Tag Archives: Yoko Ono

Holiday/Christmas Theme Week: Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

Today marks the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death.  With The Beatles, and with his solo works, Lennon remains one of my favorite rock artists. If Phil Spector totally changed the way in which Christmas songs could be heard, then Lennon changed the message of what a Christmas single could be with “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”, which was also produced by Spector.

Both A Christmas Gift For You and Happy Xmas are tied together not just by Spector, but also the Vietnam War.  A Christmas Gift For You was in November 1963, right after President Kennedy’s assassination.  Though the US was already involved in the Vietnam War, by the end of of 1963, Lyndon Johnson reversed Kennedy’s decision to remove 1,000 troops from Vietnam and ended up expanding the war.   It’s little wonder that A Christmas Gift For You didn’t initially catch on under the circumstances.

Flash forward almost 6 years later to 1969, with the war at its height John Lennon and Yoko decided to rent billboards across several cities with the slogan “WAR IS OVER! (If You Want It).  Happy Christmas From John and Yoko”.   It would be two years later before “Happy Xmas” would be released, but the slogans served as the basis for the song.

Almost 40 years later it’s become passe to release Christmas singles or exploit the season for charity events.  But it can’t be denied that the concept came from this song. Lennon, ever the political, made sure that his sentiments came through with silver bells.  Here was a song designed to make the listeners think about what they’ve done over the past year.  “So this is Christmas,” Lennon begins as he strums his the guitar, “and what have you done?”

Lennon’s genius shines through by making a very adult oriented theme a form (the Christmas song) normally considered “jolly”.  To drive the point home, the background vocals provided by the Harlem Community Choir who sing the “war is over” slogan.  Children tend to be oblivious to politics, and often see things in gray that adults often do not.  By having the children’s choir singing that particular line, Lennon is making the point that war affects everybody, and not just the troops (and their families) who were fighting in Vietnam.  If Lennon had sung “war is over, if you want it” the song wouldn’t be nearly as convincing.  Cynics could easily raise their eyebrows at a famous rock star making flights of fancy about how to end the war.  (Which, right or wrong, has always been a criticism of “Imagine”, particularly the line about imagining no possesions.)

This time of year is about coming together and forgetting life’s troubles.  Lennon reversed that with “Happy Xmas”, and made us remember what was going on.  But the idea of coming together for peace and love is very in the vein of the Holiday season, and in that sense, “Happy Xmas” might be the best representation of those themes.

 

 

 

 

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“My Mummy’s Dead”: The Connection Between John Lennon and Harry Potter

The abandonment of a parent can leave a scar.  John Lennon was forced to live with aunt and uncle as child, abandoned by his parents after a heated argument. Lennon harbored deep emotions for years, even if on the outside he sang, “All You Need is Love” with The Beatles.   The fictional Harry Potter, received a scar as a baby when his parents were killed by the evil wizard, Voldemort.  Both would end up living with their respective aunt and uncle for years, and both would be famous for entirely different reasons. Yet neither could ever truly escape the events that happened to them when they were younger.

Lennon’s fame did nothing to soothe his pain.  In fact, it only got worse.  On the outside, he may have sung about love, but on songs like “Help!”, he was desperately crying out.  “Julia”, was an ode to his mother who had died in a car crash when he was 17.  By the time The Beatles broke up in 1970, Lennon had been a drug-addict, his love-affair with his second wife Yoko Ono was scorned by fans, the media, to a certain extent, other Beatles.  When he recorded his first “proper” solo album Plastic Ono Band in 1970, here was a man close to the edge.  The cries of “Mommy don’t go! Daddy come home!” at the end of “Mother” were real and cut to the bone.  Lennon didn’t scream his way through “Well Well Well”, because the song required it.  It was a form of bereavement from his childhood, finally catching up with him.

This confessional collection was a long way from The Beatles early songs such as “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You”.  The Beatles may have started out as a “pop” band, with fans getting swept up in “Beatlemania”, but with each new release they took rock music further than any group before or since. And yet, their popularity never wavered.  Each new release was met with excitement and captured the imagination of entire generations.  At the end of “God” on Plastic Ono Band, Lennon declared that  “the dream is over”.  This statement must have come as a shock to fans, who had looked up to Lennon as something of a spokesman for peace and love.  If he was presenting this disillusionment, things must really be dark.

JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series also captured the imagination of the world.  “Pottermania” was not unlike the “Beatlemania” thirty years earlier. At first it was deemed “kids-fare”, but it quickly moved into darker territory with each new book eventually reaching adults who would not normally read a fantasy series as well.

As a baby, Harry Potter survived an attack by the evil wizard Voldemort that killed his parents.  Harry was only left with a scar, but Voldemort was left powerless.  As a result, Harry would be forced to live with his non-magical aunt and uncle, unaware of his true fate – that he would be destined to destroy the very same wizard who hunted down his parents.  By the time that Harry began attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry he was famous because of what happened that fateful night.

Throughout the 7 book series, Harry is forced into situations that would test even the strongest of wizards.  He narrowly escapes Voldemort’s wrath several times.  Yet the death of his parents is what truly haunts him even as Voldemort plays tricks with his mind.  When he looks into the Mirror of Erised, which reveals a person’s deepest desires, Harry sees himself reunited with his dead parents.  He later learns that it was his mother’s love and sacrifice that caused him to survive Voldemort’s attack as a baby.

Harry has his “Plastic Ono Band-moment” in the fifth book of the series, Harry Potter And The Order of Phoenix. No one in the wizarding world seems to believe him that Voldemort has in fact returned to full-power.  Fictional articles are written about him in the newspapers, and even his closest confidant, Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, is ignoring him.  He is angry at everyone even his closest friends, and even throws tantrums for no reason.  After his godfather Sirius Black is killed in battle, he takes his anger out on the headmaster smashing some of Dumbledore’s possessions.  Everyone he knows has abandoned him in one form or another.

Lennon probably felt similarly while recording Plastic Ono Band. The media hung him out to dry with his relationship with Yoko Ono.  Many accused her of breaking up “the world’s biggest band”.  Paul McCartney, Lennon’s songwriting partner and closest friend announced he was leaving The Beatles in 1970 as a way to promote his first solo album, even though Lennon had in fact parted ways with the band the previous year.  Pain was the only thing he could turn to.

In the final book of the series, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Harry is forced into a final showdown with Voldemort.  In order for Voldemort to truly be destroyed, Harry must sacrifice himself.  It is this same selflessness that forced his mother to sacrifice herself for Harry when he was a baby.  As he is about to accept his death, Harry uses a magical object known as the Resurrection Stone to bring back the spirits of the dead – his parents, his godfather, and one of his former teachers – to comfort him on his final journey.  He asks his mother to stay close, before Voldemort makes the kill.

Some five years after the release of Plastic Ono Band, Lennon himself also makes a sacrifice – though not as drastic as Harry Potter. With the birth of his son Sean in 1975, Lennon took an extended break from music for five years. He left music – his lifeline for so many years – to become the father to his son that he never had. (It must be noted that Lennon did have a son from his earlier marriage.)  But he finally found out love, and was willing to give up his career to be with his family.  He became domesticated, and seemed to enjoy life at home – something for years he had strived to get away from.

Ultimately, Harry does not die at the hands of Voldemort.  Part of Voldemort’s soul had attached itself to Harry during the attack as a baby, and that was the part that was destroyed.  After being in limbo, and talking with the dead Dumbledore, Harry is given a choice to go back and finally take down Voldemort.  In the end, Harry wins the battle, because he has outsmarted Voldemort, who cannot understand love and sacrifice. This inability to understand human nature, becomes the evil wizard’s ultimate undoing.

Though the story is told in compelling and interesting ways, at the core of JK Rowling’s entire Harry Potter series is the concept that love will conquer all.  Harry’s mother let herself be killed in order to save baby Harry.  And Harry’s desperation for love from his dead parents, and his ability to love his friends and family and let himself be killed is the very thing that finally sets him free.  The relationship that Harry has towards his parents is at the center of everything he does in the series.

While Plastic Ono Band is a significant piece of work, it ultimately does not live up to the rest of Lennon’s or The Beatles’ work because of its pain.  While The Beatles changed rock and roll forever, their songs remain enduring in part of they sung about love and peace.  John Lennon’s death was a terrible tragedy in part because it was a violent death for a man who desperately wanted to be loved, but also spread the message of love.  In the end, both Harry and Lennon discovered that “love is all you need”.

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