Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lennon's On Sale Again

I don't go out of my way to get books to review on this blog, but when Vintage offered a copy of their reissue of John Lennon's "In His Own Write" and "A Spaniard in the Works" as a single lovely volume, I couldn't resist. I must have read these years ago, perhaps from the library, as I've never owned a copy. A mix of poems, short-short stories, scribbles and drawings they're almost unclassifiable - though would be instantly recognisable to any fan of Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll or particularly Spike Milligan. It's the latter's "Puckoon" and "The Little Pot Boiler" from 1963 that they most resemble. The absurdist humour, madly random spelling and Joycean wordplay combine to create a little pocket book that, despite the occasional piece that seems dated, is still a joy to read and look at today.

What's mostly of interest of course, is what they tell us about the Lennon who had just become one quarter of this new pop sensation singing "She Loves You" and "From Me to You." Here's one of the earliest evidences of Lennon having wit and intelligence difference than the average musician. It's the art school student who made it in a band; but it's also a fascinating template for the Beatle's own forthcoming surrealism. Lennonism's like "A Hard Day's Night" and "Eight Days a Week" are all over these pieces, and Lennon was clearly writing a superior kind of nonsense long before "I am the Walrus"'s psychedelic verbosity. It wouldn't take long for the intelligent wit of these two books to find their way into the Beatles' songs.

The 2nd book, "A Spaniard in the Works" has longer prose pieces than the first, and is a little more acerbic if anything, but nothing here is too serious. Clearly when he first saw Yoko Ono's pop art installations he recognised a kindred sense of humour.

The Beatles are so familiar that it's always a shock to encounter them in an unfamiliar form, and though these two books have been available for over 40 years, the reissue, in the year when Lennon would have been 70, seems entirely appropriate. Who can not smile to read how "Harassed Wilsod won the General Erection with a very small marjorie over the Torchies." In 2010, I think we can all be a little wary of small marjories, and a little worried about the Torchies.

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