Compare these two sets of prose.
Amo amat amass;
Amonk amink a minibus
Amikky mendip multiplus
Amighty midgey spoon.
She loves you--yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you--yeah, yeah, yeah.
With a love like that, you know you should be glad.
Both were penned in late 1963 and unleashed on the public in 1964; the first set was received with tepid critical acclaim, and the latter set with fanatic, global celebration. Both are by John Lennon.
Like these two very different writings and their reception, Lennon led something of a double life in the mid-'60s. That first set of words--"Joycean, even Carrollian," wrote literary critics--accompanied a book of his poems and drawings titled In His Own Write, released just as the Beatles were conquering North America with songs like "She Loves You" and "Hard Day's Night." The book was chockfull of Lennon's doodles--perverse, brainy, often angry. When trying to find a niche in his career for the visual and wordplay passion he had fostered through his school years, Lennon would quickly realize that his music fans wanted little to do with this cynical, irreverent side. After the release of his second such book, 1965's A Spaniard in the Works (a play on the phrase "a spanner in the works," the Brit equivalent to "a fly in the ointment"), which snapped at politics, his absent father, and religion, Lennon would retire this second, art-focused John--until he met Yoko.
Four years later, at his soulmate's urging, he unleashed that abandoned self again; his drawings--scratchy, gestural, and recalling Calder's creatures or studies by Miro and Picasso--re-entered the spotlight, along with various performance-art work (recall Lennon and Ono's week-long "Bed-in") and increasingly opaque and personal music. Unlike before, by 1970 the art and music world was well acquainted with Lennon's political and social leanings, which showed no signs of weakening up until his death in 1980. In fact, the late '70s proved to be Lennon's most liberated years, at home with Yoko and son Sean. His increasingly bright, cheerful drawings and relaxing musical efforts attest to his mounting peace-of-mind. The two Johns--the face-forward pop star and the caustic scribbler, had finally met and reconciled.
This weekend at Valley View Center, of all places, a traveling collection of Lennon's drawings and prose will be on display. Over a hundred serigraphs, lithographs, and original sketches, dating all the way to In his own Write up through his golden Yoko years, as well as hand-written lyrics from the White Album and Double Fantasy will fill a standard-issue storefront at the north Dallas mall. Even Lennon might appreciate the irony.
Yes, the man could draw, and everyone knows he could write. But is the stuff really good? Hell, I'll say what most critics won't: Who cares? It's John Lennon, for God's sake. We love the guy.
The Art of John Lennon at Valley View Center from Thursday, May 28, through Sunday, May 31. Open mall hours. Free to the public.