of the time was spent on John’s “This Bird Has Flown.”)

Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2

 

Tech Team

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Norman Smith

Second Engineer: Ken Scott and Phil McDonald

Stats: Recorded in 5 takes

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:

 

John Lennon, the composer, sings double-tracked lead vocals and plays his 1964 Gibson J-160E acoustic guitar. At the outset of the EMI tapes for the day, you can hear John talking to Paul about his “Jumbo Gibson.”

 

Paul McCartney, sings accompanying double-tracked vocal harmony, plays bass on his 1963 Hofner 500//1 Violin Bass, and according to Hammack, tambourine. (Hammack refers to the tambourine work as “a dominant part of the backing track,” p. 61)

 

George Harrison sings double-tracked backing vocal harmony and plays either his 1963 Gretsch G6119 Chet Atkins Tennessean electric with Gretsch Bigsby vibrato (more preferred) or his 1961 Fender Stratocaster electric with synchronized tremolo.

 

Ringo Starr plays one of his Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl Super Classic drum sets and according to some experts, tambourine.**

 

**This information is from Jerry Hammack’s The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, p. 61.

 

Sources: The Beatles, The Anthology, 193-199, Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 202, Lewisohn, The Recording Sessions, 63, Kruth, This Bird Has Flown: The Enduring Beauty of Rubber Soul, Fifty Years On, 64-68, Womack, The Beatles Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, 796-797, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 308-309, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 362-363, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, 61-62, Miles, The Beatles Diary, Vol. 1, 216-218, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 98, MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, 129, Riley, Tell Me Why, 170-171, Womack, Long and Winding Roads, 125, and Harry, The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia, 570.   

 

What’s Changed:

 

  1. Unpolished Performance – In his book, Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Recordings and the Sixties, Ian MacDonald says of “Run for Your Life”: “The performance is slapdash, Lennon muffing the words and “ popping” the microphone several times by getting too near to it. The guitar-work, some of which is badly out of tune, is similarly rough…” Likewise, in Way Beyond Compare, John C. Winn notes that “…a thumping sound [is present] during the guitar solo.” (p. 362)

 

Whilst one might assume that The Beatles were getting “sloppy” in their artistry, we must remember that these are characteristics of the Please Please Me LP, which was designed to sound like a raw, unpolished Cavern Club performance. On the “Please Please Me” single, for example,  we recall that Paul and John sang completely different lyrics on the “Last night I said these words to my girl” follow-up, and the bobble was kept intact, despite the fact that many “helpful” fans wrote the boys to alert them of their “error.” (Smile.) The glitch, according to Martin, added charm.

 

It is true that in the autumn of 1965, the boys were under tremendous pressure to get Rubber Soul recorded and polished quickly. Barry Miles in The Beatles Diary, Vol. 1 comments: “The Beatles were trapped on a deadline-powered treadmill.” (p. 216) They hadn’t paused once all year from the making of their United Artists film “Help!” and its accompanying LP to their European Tour to the July movie premieres and a live Blackpool show for the ever-demanding BBC to the 1965 North American Tour and the impending 1965 UK Tour. So, time was a commodity of which The Beatles had precious little.

 

But that did not stop Rubber Soul from being one of their most artistic, incredible LPs. In fact, John Lennon commented, “We were…getting better, technically and musically…we finally took over the studio. On Rubber Soul, we were sort of more precise about making the album…” (p. 21) Thus, the glitches in “Run for Your Life” seem to have been left in the song intentionally. They gave the track an early Beatles flavor. On an album replete with new outlooks, new instruments, and new sounds, here at last, fans could find “the lads from Liverpool.” For many, it was a refreshing, “ahhhhhh!” moment.

 

  1. John Lennon (instead of Paul McCartney) “does Elvis” – One wonderful feature of The Beatles’ Cavern Club shows was Paul’s talented homage to Elvis in songs such as “That’s All Right, Mama.” Able to closely imitate the American star to a “T,” McCartney always brought down the house with his Presley renditions. Here, it was John Lennon’s turn to pay tribute to the icon. Indeed, John wrote this entire song based on two lines from one of Elvis’s classic rockabilly tracks (“Baby, Let’s Play House,” composed by Arthur Gunter): “I’d rather see you dead, little girl/ than to be with another man.”

 

Then, employing a jagged, halting vocal style, John performs “Run For Your Life” a la E! In fact, in All the Songs, Margotin and Guesdon tell us that “In the first take, John’s voice was wrapped in a slap-back echo, which [gave] a rockabilly feel to the piece.” (p. 308-309) And to make the sound even more authentic, the song was laced with George Harrison’s “chord slides,” to enhance that 1950s Elvis sound. Having met and talked with Presley in his Los Angeles mansion only a few weeks earlier, John offers this Rubber Soul nod to his hero, of whom he had often quipped, “Before Elvis, there was nothing.”

 

  1. A Glimpse Back at The Early Beatles – As we’ve observed in songs such as “Drive My Car,” “Norwegian Wood,” “Girl,” “What Goes On,” “You Won’t See Me,” and even “Michelle” (who doesn’t even know the adoring male exists), the women of Rubber Soul are not the up-on-a-pedestal, helpless women in “Ask Me Why,” or “Do You Want to Know a Secret” or “I Need You.” Rubber Soul’s women are strong, independent, and many times, unemotional. And their romantic relationships are quite complicated. In “Run for Your Life,” for example, the female is suspected of infidelity.

 

John’s reaction to her unfaithfulness, however, isn’t as open-minded or “as 1965” as the other songs on Rubber Soul seem to be. Lennon reacts like John of old: John of the Casbah, John of the Cavern boards, John of gritty Hamburg. He reveals himself as the jealous “Northern man” that he’s always been. His attitude is inappropriately edgy, as are his threats, founded in wounded machismo. And in later years, John regretted and apologized for these lyrics.

 

But the “antiquated attitude” John expressed was not intended as an anti-feminist statement. As Tim Riley points out in Tell Me Why, this is merely Lennon “let[ting] off steam.” (p. 170) According to John, “‘Run for Your Life’…was just a song I knocked off” (Kruth, p. 66), “just a sort of throwaway song of mine that I never thought much of.” (Riley, 170). It’s merely a hard-charging, angst-filled rock anthem that gets the blood pumping.  On an LP featuring sitars, melodies that hint at a droning tabla sound, exotic French lyrics, baroque orchestration, and elevated themes embracing the agape love of mankind, “Run for Your Life” sweeps the listener back to an earlier era. (Arthur Gunter wrote “Baby, Let’s Play House” in 1954, and Presley released it in 1955.) Here, in this final track of an extremely metamorphic LP, we encounter our band of old: The Beatles. As Jerry Hammack so aptly observed in his Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, “ ‘Run for Your Life’ might have been a warning shot across the bow of expectation that these were still the same lovable mop tops that had burst upon the scene just three years earlier.” The past was still a part of them all – and of John, in particular.

 

A Fresh New Look:

 

Recently, John Lennon expert Jude Southerland Kessler sat down with the Rock and Roll Detective, best-selling author Jim Berkenstadt, to talk about this LP-closing rocker. Accustomed to routing out rock’n’roll’s greatest mysteries in books such as Black Market Beatles, consulting to the late George Harrison and The Beatles Apple Corps Ltd, and his latest release, Mysteries in the Music: Case Closed, Jim agreed to give us his unique perspective on “Run for Your Life.”

  

Jude Southerland Kessler: Jim, thank you for taking time out from the making of the new movie based on your book The Beatle Who Vanished to talk with our Fest Family about “Run for Your Life.” You know, in John Kruth’s book This Bird Has Flown, The Enduring Beauty of Rubber Soul, Fifty Years On, he tells us that if one listens to the EMI tapes for 12 October 1965, one can hear John – preparing the band to record “Run for Your Life” – directing the others to “make it heavy!” (p. 63)  Kruth says this was “years before anyone had heard the term heavy metal, or used the term heavy instead of profound.” (p. 63) So, what is John Lennon after here, Jim? And how do The Beatles accomplish that “heavy” goal?

 

Jim Berkenstadt: Thanks, Jude.

 

Even though many have described this track over the years as a toss away or album filler, I loved this song the first time I heard it, which was Christmas Day, 1965. I will never forget get it.

 

The musical and vocal elements are what make the song “heavy”. I don’t think Lennon meant heavy in the sense of the future genre “heavy metal.” I think he meant that suggestion as a way to get the entire band to play it as a hard rocker. Clearly, his recent visit with Elvis in LA, and John’s love of early Elvis recordings was on his mind when he began to write the song. It is interesting that The Beatles recorded the song exactly 10 years after Elvis released his song, “Baby Let’s Play House.”

 

I believe John wanted a tougher rock sound to match the macho, edgy vocals and jealous lyrics he was writing. Even the acoustic strumming at the start sets the driving pace, as the loud opening lead guitar riff kicks in, pulling the listener in to pay attention to Lennon’s opening and threatening lyrics. At the same time, we hear a very hard 2 and 4 backbeat from Ringo on drums and Paul overdubbing the driving tambourine. I think the double-tracked backing vocals and harmonies in the chorus are very strident, crisp and aggressive too. At the same time, they are beautiful and precise in their execution. The guitar slides that accompany the tough lead guitar solo by George are amazing. All of these elements combine to push the listener to pay attention. The song achieves its “heavy” goal with its driving passion and sound. Musically it is very hooky and catchy. You cannot get the song out of your head after only one listen.

 

Kessler: Kruth also says that “Run for Your Life” was “tacked on at the end of the record, stashed behind a second Harrison number (on the U.K. version).” (p. 66) But traditionally, George Martin had always given special attention and consideration to the closing “pot-boiler” on each of The Beatles’ LPs. Tell us about some of the other exceptional closing songs, please, Jim. And do you think “Run for Your Life” measures up?

 

Berkenstadt:

The Sgt. Pepper LP featured “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band (Reprise),” which has a similar hard-charging feel that provides us with another closing “Pot Boiler” like “Run for your Life.” And my favorite LP-ending song by The Beatles will always be “The End,” from Abbey Road, with the group trading solos in a rousing farewell to their fans. But, it is important to recall that The Beatles matured and changed with each album they created. I think Rubber Soul was a transitionary album that drew a bit from the old days and also shared a more mature future musical direction as well. For that reason, comparing closing numbers is a bit of “apples and oranges.” However, I think “Run For Your Life” really holds up as a great album closer 27 years on.

 

Kessler: Okay, the elephant in the room! Our friend Ken Womack, in Vol. 2 of his Beatles Encyclopedia informs us that in 1992, Ottawa’s radio station CFRA banned “Run for Your Life” for its misogynistic lyrics. When Beatles fans wrote in to inform the station that the offensive line was a direct quote from Elvis’s “Baby Let’s Play House,” that song was then banned as well. But CFRA did not ban Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” or Nancy Sinatra’s version of “Run for Your Life” in which she sings “I’d rather see you dead little boy than to be with another woman.” They did not ban Johnny Cash’s “Cocaine Blues” or the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb” or Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman.” For that matter, they didn’t ban female rockers performing songs such as the Crystals’ “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)” or Joanie Summers performing “Johnny Get Angry.” So, what’s really at play here, Jim? Does John Lennon’s penchant for being constantly censured figure into the mix?

 

Berkenstadt:

Censorship of music has always been a slippery slope. In my new book, Mysteries in the Music: Case Closed, I reviewed 100s of pages of de-classified FBI investigation documents into whether the song “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen was in fact obscene. In that case, the FBI and the Governor of Indiana (who basically banned the record from radio in violation of the First Amendment) were pre-disposed to find something wrong with the song. I detailed their sloppy investigations which were an embarrassment. The 3-year FBI witch-hunt cost taxpayers around $62 million dollars in today’s money, and never found any evidence of obscenity. The details I revealed in the book demonstrated what they failed to find and what they should have discovered. Readers will enjoy this fresh new deep-dive on the topic of music censorship.

 

The censorship of John Lennon’s song doesn’t necessarily indicate that they were picking on Lennon per se. Censorship really is a totally subjective process. Perhaps the station chose Lennon for a public relations reason? Admittedly, Lennon and The Beatles were bigger than all of the other artists they could have picked on. By selecting him, perhaps they thought they might gain more listeners from the controversial publicity? Or maybe someone didn’t like The Beatles at that station? We may never know the motive behind this action. I think the only way to truly answer this question would be to locate all of the decision makers at the station in 1992, and ask them about their motives in the censorship of Lennon’s song and try to determine why they chose the Lennon/ Beatles song and not the others.

 

Ironically, the biggest pop song of last year was not investigated by the FBI for obscenity. It was a Cardi B hit called, “WAP.” I will let your readers look up what that stands for. LOL.

 

Kessler: Jim, so many Beatles experts link this 1965 song to earlier Lennon “insecurity” tracks such as “No Reply” and “You Can’t Do That.” Others see “Run for Your Life” as a precursor  to “Jealous Guy,” “I’m Losing You,” and “Crippled Inside.” There is an obvious common denominator in John’s life story…the story he tells us over and over and over throughout his career. Talk a little about that, please, Jim, and what other songs do you see as part of this “Lennon Litany of Loss”?  

 

Berkenstadt:

Sadly, as many Beatles fans know, John lost his mother two times. The first time was after his parents broke up and John went to live with his Aunt Mimi. This alone would have been traumatic enough for a young boy to see his mom get together with another man and start a new family without him in the home. But then, as he was starting to spend more time in his teens with his mom, and she was teaching him guitar chords and giving him his first guitar, she was sadly killed by an off-duty drunken officer who hit her with his car. The loss of family at a young age can create a lifelong trauma, not easily remedied. I think John’s trauma did lead to many songs of loss, sadly.  Perhaps the most poignant song he ever wrote was “Mother.” Who can forget the grief-filled and chilling lines of John’s Plastic Ono Band song:

 

Mother, you had me but I never had you,
I wanted you,
You didn’t want me
So I, I just got to tell you
Goodbye goodbye.
Father, you left me but I never left you,
I needed you,
You didn’t need me
So I, I just got to tell you
Goodbye goodbye.

This is such a broken-hearted song. It is my belief that John did benefit from putting his grief and feelings of loss into his music. In a way, it was a healthy form of therapy. And it probably served to help others who had similar childhood traumas to relate to Lennon’s honest and brave “Litany of Loss” songs.

 

Kessler: Jim, thank you so much for your insights into this controversial but (as Margotin and Guesdon observed) “excellent song.” (p. 309) I’m enjoying your intriguing Mysteries in the Music: Case Closed book so much! And I can’t wait to see you in Chicago in just a few weeks for the Fest!

 

For more information on the Rock and Roll Detective Jim Berkendstadt, go to:

 

Mysteries in the Music: Case Closed (free excerpt download and signed copies)

The Beatle Who Vanished (free excerpt download and signed copies)

 

HEAD HERE to learn more about all of Jim’s projects  

 

You can meet Jim in person at the Chicago Fest for Beatles Fans, Aug. 12-14 at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare where he’ll be discussing and signing his most recent book, Mysteries in the Music, Case Closed.

 

To purchase Jim’s books, go to: Amazon.com: Jim Berkenstadt: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle and www.thefest.com

 

Follow Jim on Facebook here 

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Rubber Soul Deep Dive Part 11: In My Life

Rubber Soul

Side Two, Track Three

“In My Life”

 

by Jude Southerland Kessler and Susan Ryan

 

Throughout 2021 and the first few months of 2022, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog has been exploring some of the finer points of The Beatles’ innovative 1965 LP, Rubber Soul. This month, a lifelong friend of the Fest, Susan Ryan, joins Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series for an in-depth consideration of “In My Life.” Susan is the co-author of The Beatles Fab Four Cities, a new release thoroughly exploring the lives of The Beatles in Liverpool, Hamburg, London, and New York City. Susan is also an experienced New York City Beatles Tour guide and the owner of Fab Four Walking Tours. In her role as a noted public speaker, Susan has served as Emcee for Beatles at the Ridge and The Fest for Beatles Fans. Susan and Jude hope you enjoy this “fresh, new look” at Lennon’s masterpiece, “In My Life.”

 

What’s Standard:

 

Date Recorded:

18 October 1965 – The Beatles recorded the base track for the song: the two guitars, bass, and drums in three takes. On Take 3, John recorded his double-tracked vocals; Paul and George added backing vocals.

22 October 1965 – As per John’s request for “something baroque,” George Martin recorded an original piano solo for what John referred to as the song’s “middle eight.” Martin did this by playing half-speed on a normal piano and then speeding it up to create the sound of a harpsichord.

Studio: Both recordings took place in EMI Studios, Studio 2

 

Tech Team

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Norman Smith (and according to some sources, Ron Pender)

Second Engineer: Ken Scott

Stats: Recorded in only four takes. “Best” take was Take 4. However, a plethora of overdubs completed the song in later sessions.

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:

 

John Lennon, the lyrical composer and, he states, the musical composer (Lennon stated to David Sheff that “All Paul added to the song was the middle eight and the harmony.”) sings lead vocals and guitar on his 1961 Fender Stratocaster electric. (Hammond, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 73)

Paul McCartney, who also claims to be the musical composer, sings backing vocal and plays bass on his Rickenbacker 4001S. In his Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, Hammack points out that the Hofner 500/1 “was available, but probably unused.” (p. 73)

George Harrison sings backing vocals and plays lead guitar on his 1961 Fender Stratocaster electric, an exact match for John’s guitar. (Hammack, 73) Harrison plays the memorable and lovely introduction to this song. (Womack, Maximum Volume, The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, 291)

Ringo Starr plays one of his Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl Super Classic drum sets (Hammack, 73 and Womack, 291)) and tambourine.

George Martin, plays the baroque “middle eight.” The complete story of this solo is covered in the “What’s Changed” section below.  (Womack, Maximum Volume, The Life of Beatles Producer, George Martin, 290-291.)

 

Sources: The Beatles, The Anthology, 194, Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 202-203, Lewisohn, The Recording Sessions, 64-65, Womack, Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of The Beatles, 122-124,Womack, Maximum Volume, The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, 290-291 and 294, Womack, The Beatles Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, 462-464, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 302-303, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 365 and 367, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 73-75, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 96-98, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 203, Coleman, Lennon, 299, MacDonald, Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and The Sixties, 136-137, Riley, Tell Me Why, 166-168,  Sheff, The Playboy Interviews, 149 and 151, Norman, John Lennon: The Life, 417-418, Miles, Paul McCartney, Many Years From Now, 276-278,  Babiuk, Beatles Gear, 169-170, and Spignesi and Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs, 33-34, and In My Life” by The Beatles. The in-depth story behind the songs of the Beatles. Recording History. Songwriting History. Song Structure and Style. (beatlesebooks.com)

 

What’s Changed:

 

  1. Overt autobiographical references set to a solemn melody –

 

Although many (if not most) of John’s songs prior to 1965 had been highly autobiographical, hits such as “I’ll Cry Instead,” “Tell Me Why,” and “Help!” had been accompanied by up-tempo music that made them seem happy, light-hearted, and upbeat. Even when John’s confessionals were backed by more somber music – as in the case of “If I Fell,” “I’m a Loser,” and “Not a Second Time” – the public perceived them merely as universal love songs, songs that could apply to anyone. Few guessed that rich, powerful, successful John Lennon was singing about his own wounds and fears.

 

“In My Life,” however, was at last quite completely candid about the joys and sorrows John had experienced. Spurred on by journalists John respected (including Maureen Cleave and Kenneth Alsop) who encouraged John to be more openly autobiographical and literary…and validated by the nature of Dylan’s popular “Freewheeling” LP, John summoned the courage to make “In My Life” an overtly personal release. He didn’t try to buoy it up with lively music or brush it off as nonsense or gobbledygook. John owned “In My Life” as “my first real major piece of work.” (Sheff, The Playboy Interviews, 151) Without excuse or camouflage, John laid bare his heart.

 

  1. Inclusion of a classical sounding (“Bach inversion”) piano solo –

 

John had originally envisioned a guitar solo as the instrumental solo for “In My Life.” He had even devised an intricate melody line for this part of the song. And in keeping with his wishes, a guitar solo was recorded. In his book, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Jerry Hammack states that this  might have been a dual solo, recorded by Harrison and Lennon. He writes: “…the solo appears to have been played by two different guitars. Harrison recalled that on October 22nd, he and John played a dual solo on ‘Nowhere Man,’ so the dual performance is a distinct possibility.” (p. 74) However, this solo just didn’t turn out to be as poignant or effective as John wanted it to sound, and he expressed those misgivings to George Martin.

 

In Kenneth Womack’s, Maximum Volume, The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, we are told, “Lennon and Martin set about the business of recording a keyboard solo for ‘In My Life’…To Lennon’s mind, the solo was an essential feature – a highly melodic means of underscoring the song’s nostalgic power. With a Hammond studio organ on hand, Lennon opted for a classical sound in the manner of J.S. Bach. As The Beatles lacked the ability to score music…Martin sat beside Lennon in Studio 2. As Lennon sang the notes of a potential keyboard solo, Martin doubled the sounds on the grand piano with one hand while charting them in his notebook with the other. With the keyboard solo having been fully realized, Martin sat before the Hammond organ as Norman Smith cued up the existing first and second takes of ‘In My Life.’ But as he listened to the playback with Smith and The Beatles, Martin was decidedly underwhelmed [with the solo]…The organ sounded thin and lifeless in contrast with the song’s moving lyrics…”(p. 291)

 

So, the evolution of the lovely solo that John had composed did not end there. Womack goes on to say, “…on Friday, October 22…the band’s producer turned his attentions back to ‘In My Life.’ George was determined to unseat the Hammond organ solo that he had recorded…a stunning song and glorious song such as ‘In My Life’ deserved a much grander fate.”

 

To find out “the rest of the story” (as journalist Paul Harvey used to say), join Susan Ryan later in this blog for “A Fresh New Look” at the so-called “middle eight.”

 

  1. Highly-contested authorship and performance debates –

 

In the early years, The Beatles admittedly collaborated quite frequently on songs such as “She Loves You” and “From Me to You.” But as time went along and they lived further from one another, they began to write the body of a song singly, later altering that song with words or phrases deftly supplied by the other Beatles (such as John’s endorsement of “the movement you need is on your shoulder” in “Hey Jude”) or tweaking a composition here or there, with a little help from their friends. (Pete Shotton, for example, claimed to have contributed significantly to “I Am the Walrus”).

 

Of course, there were always some true collaborations such as “We Can Work It Out” and “A Day in the Life,” but these partnership productions were less prevalent post-1964 than they had been in the group’s ingenue years. Therefore, it was rare for a song’s authorship to be debated. “In My Life” is one of the few songs in contention. As Ken Womack points out in Long and Winding Roads, The Evolving Artistry of The Beatles, “It was certainly a song over which claiming authorship was a worthy goal indeed.” (p. 124)

 

More on this topic as we now join Beatles author Susan Ryan for…

 

A Fresh New Look:

 

Jude Southerland Kessler was thrilled to be able to interview Susan Ryan, for this deep-dive into John Lennon’s “In My Life.” When considering Lennon’s masterpiece – a song that Philip Norman has called “a superlative achievement” (John Lennon: The Life, 417) and Ken Womack has dubbed “John Lennon’s…exquisite composition.” (Maximum Volume, 290) Ryan has conducted tours of John Lennon’s New York City for many years as part of her company, Fab Four Walking Tours, and she is featured in the DVD “John Lennon’s New York City.” Kessler commented, “It would be difficult to find anyone who would know John Lennon better than Susan Ryan!” Here is their recent conversation:

 

Jude Southerland Kessler: Susan, congratulations on your new book co-written with David Bedford and Richard Porter, The Beatles Fab Four Cities! I’ve read it cover-to-cover and am really impressed with the depth of research and the wealth of Beatles history in its pages. I know you’re busy promoting it on podcasts, radio programs, social media, and so forth. So, thank you for taking time out to join us for this consideration of “In My Life!”

 

Susan Ryan: Thanks for asking me to help with this project, Jude! Rubber Soul is pretty much my favorite Beatles album, and being able to discuss “In My Life,” a song that has been one of my favorites forever, is a true privilege. I’m also glad to hear that you are enjoying The Beatles Fab Four Cities! Working on that book with David and Richard has also been a true joy, allowing us to share our personal passions as tour guides in our individual cities with all Beatle people!

 

Kessler: Well, let’s jump right into the heart of this beautiful Lennon ballad, “In My Life.” Susan, Ray Coleman in Lennon has this to say about John’s work on Rubber Soul: “For Lennon, particularly, this album marked a personal progression in his craft. Personal honesty and confession, which were to characterize his later work, were inherent. His songs are marked by a more poetic approach, and he was beginning to find his own voice.” How is Coleman’s observation well-illustrated in John’s poignant Side Two creation, “In My Life”?

 

Ryan: Certainly, by the time Rubber Soul and “In My Life” came out, John’s songwriting was maturing at rapid rate. His lyrics had already begun to exhibit a much more personal bent, less of the “I love you; you love me; she loves you” of earlier works. “In My Life” is absolutely an intensely personal reflection, a look back on simpler days and the people and things that were near and dear to John’s heart, and much more straightforward than previous “personal” songs that were covered up by cheerful pop melodies.

 

It is also interesting that the song came from someone so young – normally, a listener would not expect a man of just under 25 years of age to be able to craft such a heartfelt song about “looking back,” but John manages it, and you can hear his longing for times gone by, even if those times were not so very far in his past. Given everything that The Beatles had been through up to this point, becoming virtual prisoners of their fame, it’s not surprising that he would be wishing for the way things had been before they were swallowed up by fame and fortune.  It is also a definite step towards the sometimes brutal honesty that would characterize so many of John’s later songs, both with The Beatles and solo – songs like “Julia” on the White Album, where he sings about his mother, but also inserts his hope for the future with Yoko, or the songs on the John Lennon Plastic Ono Band album, nearly all of which are personal to the point of pain.

 

But it is with songs like “In My Life,” however, where the seeds for those songs and others begin to take root, and where his ability to craft beautiful, passionately personal songs that were destined to endure as pop standards began to emerge, although he could (and did) still write perfect bits of more commercial pop as well.  It’s no wonder this song means so much to so many people – even though they are John’s memories, there’s a universality to the lyrics, set to the lovely melody, that resonates with so many people and their lives.

 

Kessler: John wrote a third verse for “In My Life” that specifically mentioned places in Liverpool he so vividly recalled. However, he removed this bit because he said it felt too much like a “What I Did on Summer Vacation” essay. Share that verse with us, please, and if you don’t mind, please give us your reaction to the lyrics that were omitted.

 

Ryan: Here’s the omitted verse:

 

Penny Lane is one I’m missing
Up Church Road to the clock tower
In the circle of the Abbey
I have seen some happy hours

Past the tram sheds with no trams
On the 5 bus into town
Past the Dutch and St Columbus
To the Dockers Umbrella that they pulled down.[i]

 

Frankly, anyone who hears this song in its final form would have to agree with John; it reads like a travelogue or a “guide to Liverpool landmarks.” If it had been left in, it would have made what is a poignant, universally accessible song into something a little too personal and specific.  By omitting this verse, the song becomes something else – it takes on a life as a song any listener can relate to, no matter who they are or where they’re from. Everyone looks back at some point in their lives to “people and things that went before,” or remembers “friends and lovers….some (who) are dead and some (who) are living.” But not everyone is from Liverpool – and while the places mentioned specifically in those omitted lyrics may have meant something to John personally, or to the other Beatles or other Liverpudlians, they just would not have the same resonance to someone from New York or Los Angeles or any other place.

 

Removing this verse and leaving the form of the song as we know it was a brilliant move, whether originally intended or not, because even though the song remained intensely personal as far as John was concerned, it allowed other people to hear it and put themselves in the situation – the best way to create a “standard.”  There’s a reason this song is sung at weddings and funerals and other life-cycle events – it means something to everyone precisely because it is not time- or place-specific.

 

Kessler: Susan, John admitted that several influences led him to write this very autobiographical song in 1965. Tell us about those people who encouraged him to be more introspective.

 

Ryan: Prior to this song, although John had definitely written songs that were personal, he’d hidden that behind catchy pop melodies or found other ways to disguise the fact.  By the time he was working on this song, however, he’d done a couple of interviews with people who had asked him outright why he didn’t write more sophisticated, introspective songs. One of these was Maureen Cleve of the Evening Standard, who quite literally asked him why he “didn’t ever write songs with more than one syllable?” A second journalist, Kenneth Allsop, asked him why his songs didn’t contain the same kind of depth and meaning that his poetry and prose did when interviewing him after the publication of In His Own Write. All of this led John to begin thinking about doing something more serious and personal.

 

Add to this the release of Bob Dylan’s seminal work, “Freewheeling,” which was full of autobiographical songs, and John realized that if he wanted to do something more serious, he had to take that leap and be willing to share things of a more personal nature in his work.  For a man who most often carried his most intense personal feelings close to the vest, it was a huge step into the unknown, but as I mentioned above, it was also the seed that grew into so many other personal, autobiographical, confessional songs later in his life. The beautiful, tender melody also brought out a softer side of the man who had previously been perceived by many as the “rocker” of the group.

 

Kessler: All right, let’s address the elephant in the room. John was very proud of “In My Life.” In fact, he said it was “his first real major piece of work.” John emphatically said that Paul didn’t even see the song until the lyrics were finished and that “[Paul’s] contribution melodically was the harmony and the middle eight.” Paul, just as insistently, claims to have written the melody. This is the short version of this disagreement. Give us the details, please.

 

Ryan: Wow, Jude, you really want to open a can of worms here, don’t you?

 

There are numerous interviews where John states that he wrote the lyrics to the song first and the music later. This was frequently how he wrote – he’d start with an idea and then come up with the music. In the group’s early years, both John and Paul emphasized their “collaborative” songwriting, stressing the idea that every song they created was a totally collective endeavor by “Lennon and McCartney.”

 

However, in later years, both of their recollections about who wrote the actual melody began to diverge. In a 1980 interview, John said, “There was a period when I thought I didn’t write melodies; that Paul wrote those and I just wrote straight, shouting rock ‘n’ roll. But of course, when I think of some of my own songs – “In My Life” or some of the early stuff….I was writing melody with the best of them.”[ii]  In that same interview, he stated unequivocally that “Paul helped with the middle eight.”  But there was controversy as early as 1976-77 – when Paul was shown a list of Lennon-claimed songs by Hit Parader Magazine, the only one he disputed was “In My Life,” claiming that he’d written the whole melody from beginning to end, inspired by Smokey Robinson.

 

This claim to the authorship of the melody continued when Paul reiterated his statement in 1998, in Barry Miles’ biography of him, Many Years From Now, disputing previous statements by John insisting that his contributions to the song were minor. The fact that John died in 1980 and isn’t here to clarify these claims certainly makes it difficult to discern who was the real author of the music, but given that the song is so intensely personal, it seems logical that John wrote the majority of the song, with only small contributions from Paul in sections such as the middle eight/bridge.

 

Another fascinating thing is that the handwritten lyric sheet of the completed song, which is in John’s handwriting, has only one credit at the bottom – John Lennon! When songs were more collaborative, they’d sign them with both their names.

 

I did find an interesting tidbit that said that in 2018, Harvard University applied an artificial intelligence model to the music of the song, and determined, by their calculations, that there was a “.018% possibility of McCartney having written the whole of the music.”  They gave John an 81.1% certainty of having written the verses, and Paul a 43.6% certainty of writing the middle eight, which means that although the song did contain some obvious collaboration, the vast majority of it was written by John.  I’m inclined to agree.

 

Kessler: As Ian MacDonald points out, there really is no bridge in this song. However, there is an instrumental bridge, artfully created by George Martin. It wasn’t the first bridge composed for the song, however. Please tell us about both bridges and how, by strange coincidence, they “come together.”

 

Ryan: As Jude mentioned earlier in the “What’s New” segment of this blog, “In My Life” doesn’t really have a “middle eight” as people who are familiar with the songs of Lennon and McCartney would recognize. Instead, it has an instrumental bridge, played by George Martin on what is credited on the album cover as a harpsichord.  More on that later…

 

The song was recorded on October 18, 1965, during what was a relatively short studio session for The Beatles. By the end of the day, they had completed most of the song, but there was a section in the middle that was left out because John couldn’t decide what to put there.  Originally it was a guitar piece by George Harrison, but that didn’t hit the right note. George Martin left a gap in the song and John suggested that he supply one himself.  In a 1970 interview, John stated, “In ‘In My Life’ there’s an Elizabethan piano solo.  We’d do things like that.  We’d say, ‘play it like Bach,” or ‘could you put twelve bars in there?’”

 

With that rather vague instruction, George Martin was left to his own devices to create something to place into that section of the song. He worked on the section four days later, on October 22, 1965, when he wrote and recorded something he described as being “like a Bach inversion.” He recorded it first on a Hammond organ, but then did it again on the piano because he didn’t like the sound of the organ. It’s here where George Martin’s genius really shows through, because he used a technique called the “wind-up piano,” with the solo recorded at half speed and an octave lower. When played at normal speed, this made the piano sound like a harpsichord – an auditory trick that no one even realized at the time!  When he played it back for the Beatles when they came back to the studio, they loved it, and left the “harpsichord” solo that we all know and love as part of the song.

 

Kessler: Susan, amazing work! I’ve so enjoyed this. Thank you for taking time out of your preparations for the New Jersey Fest coming up on April 1-3 to be with us this month for the Fest Blog!

 

Ryan: Thanks again for this opportunity, Jude!  It’s been a true pleasure!  I’m looking forward to hearing what people think about our discussion of this special song, and to seeing folks at the New Jersey Fest in April!

 

For more information on Susan Ryan and The Beatles Fab Four Cities:

 

The Beatles Fab Four Cities by Ryan, Bedford, and Porter had been acclaimed as “a must for every Beatles fan” by Billy J. Kramer. To find out more about the book, HEAD HERE

 

To purchase The Beatles Fab Four Cities, HEAD HERE

 

To hear Susan Ryan, David Bedford and Richard Porter discuss The Beatles Fab Four Cities on the “She Said She Said” podcast, HEAD HERE

 

To discover more about Ryan’s Beatles Tours of New York City, HEAD HERE

 

To follow Susan Ryan on social media, HEAD HERE

 

[i] The original lyrics to “In My Life” may be viewed here

[ii] Sheff, David, The Playboy Interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, p. 116-117

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John Lennon: Why We Still Care

Over three and a half decades after his passing…and still we pause on 9 October, celebrating the life of John Lennon, looking back not with misty-eyed nostalgia but with clear-headed vision that embraces both his many strengths and his many weaknesses.

 

John Lennon was no saint…that’s for sure. He never – not even as a teen – suffered fools lightly, and when the press (in 1963-66) asked him ridiculous questions such as “What do you do with all that hair while you sleep?” he, often as not, presented a jaw-clinched, disgusted visage and a sharp retort. He admitted that he had “a chip on [his] shoulder bigger than [his] feet,” and so his anger often flared, whereas Paul was always able to discover some politically-correct and charming response. And yes, John was often jealous and sharp-tongued. And yes, he was infrequently physical with Cynthia.

 

But despite the faults that his latter-day detractors have hurled at him, he is still one of the most exceptional individuals I’ve ever known. John Lennon endured a string of life tragedies that none of us could weather, and ultimately, he used them for good. He used them to create beautiful, haunting, lasting lyrics and compositions…he gave us the soundtrack of our lives.

 

Look, John had every reason to be bitter. At age five, his parents (for very complicated reasons) surrendered him to his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George to rear – and although George Toogood Smith was truly “too good” (exceptionally kind and loving), Mimi was not. She was the soul of decorum and discipline. And when six-year-old John – begging for love – would ask her, “Mimi, why are you here every day when I come home from school?” she would only respond, “Because it’s my duty to do so.” Mimi taught John many important things: to study, go to church, mind his manners, to behave…but she never taught to him to love.

 

As John grew into his preteen years, John “found out” that his mother, Julia, lived only about a mile from Mimi’s house. And he began to visit her frequently, getting to know his two half-sisters, Julia and Jacqui. It was a bond John cherished, but the knowledge that his mother didn’t “despise children,” after all – that she wanted her two girls and not him – was a heavy cross to bear. Alone in his bed at Mendips, it hurt. He wondered what he’d done to make her push him aside.

 

But that doubt must have been dispelled somewhat when, after the loss of John’s beloved Uncle George (when John was almost 15…a time when he needed a “father” most), Julia came back into his life as his best friend. For two years, his mother and he bonded. Julia encouraged John to skip school and hang out with her. She taught him to play the banjo, told him he “had music in his bones,” played her rock’n’roll records for him, and helped him form a skiffle band, The Quarrymen. She invited the fledgling band to practice in her acoustically excellent bathroom, and many times she banged on pots and pans, their drummer. Julia was beloved by them all, part of their group. However, on 15 July 1958, she was hit by a drunk driver and instantly killed. And once again, John had lost her. This time forever, to death.

 

If this had been John’s last tragedy, he would have been completely justified in being angry at the world. Even at this juncture, had every reason to give up and quit – to become a delinquent, a criminal, a bitter hermit, withdrawn from society. And many (including Dave Bennion, the “Head Boy” at Quarry Bank Grammar) thought Lennon would do just that.

 

But instead of surrendering to a life of sorrow, John began to write songs born of the pain. And over the next five years, he wailed at the microphones of Merseyside and then Hamburg and then the United Kingdom and finally, the world, for Julia. He told us all, “If she’s gone, I can’t go on, feelin’ two foot small.” And, “I’m a loser, and I’m not what I appear to be,” and “I’ve got every reason on earth to be mad, ’cause I just lost the only girl I had. If I could get my way, I’d give myself right up today, but I can’t, so I cry instead.” And using his loss to weave beauty, John Lennon created The Beatles and relentlessly pushed them (when on many occasions, they gave up) to achieve, to conquer, to succeed.

 

In his life, John did many great things. He was a talented writer, penning two award-winning books of wry, satirical poetry and prose. He was a gifted single-line artist whose gallery still tours the world to critical acclaim. He was a global advocate for peace. He was a fighter for Irish independence, writing two songs for the cause and leading the New York City march on BOAC on behalf of the Irish people. John had myriad talents.

 

But today, we remember him most because he left us the example of a life well-lived. He left us an example of a man who never surrendered to the lashing that the world can dole out. John never let the unending tragedies that tried to crush him snuff out his soul.

 

After the loss of his mother, John went on to endure the death of his soul mate, Stu Sutcliffe. John also suffered at the hands of an unfeeling press when a remark he’d made to a close journalist friend, Maureen Cleave, was lifted by Datebook magazine, taken out of context, and used to generate a hate campaign against John and The Beatles…and for months, John was vilified by the world. In later life, he suffered a messy divorce from a girl he had once loved deeply. And in his last decade, he and his second wife lost several children to late-term miscarriages. Even his career was rocky:  John’s music was banned by the BBC for his support of Ireland. Life for John Lennon was never ever easy.

 

But he never surrendered. And when on certain days, I feel down or depressed or hurt or angry, and I threaten to throw up my hands and walk away…I think of John. I think of his resolve and his “toppermost of the poppermost” attitude and his unflinching determination. And on those occasions, I repeat about John Winston Lennon the very best compliment that I could ever give  anyone: he never gave up.

 

And that…that is why we still care.


Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com

 

Jude is represented by 910 Public Relations — @910PubRel on Twitter and 910 Public Relations on Facebook.

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Not What I Appear To Be

John Lennon couldn’t get a word right. From childhood, he inadvertently mastered the art of being misunderstood. As early as Mosspits Kindergarten, John was expelled for belligerence, and by the time he made his way to Quarrybank Grammar (his high school), John was – as he flippantly phrased it – “sus-pen-dooed.”

 

Sure, there were plenty of times, I’m certain, when John was impudent, in his own right. He could dish out satirical taunts with the best of them. However, I firmly believe that quite often his reputation preceded him and that the bad press John received wasn’t always really deserved.

 

Take, for example, the famous quote attributed to our Mr. Lennon:

 

“Ringo isn’t the best drummer in Liverpool. He isn’t even the best drummer in The Beatles.”

 

I’ve heard this insult attributed to John on radio shows, in speeches, and during panel discussions filled with scholars. But the truth of the matter is, John never said this! And Beatles Guru Mark Lewisohn agrees. A few years ago, in fact, Lewisohn set out to prove that this awful quote was never uttered by John, and he carefully traced the comment to comedian Jasper Carrot in 1983.[i] As Lewisohn astutely pointed out, this was never the sort of thing John Lennon would have said.

 

What, then, did the real John Lennon have to say about Ringo’s drumming? Well, in The Anthology,[ii] he states quite clearly, “Ringo’s a damn good drummer. He was always a good drummer. He’s not technically good, but I think Ringo’s drumming is underrated the same way Paul’s bass playing is underrated…I think Ringo and Paul stand up anywhere with any of the rock musicians!”

 

Sadly, so few people repeat that quote.

 

I’m sure John wasn’t surprised that he was given, erm, “credit” for petulant phrases. On the 1964 tour, this sort of thing happened rather regularly. Take this interview that occurred in Cincinnati where (according to many biographers!) John sniped at a reporter who suggested that The Beatles should be able to handle the fans without police support. Time and again, you’ll read that John sneered at the man and spat, “Well, maybe you could. You’re fatter than us!” But here is what really occurred, transcribed from the Cincinnati press conference.

 

Reporter 4: You four ought to be able to handle the crowds without all the police presence. Why don’t you just walk right through?

George: (Incensed) Well, y’ can’t go leapin’ into a crowd of 30,000, can you?

Paul: (Smoking and trying to over-talk George, who is clearly agitated) You can’t go up the middle, y’know.

George: They’d pull you apart y’ see! So, for everybody’s sake…

Reporter 4: You ought to be able to handle it…

George: (Browned off) Well, maybe you could because you’re fatter ’n us!

John says not a word and looks away.[iii]

 

Similarly, just a few minutes later – according to the “experts” – John fired another angry retort at the press. But here is the actual exchange…and it’s not John who’s annoyed by a reporter’s inane question.

 

Reporter 5: What excuse do you have for your collar-length hair?

John: (Shrugging) It just grows out of our heads…

Paul: (Still irritated by the last question) We don’t need an excuse. You need an excuse![iv]

 

The room, of course, broke into waves of laughter, but John sighed, knowing that by morning, the interview’s sharp retorts would be credited to him. Any sarcastic comment immediately became his territory. When he rang Mimi back in Liverpool, and she fussed about his “overt rudeness” to the press, John would try to tell her it had been George’s observation this time or Paul’s remark. But no one would believe him, not even his own aunt.

 

So, it’s no surprise that by the summer of 1966, the American press and DJs across the country over-reacted to a very complicated and in-depth observation that John made to Maureen Cleave in a lengthy interview.[v] That comment – condensed by Datebook magazine into an arrogant sound-bite – became “the last straw for Lennon.” A victim of erroneous and out-of-context citing, John was attacked ferociously and forced to apologize over and over and over and over for something he didn’t actually say as it was reported. Pieces of his conversation had been left out of his comment. The full truth had been omitted.

 

The problem is that once a public figure develops a reputation for being “a bad boy” (or girl), the image is difficult to shrug off. And once the press turns on you, they rarely reverse the trend.

 

Let me hasten to say that the journalists who traveled with The Beatles during “the long and winding” 1964 North American Tour, to a man (or woman), loved John. Larry Kane said that John was The Beatle with whom he developed the closest relationship. And, so did Ivor Davis.[vi] And. most assuredly, Art Schreiber. Helen Shapiro will gladly tell you that on her 1963 tour, John did more to help her and bolster her spirits than any of the other Beatles. He was her friend.

 

Which only goes to show that getting to know someone rather than accusing them from a distance is the best policy. An old Native American adage says this: “Never judge a man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.” Translated, we find: “Never judge anyone until you have lived in his or her world for at least two months.” That’s a sound rule of thumb.

 

If only we could learn something important from the way John was treated by those who had no idea that he “was not what he appeared[ed] to be,” if only we could glean a truth from it…wouldn’t the world be a better place?

 


[i] “Who’s Sleeping in Groucho Marx’s Bed?” The London Times, 8 March 2013: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/whos-been-sleeping-in-groucho-marxs-bed-90qdw77pcjg

[ii] The Anthology, p. 81. Direct quote from John Lennon.

[iii] You can see this question being posed and answered here. http://www.cincinnati.com/videos/entertainment/music/2014/08/27/14706123/ Several sources including Miles, The Beatles Diary, Vol. 1, 162 and Badman, 119 blame John for this irritated line of patter. You can clearly see that John does not deliver the line. He says nothing. George is the one speaking.

[iv] Bracey, David. “What’s Future for Beatles?” Cincinnait Enquirer, 28 August 1964, found at: http://www.meetthebeatlesforreal.com/search?q=Cincinnati+1964 A brief transcript of this interview can be found in Badman’s The Beatles: Off the Record, 119. However, Badman credits John with the retort, “Well, it grows out of my head and John with “We don’t need an excuse. You need an excuse.”

[v] Cleave, Maureen, “How Does a Beatle Live?”

[vi] Davis, Ivor, The Beatles and Me on Tour, p. 83. Davis states, “I got to know and appreciate John the best.”


Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com

 

Jude is represented by 910 Public Relations — @910PubRel on Twitter and 910 Public Relations on Facebook.

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Instant Karmal Knowledge

“And so this is Christmas,

And what have you done,

Another year over…

A new one just begun.”

 

Already it’s here. The final blog of 2016. The year is winding to a close faster than any of us ever wanted it to or imagined it could. But try as we might, we can’t slow its pace or turn back time. Life is rapidly moving on.

 

Two springs ago, the night my mother passed, she pointedly looked at me and said, “But…I didn’t get to do all the things I wanted to do!!!” It’s a haunting quote – one I’ve never forgotten. I wonder if John felt the same. I wonder how many people do.

 

I have a little snow globe on my desk that says, “Time is a gift.” Every day, I shake it, only to watch the snow flakes quickly settle to the bottom and fall silent. And as the magic swiftly vanishes, I think to myself how precious each moment is…how precious – and how fleeting.

 

Plainly said, each of us has but a moment – a brief time to reach out and offer love, to be kind, to be open, to give peace (and people) a chance, to appreciate life and those around us, to set things right. If The Beatles taught me anything, they taught me that we are here to give of ourselves to others. In Biblical terms, to “be not weary in well-doing.” The boys said it over and over:

 

  1. Love is giving, giving love.
  2. Ah! Look at all the lonely people!
  3. With our love, we can change the world…
  4. I get by, with a little help from my friends.
  5. Love, love, love…love is all you need.

 

And just in case you missed the message – couched as it is in this poetic form – John (in his unvarnished, lay-it-on-the-line manner) spelled it out for us all very clearly. You can’t miss the memo here:

 

Instant Karma’s gonna get you
Gonna knock you right on the head!
You better get yourself together…
Pretty soon you’re gonna be dead!
What in the world you thinking of
Laughing in the face of love?
What on earth you tryin’ to do?
It’s up to you! Yeah, you!!

Instant Karma’s gonna get you…
Gonna look you right in the face!
Better get yourself together, darlin’,
Join the human race!
How in the world you gonna see
Laughin’ at fools like me?
Who in the hell d’you think you are?
A super star?
Well, right you are!

Well, we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun…
Well, we all shine on!
Ev’ryone, come on!

 

 

I don’t know what “getting yourself together, darlin’” involves for you, but I know what it involves for me, and I think I’d best be doing it.

 

Because as the wild ride known as 2016 begins to tick away into memory, I think we can all agree that it has been challenging for us all. Some things were said that should never have been said. Some things were done that should never have been done. And while we’d like to believe that karma is not instant and life will give us abundant opportunity to make things right, the unrelenting march of time does not, my friend, slow for regret.

 

Instead, there is a finite amount of days before the ball drops in Times Square, a precious moment before the snowflakes settle. There isn’t “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” as Shakespeare once suggested.  Instead, there is, “a bit of hurry up involved” to quote another Englishman, just as wise.

 

And so this is Christmas…and what have we done? Well, not as well as we’d hoped, actually. But perhaps in the next 30 days, we can undo some of that. We can try to Come Together and be friends again…repair and reunite, heal the hurts, and walk into 2017 closer than ever.

 

And that, I believe, is the message not only of our Beatles but of the season. May that light Shine On.

 

In honor of our beloved Sir George Martin and dedicated to the lasting memory of John Winston Lennon. John, you said that you never die until the last person who speaks your name is gone. “I call your name” daily. You will always be remembered.


Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com

 

Jude is represented by 910 Public Relations — @910PubRel on Twitter and 910 Public Relations on Facebook.

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If Not For You

It was an icy Liverpool winter, 1957, and seventeen-year-old John Lennon sat on his narrow bed just above the Mendips glassed-in porch, strumming his guitar and singing quietly to himself, lest Aunt Mimi hear. He was dreaming…dreaming of Someday…dreaming of becoming “bigger ’n Elvis.” That lazy afternoon, he was dreaming of achieving what he always referred to as “the toppermost of the poppermost.”

 

But NEVER…never in his wildest dreams did he ever imagine that 60 years later there would be Beatles authors, artists, reporters, bloggers, publicists, DJ’s with weekly Beatles radio shows, Las Vegas musicals, Broadway shows, websites, television specials, and a Fest for Beatles Fans. He never dreamed he was about to create a Beatles World.

 

Now, don’t get me wrong, John didn’t do it alone. He didn’t do it without the extraordinary genius of Paul McCartney, the talent and wry humor of George Harrison, and the grounded backbeat (both musically and spiritually) of Ringo Starr. And they didn’t do it without the ideas and concepts taught to him by Allan Williams (“Mach Shau, lads!”), Stu Sutcliffe (“Be an artiste, John, not just a rocker!”), Brian Epstein (“Dress appropriately; finish each song; don’t swear at the audience; stick to the playlist; bow after each number”.) and George Martin, whose creative magnificence helped to mold the music.

 

They didn’t do it without the input of so-called “Minor Players” (who were also giants in their own way): Neil Aspinall, Tony Barrow, Mal Evans, Beryl Adams, Pete Shotton, Bob Wooler, Tony Bramwell, Alistair Taylor…and oh yes, a slender lovely Irish girl who gave her time and talent to run the Beatles Fan Club, Freda Kelly. He didn’t do it without ghost writers, photographers, and reporters who told the story to you and me: Bill Harry, Ray Coleman, Hunter Davies, Maureen Cleave, Michael Braun, Larry Kane, Derek Taylor, Dezo Hoffman, Robert Freeman, or Ivor Davis.

 

Together an entire host of smart, determined, cutting-edge men and women worked shoulder-to-shoulder to create a phenomenon:

 

There were the EMI engineers and second engineers: Norman Smith, Geoff Emerick, Richard Langham…

 

The supporting actors in each film: Victor Spinetti (always there), Norm Rossington, Eleanor Bron, Leo McKern, Wilfred Brambell…

 

The style setters: Dougie Millings, Astrid Kirchherr, Horne Brothers…

 

The tour facilitators: Sid Bernstein, Norman Weiss, Tony Barrow, Bob Bonis…

 

The NEMS staff: Clive Epstein, Freda Kelly, Beryl Adams, Anne Collingham, Wendy Hanson, Tony Barrow, Alistair Taylor…

 

And those singularly important women: Julia Stanley Lennon, Louise Harrison, Mimi Smith, Elsie Greaves, Cynthia Powell Lennon, Maureen Starkey, Pattie Boyd Harrison, Jane Asher, Linda McCartney, Yoko Ono, Olivia Harrison, and May Pang.

 

It took an entourage – a retinue – to make this dream come true.

 

Right now, you’re shouting out a name I didn’t mention – someone whose role in the chain of events you especially relate to. Maybe it’s Ken Townsend or Pete Best or Chris O’Dell or Billy Preston or Eric Clapton or…well, you know who it is. And the truth is, they’re all important. They all contributed a sliver to the stained glass mosaic that was beautifully necessary for the whole. Removing one scarlet slice or one cerulean circle would have changed the entire picture. Altered it forever.

 

 “But of all these friends and lovers

There is no one

Compares with you.”

 

That’s right…dead in the center of the complex pattern of triangles, crescents, swirls, and ovals rests the most necessary piece of all: YOU.

 

Without you, the records go un-purchased. Without you, the fanzines fail to sell. Without you, the Beatles T-shirts and sweatshirts and wigs and games and bubblegum cards and clocks sit dusty on their overstocked shelves. No tickets sell. No posters dot walls. Without you, Shea Stadium stands empty. Without you, the theaters never fill. Without you, the books remain closed; the films, unviewed; the artwork, ignored. In all the Beatles’ story, the single most necessary and important ingredient has always been you: the fans. You are the ones who propelled The Beatles to heights they could never have anticipated.

 

In case you haven’t noticed, we don’t host a “Fest for The Beatles.” Ours is a “Fest for Beatles FANS.” Because all along, we’ve realized it: this dream-come-true is all about you. On April 15-17 in Westchester, we will celebrate your crucial role in The Beatles’ success. We’ll smile and raise a glass to your unswerving belief in the lads, your lifelong support. We will fête you with songs, laughter, entertainment, dances – a bit of well-deserved frolic! Because 60 years ago, John Lennon sat in his bedroom and dreamed, and thanks to you, his quiet, whispered vision blossomed into an awesome reality.

 

April 15-17 is your time! It is a weekend set apart to celebrate you, the beloved Beatles Fans. A party is being given in your honor, and “a splendid time is guaranteed for all.” Come to the Fest! You are our special guest.


Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com

 

Jude is represented by 910 Public Relations — @910PubRel on Twitter and 910 Public Relations on Facebook.

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Remembering Our John…John Lennon

Inspired by Mark Lapidos’ brilliant blog on “timelessness” as it relates to life and death…I began to mull over a similar concept…

 

Volume 2 in The John Lennon Series, Shivering Inside, is sold out in physical form. Unless you buy a slightly used copy on the secondary market and pay an insane amount of money, the “real book” is unavailable.

 

But here’s the thing: it’s still alive-and-well on Kindle. You can read it and hear all that it has to say. You can laugh at John’s wit, feel his frustration at the growing press of Beatlemania, and tragically, experience his utter devastation when Stu Sutcliffe passes. You can see the pictures of Liverpool and The Beatles in 1961-63, explore the Scouse (Liverpudlian) glossary, read the essays in the appendix, and learn from the biographies at the back of the book. The only thing you can’t do is touch the book –- hold it in your hand.

 

And today, that is of great comfort.

 

Y’know, John famously said that death is like “getting out of one car and gettin’ into another.” And, perhaps if he’d lived to see the flowering of the internet, he might have said, “It’s like movin’ from hard copy to docx. It’s like bein’ scanned into cyberspace.”

Today, John is “on Kindle,” as it were. He’s still very much alive…and happier, I believe.

 

You see, all day I’ve been listening to Lennon tunes, and around noon, he wailed out:

 

“You know life can be long
And you got to be so strong
And the world is so tough…
Sometimes I feel I’ve had enough…”

 

When I heard those words, I remembered: life was harsh for John. He faced unimaginable battles that no one else could have weathered: losing his mother and father (for complicated reasons) at age 5; living with the rigid Mimi Smith and his beloved Uncle Ge’rge only to lose Ge’rge himself when John was just 15; reuniting with his mother, Julia, and becoming her best friend, only to lose her to death a mere handful of years later; loving and then losing his soul mate, Stu…and on and on and miserably on. For John, life was one “long string o’ misery,” as they say in Liverpool. He suffered.

 

But because he was who he was, John determinedly turned those never-ceasing hurts and hits into victories. Like the fairy-tale character Rumplestiltskin, who could weave straw into gold, John transformed his pain into the magical, often mystical, music of our lives. But always chasing the “Next Big Thing” that could possibly mend his heart and make him happy, John depleted a lifetime in sorrow. In fact, he spelled it out for us:

 

“How can I go forward when I don’t know which way I’m facing?
How can I go forward when I don’t know which way to turn?
How can I go forward into something I’m not sure of?
Oh no, oh no!

 

How can I have feeling when I don’t know if it’s a feeling?
How can I feel something if I just don’t know how to feel?
How can I have feelings when my feelings have always been denied?
Oh no, oh no!”

 

Here on earth, John struggled.

 

For years after John passed, I prayed for him daily, prayed that God would give me some kind of a sign that John was happy…some kind of message or “white feather” or hint that John was happier there than he was here. I prayed.

 

Finally, in 1995 (only four days prior to the anniversary of John’s death), a new Lennon-composed Beatles song was released that answered my questions and quieted my fears. It told me flat-out and in no uncertain terms that John – though no longer “available in physical form” — was indeed shining on. He was, in fact, “home and dry.”

 

And today, though quite selfishly I miss him here, I would want him nowhere else. He is “on Kindle,” riding in that second bigger ‘n better car, scanned into cyberspace, free as a bird. And for the first time ever, Our John is happy.

 

CLICK HERE to listen to his original “Free as a Bird.” It is an abundance of white feathers…

 

Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com

 

Jude is represented by 910 Public Relations — @910PubRel on Twitter and 910 Public Relations on Facebook.

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December 8th — 35 years on

From Fest Founder and Director Mark Lapidos:

 

Time is a concept. It really doesn’t exist. You can’t touch it, feel it, breathe it. It is basically a demarcation line of events in a lifetime.

 

Well, this event was a life-changer for so many of us. None of us who were around will ever forget the moment we heard. It was the worst moment in my life. Perhaps John figured out how to stop time, because that moment wasn’t 35 years ago. It just can’t be. Maybe it was last year or two years ago.

 

Time doesn’t work so well when dealing with events like this one. “Life is very short and there’s no time.” There, he said it in song — there is no time! 

 

And yet here we are, still wondering how the world would be different had John lived. His voice was singular. I know in my heart he would have made a big difference (plus given us a lost wealth of music).

 

We are left with only those ideas in our brains of what would be different. We know we can not alter the past, but the past is a function of time, which is a concept. John lives in all of our hearts and that will never change. I miss him.

 

All you need is love…

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You say it’s his birthday?

All around me in these last few days leading up to John Lennon’s 75th Birthday, there’s rush, rush, rush! I’ve ordered the largest sheet cake that the local bakery makes…and I’m writing my toast for our 36th Annual John Lennon Bash here in Monroe, LA at Enoch’s Irish Pub. I’ve purchased banners, balloons, tablecloths, and decorations…and the gig is ON!

 

The celebration, you see, is a major tradition around these parts. In fact, ours is the longest-running Lennon party in America, twice recognized by Yoko. It’s quite the fête! We’ll have Jameson toasts, live music, Facetimed well-wishes, and the singing of the birthday song, world-wide, at 9 p.m.

 

Enoch Doyle Jeter, long time owner of the pub where John’s bash is always held (though these days the bar is owned by his son, John…named for Our John Himself), has only one rule about the Lennon party: No crying in your beer! The first person who even hints at something maudlin is ejected, bodily. Doyle demands many happy returns of the day. Nothing less.

 

So Doyle would shudder over people who like to speculate on the 9th of October, “What would John’ve been like, if he were alive today? What would he be doing, thinking, saying, writing?” And honestly, to quote The Beach Boys, “God only knows.”

 

John was John…as variable as Liverpool’s climate: a bright copper vane spinning in the capricious Mersey winds. He was hot and cold, rain then shine…a tornado when least expected. And to answer a hypothetical question about his imagined future is to delve into the realm of fan fiction, anyway. Time is better spent – I think – remembering. (Don’t worry, Doyle…I’ll remember happily!)
To me, the correct question is, “What was John really like when he was here?”

 

Well…

 

John was an artist. His adroit single-line sketches were observant, wry…funny. At times, they were biting. Had he not been one of the most talented musicians of the Twentieth Century, he would have been one of its greatest artists.

 

John was a satirist. Like “The Wicked Wasp of Twickenham,” Alexander Pope, John could turn a phrase. In His Own Write and Spaniard in the Works were not only best sellers, they won literary awards and the applause of critics. John was a gifted writer. That could have been his medium.

 

John was a peace activist. Few people would give up their honeymoon to make a political statement or shave their heads or sit in a bag or “become a clown for peace” (as John put it). John Lennon dared to speak out boldly. He dared to sacrifice his sex appeal for the peace appeal made by that gaunt young man in the round glasses. In the ’70s, John was New York’s Gandhi.

 

John was kind. Yes, it’s true. Ask young Helen Shapiro whom he befriended and protected on her tour bus. The same story is told by his Liverpool College of Art classmates, Phyllis McKenzie and Helen Anderson. And when Paul and George were itching to ditch Pete for Ringo, John lobbied to protect his friend. Inside his very tough exterior, there was another John. A kinder, gentler John…as it were.

 

John was interesting. I’ve interviewed hundreds of people who knew John. And the phrase that I hear most often is this, “I really liked Ringo and George and got on well with Paul, but the one person I was closest to was John.” It’s repeated almost word-for-word by the likes of Tony Barrow (after a rocky start), Larry Kane, Ray Coleman, and Ivor Davis. John respected interesting, smart people. He got on well with them. He could converse on many topics and be quite affable. John was fun to be around…well, most of the time.

 

John was an avid reader. Newspapers, he devoured. Books, he poured over constantly. He was always happy if he had a book or pen and paper. John loved words and wordplay. He loved literature.

 

John loved dressing outlandishly. Liverpool College of Art life model, June Furlong, once ridiculed him for wearing a purple mohair sweater. And, we all know that he brought elaborate cowboy boots home from Hamburg. John was always outside the box, long before he donned the pocketless suits that Brian Epstein adapted from Astrid’s design. John was fashion-forward.

 

John was an actor. At Liverpool College of Art, he starred as an ugly stepsister in his own production of “Cinderella.” And Beatles pantomimes were his cup of tea. Most of all, John acted happy as he endured the rigors and terrors of Beatlemania. By the time John assumed those roles in “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Help,” and “How I Won the War,” he was a seasoned professional. Richard Lester said that of all the Beatles, John was the only one with real acting talent. Indeed, he permitted John to improvise lines at will. John had that knack.

 

Poet, gifted rock’n’roll singer, composer, guitarist, pianist, lyricist, innovator…John Lennon was unique. Despite the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that left him motherless, (and to some extent fatherless), John fought on. He never crumpled under the barrage of tragedy that assaulted him. Instead, his response to his life’s losses was “hold your head up; put one foot in front of another; move on.”

 

More than anything else, John was a fighter. And what I’ll remember about him this week as I light those birthday candles at Enoch’s is his courage and determination. John had “every reason on earth to be mad,” to give up and do nothing with his life. Instead, he turned his pain into the soundtrack of our lives.

 

That’s what I’ll remember. How about you?

 

Happy 75th Birthday, John.

 

Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com

 

Jude is represented by 910 Public Relations — @910PubRel on Twitter and 910 Public Relations on Facebook.

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Now and Then

I’ve just been listening to “Now and Then,” the haunting John Lennon song which was enhanced by the other Beatles and ultimately scrapped during the Anthology sessions. And as I listen to the lonely, dark lyrics and solemn sound, I keep whispering to John, “Be present, be present.”

 

John was so rarely present. In his Spector-ized Rock’n’Roll LP and in the fan-produced version of “Now and Then,” (LISTEN HERE) he’s so far away, removed, absent from the moment. It was his way. He constantly distanced himself from his true sound, his true self, his true feelings.

 

After the loss of his mother, Julia, the second time — when death took her in July of 1959 — John “hid his love away” and withdrew. For days, he was physically cloistered in his Mendips room, refusing even to eat. And when at last he emerged, John was no longer the incorrigible little boy who had pulled faces at Mimi and Ge’rge and pretended to be “The Famous Eccles.” He was a bitter and cynical teen with “a chip on his shoulder…bigger than his feet.” The new John was a stranger, even to himself.

 

In the years that followed, he rarely let “the former John” shine through. He protected himself in a thick, snarking, leather-jacketed armor that shielded his feelings, protected his wounds, and separated him from anyone or anything that could “get at him.” Cynical, angry, tough, and guarded, John employed every screen that would defend. He adopted a persona that kept people at arm’s distance. John Winston Lennon was not present.

 

Double-tracking his voice to the point of sounding as if he’s in another room, stepping farther and farther away from the microphone and vanishing into a sound box far across the hall, John slipped into a seclusion that eventually led to “house husband,” to towered genius, to recluse. He was present only to the few that he trusted. And even then…he watched his back.

 

That’s the legacy he leaves us in the haunting “Now and Then.” He sings, “But if you have to go, away, if you have to go…Now and then, I miss you.” And instantly we’re there,  standing shoulder-to-shoulder with that wounded, broken teen whose mother was capriciously in and out of his life, whose mother was here and there and gone again, whose mother was finally violently taken — when he needed her most.

 

That hurt never turned into acceptance. That wound never healed.

 

John was quick to tell Astrid after Stu’s death that she had a choice to make. She could die with Stu or go on living. It was her choice, John said. But strangely enough, John had already made the choice to bury himself with Julia and to become a different soul: a soul bound in invisible armor.

 

Are you that soul? Am I? Are we so far removed that our voice comes drifting in from another room? Are we so shielded from the many who’ve wounded us that we no longer let anyone love us, really? Are we so scared that we anticipate being abandoned and stave off the pain before it can even begin? Do we wound others before they can wound us? Do we fear being present?

 

Now and then…I do.

 

Now and then, you might, too.

 

I wonder what John would do if he had the chance to do it all over again. I wonder: Would he love more, embrace more, relish more, enjoy more, open up more, feel more, surrender more? Or would he say that being absent was just the ticket?

 

I lean closer to the computer speakers. I strain. I listen to his haunting, distant sound. And then, I reflect, now and then. I wonder.

 

You can listen to John’s demo of “Now and Then” HERE.

 

 Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com

 

Jude is represented by 910 Public Relations — @910PubRel on Twitter and 910 Public Relations on Facebook.

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