Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Let George Do It or LENNON/YS

Yes, echoing the title of a film by his idol, let George be the one to taunt you with visions of what might have been, specifically the prize which could have been yours had you chosen to enter our John Lennon songwriting competition.

The prize has now been awarded to the only person who submitted an entry and it is, as I forecast, a copy of the 1968 Yellow Submarine Gift Book (spooky).

I had intended to produce a few scans here but it seemed more fitting to reproduce such images as I could find on the net: why should those who chose not to enter be rewarded with uniformly high quality reproductions which might act as a substitute for the experience of owning such an item instead of a tantalising glimpse of riches now unattainable?

So below are a variety of images, from a well known auction site and elsewhere. Note that one seller is quite open about the scribblings which have lowered the value of the item.

The value of this book, incidentally, seems to fluctuate. Is it a proper rarity, a real collector's item or not? No one seems to know. I saw it about ten years ago in the Beatles shop in Baker Street for about seventy pounds, which seemed a bit ridiculous, even for a mint copy. The one I bought recently as the prize was about ten pounds, and while a little grubby around the edges is perfectly okay. I've seen it going for maybe three or four pounds in recent years but suddenly it seems more expensive.

Anyway, that's your problem now, not mine. You had your chance and you blew it. I've got a copy and that's all I care about. I don't need loyal readers willing to participate in childish competitions. I don't need you; I don't need anyone. I have my books - specifically, my Yellow Submarine Gift Book - and my poetry to protect me.


I still haven't read the American paperback version issued at the time, though from a few glimpses it seems what one can only term "way cooler." The UK book is a fairly simplified version, and there's a certain amount of inconsistency in the quality of the illustrations. Still very enjoyable, though. And maybe it was Roger McGough, who contributed to the film script, who wrote the text? "The fabulous Beatles who we know and love!" could have been him. Anyway, here are some images of variable technical quality from the book - click to enlarge:

The final image from the book, above, comes from a site where it is specifically credited to Heinz Edelmann (Spencer Leigh's Independent obituary here), but I would guess that a number of artists contributed to the book: the artistic quality is variable too.

Other listings mag - I mean, retellings of the film - are available. First, some scans of pages from the Dell/Gold Key comic version, here, which bears only the broadest relation to the screenplay. The blogger thinks
this could have come from an early draft of the script, or from preliminary storyboards, or the staff could've been given a one page summary of the film and then been left alone to get the comic out by the deadline. 
Comments on the scans include a link to a "lost" Yellow Submarine comic which had been planned to coincide with the DVD release of the film. This was intended as a "true adaptation" of the film, unlike the admittedly enjoyable Dell/Gold Key effort. Comic artist Bill Morrison was given a copy of that comic as a reference, but at some point someone at Apple apparently decided that comics weren't high class enough. Anyway, you can see examples of Morrison's illustrations, and learn more about the story, here. Here's one example which shows he has taken considerable pains to be faithful to the film:

On the subject of Beatle-related songwriting, I have recently contributed to a discussion about bad Beatle lyrics to the Hey Dullblog website - see the comments on the post entitled Pillow Talk, here. At present Ringo's Don't Pass Me By is in the frame, though I'm glad to see that execrable "presents/peasant" rhyme in She's a Woman is being held up to ridicule too.

My contribution was the middle eight of Wait, sung and perhaps composed by Macca. Read the full, pointless but pleasing, discussion on the site, but the best you can say about this section is that it is functional and was the right size, at least, for the gap in Lennon's song:
I feel as though
You ought to know
That I've been good
As good as I can be
And if you do
I'll trust in you
And know that you
Will wait for me
But I've read that Macca's basslines for Lennon songs were less carefully worked out, than for his own. Could this be the composing equivalent - assuming he did write that bridge as well as singing it? When I quoted the offending passage to a colleague he said it sounded like a poem by a child, monosyllabic. Might it  have been something vaguely remembered from a schooldays, or - if this was before Jane Asher's infamous spring cleaning session which resulted in excercise books with early song ideas being binned - or an attempt to salvage a portion of a rejected idea?

Oh, and in other Beatle-related thoughts which cry out for transmission, I have just obtained the DVD of LENNONYC, the PBS documentary whose podcasts can be downloaded from the PBS American Masters site. If you are in America, you can watch it online for free, but not so in the UK, so the big question for UK readers is: is it worth splashing out for a copy of the Region 1 DVD?

I think it is, although I want to qualify that a little.

If, like me, you have downloaded and enjoyed the podcasts of raw interview audio, you will be aware, watching the documentary, that the ten-odd hours' worth of podcast material gave you a richness of experience which, inevitably, cannot be duplicated in the film.

If all the interviews were on camera, it's a pity that further highlights, at the very least, weren't included as extras on the DVD, although perhaps a podcast is the better medium, listening to these conversations via earphones, experiencing a real sense of intimacy without the distraction of visuals to remind you that you are not, after all, in the same room as those two people.

So you lose a lot of the details. But the story of Lennon's time in America is told cogently - and for the first time I really understood why he was perceived as a threat by the authorities. The quality of live footage is excellent, and I've read that the sound is top notch, although I was listening on equipment which isn't exactly state of the art so can't judge for myself.

I suppose the problem is that, especially if you have already listened to the podcasts, there isn't much in the way of further revelation, and what you have is a story already well known to people like me. But it's an excellent telling of that story and I must say that the death is handled very movingly. I know from an interview with the director that there was a conscious decision not to allow Lennon's killer any further oxygen, so we cut from Lennon's last hours to the aftermath of the murder in a very effective manner which I won't spoil.

As the podcasts came out in the weeks leading up to the film's first broadcast on American television, the makers promised, or at least seemed to imply, that one of the podcasts would be of an interview with Yoko Ono, but that hasn't been made available. The suggestion was that her contributions would be a revelation, but I can't say that this was really the case from what was used in the film - there was perhaps the odd suggestion of a harsher attitude towards her husband, but nothing which hadn't already been signalled by some of the interviewees in the podcasts, most notably when those who were trying to control his drinking were told "He's your problem now."

Reviews I've read suggest that May Pang is given short shrift  (she features, but only briefly, and the sexual part of her relationship with Lennon, and Yoko's role in it goes unexamined) and that the film may be compromised by Yoko's involvement.

I suppose the answer to that is that you would be unlikely to get any kind of a film without that cooperation. Accepting that, then it is certainly possible to say that the decision to focus on a specific period of Lennon's life allows for a degree of detail not possible in the John Lennon: Imagine film. But I would like to hear the raw audio of Yoko's interviews. Did she withhold permission for them to be used? It also sounds like there may have been on camera interviews and audio-only interviews: some snippets accompanied by images onscreen have a different acoustic.

Maybe there are extra revelations, or less guarded comments, from Yoko which the film makers are privy to, or maybe there aren't. But one example of the difference between the podcasts and the finished product is when one musician is talking of when Lennon was wildly drunk and had to be held down in a car, during the Lost Weekend. In the documentary, we're told he would scream out Yoko's name; in the podcast, the interviewee adds he would also scream out the name of his other "mother": Mimi.

Find the LENNONYC podcasts here. For UK readers, there is a Region 1 DVD of the documentary commercially available. American readers can watch it online - though if you are reading this post you've probably done so already. Read my transcription of part of the Colin Hall (Mendips curator) interview in an earlier post, here.

Though, again, if you're reading this you've probably done so already ...

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