Friday, February 19, 2010

Music: John Lennon / Mother

In 1969, before the dissolution of the Beatles, John Lennon and Yoko Ono had formed the Plastic Ono Band, a supergroup which included John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Klaus Voorman, Alan White, Keith Moon, Billy Preston, Nicky Hopkins and Phil Spector.

The Beatles split happened when Paul McCartney said he was leaving the band in April 1970. The band officially split on 31 December 1970. The album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band was released on 28 December 1979, the song Mother coming from that album.

The version in the link below is the longer album version, which has the tolling bells at the beginning and the Lennon screams at the end. The single version is shorter and omits those parts. Go for the longer version to truly appreciate the work.

Click on the following link to listen to the song:

Lennon's writing of the song coincided with his undergoing primal therapy, also known as primal scream therapy, a trauma based psychotherapy developed by Arthur Janov. Primal therapy holds that neuroses in the human psyche are caused by repressed pain from childhood traumas. The way to resolve the trauma is to re-experience the incident, bring it back to conscious awareness and give expression to the emotions and pain caused by it.

To understand and appreciate the song, it is necessary to know something of Lennon’s younger years. Lennon was born in Liverpool in 1940 during a German air raid, to Julie and Alf Lennon. Alf was a merchant seaman and away from home for extended periods. In 1943 he went AWOL and his cheques to Julia stopped. Alf came home in 1944 but Julia, pregnant to another man, rejected him. Julia’s sister Mimi called in the authorities and forced Julia to hand John to her to care for. In 1946 Alf took John from Mimi and planned to move to New Zealand with him. Julia stepped back in and told the 6 year old John to choose which parent he wanted to be with. Twice he chose Alf but as Julia walked away the crying John ran to her. Thereafter John remained in the care of his Aunt Mimi.

(He didn’t meet with Alf again until the heights of Beatlemania, when Alf tried to seduce John’s wife Cynthia and wanted to borrow money from John. After throwing him out, John had no further contact with Alf).

Julia remained in contact with John whilst cared for by his Aunt Mimi  Julia bought him his first guitar in 1957. Nonetheless she did not believe that there was any future in music for him, telling him “The guitar’s all very well, John, but you’ll never make a living out of it.”

The next year, whilst Lennon was still 17, Julia was run down and killed by a drunken off-duty policeman. His song Julia is about his mother, as is My Mummy’s Dead.

Mother is akin to listening to live primal therapy. It begins with tolling bells, reminiscent of funeral bells. Lennon deliberately slowed down and lowered the pitch of the tones to create an even more haunting, death knell sound.

The lyrics are poignant, the voice of an abandoned child aching for the love of a mother and father, both of whom rejected and deserted him. The guttural screams are the cries of a child in torment, the same lyrics being repeated over and over: Mama don't go, Daddy come home. It is Lennon working through his pain, exposing raw nerves and raw emotion.

At a live performance Lennon stated “This song is for everyone who has lost parents.”

How can one not be moved?

John Lennon

Julia Lennon

Alf Lennon


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