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.