Monday Masters; John Lennon
There were many John Lennons. He was the witty, intellectual one from The Beatles. He was the loving and caring bringer of the message of Love and Peace. He was a yobbish scouse Teddy Boy with a penchant for vandalising phone boxes and mugging English Sailors in Hamburg Night Clubs, he was a devoted family man who took five years out of being a super star to raise his son, he neglected and finally left his first wife and child.
He was the archetypal angry young man, with a chip on his shoulder that was bigger than his feet. He had a tragic childhood, having lost through circumstance or death at least three of the most important people in his life by the time his was 20. (One of them, his mother, he'd actually lost twice) He was violent. He put Cavern DJ Bob Wooler in hospital for jokingly inferring that Lennon was having a gay relationship with Brian Epstein. He admitted to having hit the women in his early life in jealous rages. I think this makes it all the more remarkable that he spent his later years banging on about peace; he managed to change his behaviour. He did, however, maintain that angry, sarcastic streak which could be very damaging to people.
I think he felt less musical than Paul McCartney. When they first met Paul had more ability than Lennon, despite being younger. From the outside it looks as if Paul was always more confident in this regard than Lennon, and John used bluff and sarcasm to guard against his own insecurities. At times Lennon dismissed McCartney as a schmaltzy writer of "boring songs about boring people" I think we can see his true feelings in other stories, such as how Here, There and Everywhere was his favourite song on Revolver. Personally I think that the Beatles, in particular Lennon, thrived because of their limitations. As is the case with most musical innovation they invented a lot because they couldn't quite do what they were intending to copy.
It's a well recorded fact that Lennon was insecure about his singing. If you listen it's pretty obvious. To begin with, compare the vocal on early, confident Beatles tracks with the solo stuff. Beatle Mania John's voice was thick and raucous. Solo John often had a thin, almost timid voice. Don't get me wrong, I love everything he sang. In fact the singing on a track like Jealous Guy is so beautiful because it is timid and heartfelt. His rocky voice changed too. On Beatles Rock and Roll covers he sounds like he might just kill you, and tracks like Mother and Gimme Some Truth he sounds like a man declaring all his inner issues and using them to kill himself.
Throughout his recording career he did his best to change and disguise his vocal. On the solo records he used delay and reverb effects, I've heard one producer say he wouldn't sing a note in the studio until his favourite effect was dialed in. Once the Beatles started to use four track machines practically every Lennon vocal was double tracked to sound thicker, and a little later he instigated the creation of Artificial Double Tracking, simply to save time by electronically beefing up his vocal sound rather than physically recording each vocal twice.
Even before the Beatles used studio tools and tricks to change their sound we can hear how Lennon, despite being ostensibly the lead singer, frequently used George and Paul to harmonise with him for huge sections of songs. In my view this was an attempt, perhaps unconsciously, to cover up his own singing.
Luckily for us Lennon's arrogance and wish to be leader proved to be stronger than his insecurities about singing and writing. For me the fact that the biggest cultural and musical icon of the 20th Century doubted his abilities so much only makes him more fascinating and dare I say it, inspiring.
He may have died six years before I was born, but I love the man