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45 Years Ago: John Lennon Goes Off the Deep End on ‘Some Time in New York City’

45 Years Ago: John Lennon Goes Off the Deep End on ‘Some Time in New York City’

45 Years Ago: John Lennon Goes Off the Deep End on ‘Some Time in New York City’
June 12
11:06 2017

John Lennon‘s move to New York City coincided with a political shift leftward and, perhaps not coincidentally, lingering issues with immigration. The result was one of his most determinedly topical, most critically reviled and most often ignored solo albums.Some Time in New York City, a double album released on June 12, 1972, followed Lennon’s mantra that the best songs were those where you simply “say what you want to say and put a backbeat to it.” He had long been obsessed with getting songs out as quickly as possible, memorably having written 1970’s “Instant Karma” in the morning and recorded it later that same day. This album was the natural outgrowth of this impulse, a recording focused on the issues of that very moment in time — ripped, as they say, right from the headlines. Unfortunately, those old dailies have become yellowed and frayed.Lennon’s biggest successes at quick-turnaround songwriting so far had been distinctly personal: the Beatles‘ “Ballad of John and Yoko” and the early solo song “Cold Turkey.” Adapting that kind of top-of-his-head commentary to issues of the day might have resonated back then, but few people remember John Sinclair (the writer and MC5 band manager jailed for passing two joints to an undercover cop) and the Attica prison riots (sparked by demands for better living conditions) now. Both were big news in 1971, and the subjects of songs on Some Time in New York City – which, fittingly, used an instantly dated newspaper mock-up for its cover image – but are nothing more than Google fodder for the most committed fan today.Without universal themes that could resonate across generations, Some Time in New York City tends to come off as empty proselytizing. The sentiments were too brittle, and often all edge — the result, no doubt, of their rushed creation. Even Lennon eventually came to see the folly of this kind of freeze-dried creativity. “I like to do inspirational work,” he told David Sheff in 1980. “I’d never write a song like [‘John Sinclair’] now.”Worse, many of the sentiments sound just like what they were: songs written for instant consumption. Sample lyric from “Angela,” about a jailed Black Panther supporter: “They gave you coffee; they gave you tea / They gave you everything but equality.” Meanwhile, “The Luck of the Irish” – one of two songs that supported Northern Ireland’s Republican movement – included lazy (reportedly Yoko Ono-composed) cliches like shamrocks, leprechauns and the hope that the world would one day become “one big Blarney stone.” The muscular, often messy backing of Elephant’s Memory, a local group Lennon had fallen in with, only underscores the drive-by nature of the content.To some degree, Lennon seemed to be focusing outward in order to avoid the looming problems in his life. As he’d become a fixture in New York City’s counterculture, issues with the U.S. government began to intensify. Lennon finally received a letter from the INS earlier in 1972 demanding that he leave the country in three weeks or face deportation. Grasping at straws, they cited a 1968 misdemeanor conviction for marijuana possession. Lennon lawyered up, but the fight continued unabated until President Nixon’s entanglement in the Watergate scandal. Lennon finally received his green card in 1976.“It was hassling me, because that was when I was hanging out with Elephant’s Memory, and I wanted to rock – to go out on the road. But I couldn’t do that because I always had to be in New York for something, and I was hassled,” Lennon told Hit Parader in 1975. “I guess it showed in me work. But whatever happens to you happens in your work.”

Source: 45 Years Ago: John Lennon Goes Off the Deep End on ‘Some Time in New York City’

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Martin Nethercutt

Martin Nethercutt

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