How easy it remains to mock the things that hurt us the most.
John Lennon Plastic Ono Band remains one of those recordings that is so easy to forget because the feelings it evokes get pushed back into the crevices of our awareness, the tender, quivering spots on our brains where all the pain and fear hide. Then one day we are sitting alone at a computer, or television, or book, and from an open window come the death knell bells of "Mother." Never was so simple a song done with such naked conviction, such artful agony, that all these years later we can rediscover ourselves crying along as we marvel at the reach of that vocal, twitch at the repeating edge of the piano notes, moan at the pulse at the bass as it bleeds onto our desk.
A child is born, he cries out at the pain of birth, and he notices in his total awareness that he has been abandoned. "Mother, you had me, but I never had you." Then "Father, you left me, but I never left you." And the revelation: "I couldn't walk and I tried to run."
With that song the dream that was The Beatles began to dissolve. By the time of the low-fidelity "My Mummy's Dead," the dream retains nothing but the force of exhaustion. The fade out of the guitar suggesting that you have been somewhere with this singer, somewhere important, wonder where, who is this man who sings for my nightmares?
Plastic Ono Band is an album. It is not a movie. Someone at VH-1 decided it would make a nice fifty-three minutes for one of their "Classic Album" segments. That person was correct.
If the subject of this album matters to you, chances are good that nothing "revealed" by the biopic will be informational. Of course, that is also true of the recording itself, yet some of us return to that time and again. And so this very gentle short film is well worth seeing once, twice, however many times, not because it aids in our unending collecting of post-Beatles trivializations but quite properly because it helps break down the emotional equivalents for us in ways that only people who were there at the time have the capacity to do.
One of the most annoying aspects of any type of look back is always some teenage expert rambling on about what Duane Allman was really like or how Cobain understood Schubert or some such nonsense. This film features the people who were there, those who, if not directly responsible, certainly played a role in getting it together, be it Jaan Wenner recalling from his "Lennon Remembers" interviews (which are sampled liberally here), or bassist Klaus Voorman plucking out musical lines as if he'd developed them day before yesterday rather than back in 1970, or Ringo Starr, who is actually quite loquacious here, even discussing intelligently about drum fills and about his friendship with John.
As I mentioned at the outset, anything as honest as this album sets itself up for some nasty satire. The National Lampoon did one hell of a funny version of this album all in one song, recalled below:
So, yes, you should watch this fine movie because it will motivate you to glorify the present so that the past does not dry up, to toy with a Bono-ism. Quite contrary to the idea that the past is dead, this film helps us realize the past is no more than one or two breaths back in the memory, breaths to which we owe the future.
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