Those Freaks Was Right – Thermal & a Quarter pay tribute to John Lennon, 9/12/11

Welcome to cuckoo land. This city, which looks like a construction site, and is as dusty and impossible to live in as one, is a Garden City. It is also the Pub Capital; the pubs close at eleven. The Silicon Valley of India hasn’t got around to doing twenty four hours of electricity a day. A complacent, bloodless, anodyne gig in which, of the first four songs, only one was actually by the artist being covered, is a “tribute”.

There are two issues an event like this raises, one of them has to do with the sort of lazy mythmaking which elevates certain musicians to god status and, in effect, flattens them into a two-dimensional brand image at the expense of all clarity and perspective. The other is that of what we can reasonably hope to expect at a tribute show.

John Lennon is an artist of exceptional calibre and significance. He’s an excellent singer, and, when the fancy takes him, a very capable lead guitar player. As a recording artist, his highs have been matched by jaw-dropping lows; his best songs are outstanding, and yet, as a songwriter, he may rightly be accused of laziness, often substituting personal charm for hard effort. He has dabbled with writing and film, the writing is often very good, the films are terrible. After the Beatles, he set out to systematically blur the lines between his public persona, his art, and his private life with decidedly dubious results. His politics were naive, and didn’t last for very long; as a solo artist, his main subject has been himself. Much is made of his lyrics, but, while I think he has a way with words, he’s not innocent of going as far as to pen blatant nonsense. Of his albums, I love the spare, deliberate, echoey Plastic Ono Band and, for more perverse reasons, the shameless mess that is Rock ‘n’ Roll. I wish he had never written Imagine, the song casts its sticky shadow on everything else he ever did, and the rest of the album is fluff, with the notable exceptions of Gimme Some Truth and How do you Sleep?, both terrific tracks, both punching well above their weight. He’s a cheeky, clever frontman and a cracking interviewee. After his death, with the blessings of an ambitious widow, he has been flogged on the markets as the original love-and-peace man with the most recognisable pair of glasses in the world; while this has clearly brought in the money and kept his name within easy recall, it has also unfortunately obliterated most of what is really interesting about him.

It also needs stressing on that he has fundamentally always been a pop writer, and, like all hit-makers of his generation, has (almost) always shown an expert ear for hooks and economy.

I don’t harbour fanboy objections to my favourite artists’ songs being re-arranged. Neither do I mark the 9th of December out on the calendar: whatever John Lennon means to me, I don’t particularly care one way or another about the day of his death. Nor does anybody else, for that matter: Thermal & a Quarter did not play this show out of any special love for Lennon or his works – because that would have shown if they had – they played it because the 9th fell on a Friday, because it gave them a schtick to peddle, because it was an easy and undemanding piece of skin-deep symbolism which required no real emotional or intellectual commitment.

In the plainest of terms, what these fuckwits went and did is this: they picked on the first convenient niche, and, because our audiences demand so little and are so enthralled with rock mythology, cashed in successfully. What’s more painful about this unabashed con-job is, they did it without putting any work into it, any real work, that is, like bothering to nail the funny, clever little lunatic in goofy glasses they were supposed to be celebrating, all sign of whom remained conspicuously missing throughout this dumb, tasteless display. They actually – and this is amazing – made a very catchy body of work – because whatever else Lennon is, he’s always catchy – sound dull, like any other third-rate pub band doing semi-acoustic workouts anywhere in the world.

And, almost as if to drive the point home – for people who have a “special relationship” with John Lennon, as the frontman chose to claim – they threw in a Harrison and a McCartney song in second and third spot.

Either it’s ignorance, or callousness or utter cynicism or all of these at once. Whichever it is, the uninspired sound and the complete absence of intelligence in all of it say just one thing: the rot is endemic. Our crowds are being sold crap. And they don’t even know it.

Thermal & a Quarter are Bangalore’s favourite band, and I dare say the gap-toothed fans will shortly show up to try and “express” their “opinions” about why I’ve got this all wrong. But, before you wade in, answer me this.

Were you there?

Did the music send thrills up your spine?

Did it make you want to dance, to get drunk and kiss the girl next to you?

Did you go home walking on air, feeling happy as a three year old?

Did you miss the man?

Because that’s what John Lennon music is supposed to do.

And it didn’t.

Q.E.D.

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22 thoughts on “Those Freaks Was Right – Thermal & a Quarter pay tribute to John Lennon, 9/12/11

  1. Well, those questions you asked, I wish I felt that way about any band I have seen live in this country, except for few odd occasions that involved early Lounge piranha in Maya and Bicycle days in Alliance and Pinknoise at Bflat. I have been reading your other blog posts and you’ve brought me hope although I don’t quite agree with Adam being as good as you claim him to be although I wait with bated breath for the third album that will actually involve a band that can play(what they want to, hopefully).

  2. The set went something like-
    Come together, Something, A little help, Day Tripper, shitty original (foolishly introduced as a Lennon song ‘well, channelled through us tee hee’, greatly tickling the audience) followed by Blackbird, I think- I left right about then. Sucked. Fucking sucked ass.

  3. Whole thing fucking stank. It felt mostly unpardonable. I wanted to stone them off the stage. The degree of self-satisfied complacency was almost unbelievable. Fucking lump of shit.

    • your band isn’t much better, so shut the fuck up and let moop do the talking. Go write a song bitch.

      • Oh me?! Sure, I’ll do that! Why don’t you go eat a bag of dicks meanwhile?

      • wow, this guy is really original – commenting on a music blog asking people to shut the fuck up!

  4. Hah. Well, I suppose The Beatles are much a global brand as they’re a rock n roll band. Everyone wants a piece- some absorb, some abuse. That said, I can’t see why a group like TAAQ would want to pretend like they have anything in common with Lennon. They’re much better off “belting out” their 11 minute songs(/guitar tutorials).

    Great piece. However, I don’t agree with your statement about the majority of Imagine being fluff. What about ‘How’? Oh my love? I don’t wanna be a soldier? Jealous guy? Me, I’d always exchange a 100 Rams for a Plastic Ono Band. I also think (completely off-topic)The Replacements’ Let it be is a greater achievement than The Beatles’ Let it be.

  5. I need to have a word with you.

    I’ll have you know Ram is the single best record of all time. Listen again – “my doggy got three legs, your doggy got none” – et voila, poetry! I want that carved into my tombstone.

    And, what’s more, I’m right.

    How is just a re-write of the Long and Boring Song, no? “How can I go forward…” etc., boom-boom boom-boom, “that leads to your door, will never disappear” bla bla bla. No, not a fan.

    Dig Walls & Bridges, tho’. And Rock ‘n’ Roll – ungodly, unforgivable, TERRIFIC Rock ‘n’ Roll.

  6. You know what’s truly bizarre, tho’, ‘Farmer? All Things Must Pass and Plastic Ono Band were recorded in adjacent studios, at the same time, with the same rhythm section, both under Phil Spector’s benign, non-interfering, kindly, supportive, entirely un-opinionated gaze.

    And never have two records sounded so drastically different.

  7. …entirely un-opinionated gaze- Lawl! Ptch. Yes, I know Phil Spector was and is a nutcase. Unfortunately, he was also a visionary record-maker(The Ronnettes- enough said). My guess is that Plastic Ono Band sounds more sparse and less wall-of-sound-ish than any of Spector’s work because Lennon insisted it turn out that way. It’s a tuneful, yet challenging record.
    . And Ram, a great album? Puh-leeez. I love Uncle Albert and Ram On (soft corner for the ukelele) but the rest of the record’s mostly gobbledygook- lazy stoner era Macca indulging himself in fancy toys and song-suites {hands across the water, hands across the sky(?!)}.. good thing he redeemed with Band on the run.

    Next piece: Pleeeez tackle the oh so sacred temple of Pentagram/Zero, the “dadas of Indian Rawk”.

    (I like to moop it, moop it….)

  8. I took it for granted that Indians singing in English would always sound wrong. I never minded friends who were fans of Indian bands because I thought they were only making the best of a hopeless situation. Thanks to your blog though, I’ve discovered that I was wrong, and so are the fans. Don’t stop writing.

    • Thanks Kabir, it’s very kind of you to say.

      Indian bands singing in English don’t sound wrong, shitty bands sound wrong.

      The good news is, there are a handful who aren’t shitty. And thank goodness for that.

      Cheers, and thanks for reading!

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