This analysis of John Lennon as a Creative Industries practitioner will provide proof that incubation, a key Creative Industries concept, was a vital driving force in shaping his career, and how this in time shaped him into an inter-disciplinary artist with what Weintraub (2003, 195) refers to as an altruistic ego, defined as when someone sacrifices personal comfort, health or security to perform public service.
1960’s: Social & Political impact
The 1960’s “were the beginning of a turning point for American society…The arts reflected the fragmentation of the populace” (Schafer 1993). Lennon’s life spanned the years during which modernism failed, “and contemporary electronic culture began to explore new ways of defining self” (Schafer 1993). The Beatles “were synchronized with musical, sociopolitical and aesthetic concerns“(Keightly in Fitzgerald 1996, 50). While “…Lennon was seen as being the anti-establishment one whose songs often revealed a hidden depth…” (Jones 2005), his later songs used “a much wider range of vocabulary” which reflected the notion that he was dealing with more varied and complex topics. The conceptual revolution for popular music and art went through similar transitions, i.e.: Jean-Luc Goddard and Andy Warhol as suggested by Gobleson (2009). Werner (1998, 10-14) notes that John and Yoko’s experiments with pop and avant-garde in this time did not create a breakthrough, but that their efforts mirrored an active, curious, experimental and subversive attitude towards social institutions. Lennon was shy and aggressive, and had great hopes for what he did with his work. In a turning point example during his explorations in discovery of self and position he recalled ”I wanted to write something that would take over ‘We Shall Overcome’ …I thought, why doesn’t somebody write one for the people now”. Werner goes on to say that ‘Give Peace A Chance’ released as a single in the U.S. July 1965, received top 40 radio play for 9 weeks and became a million-seller-worldwide. 4 months later Pete Seeger led half a million demonstrators singing Lennon’s new song at Washington Monument.” Lennon changed the song as political weather became darker. ‘The Peace Movement had found an anthem’ Newsweek proclaimed, Werner adds. Following the start of his relationship with racism, Vietnam, women’s rights, etc., Jones (2005) says, many of Lennon’s songs were deeply personal and touched upon his inner torments, some of which went back to his early chaotic life as an orphan.
Self: Introspective Discovery
The abandonment by his parents had transformed into a positive realization of difference and possibility of who he could have been when he was younger, but after the break of The Beatles, Schafer indicates that Lennon was starting to question his identity and could not deal with no longer being on stage (Schafer 1993). Lennon was a simple yet complex man who lived a complicated life. Further than this, Schafer states that he experienced powerful feelings of hostility and self-destruction, but rather than expressing these feelings in violence, he chose to focus his energy in self creative directions. His art reflected this and his distaste for the conventional pop star media image of himself; i.e. “Nowhere Man” & “I am a loser”. For the first time he thought to himself “My God, what do you do if there isn’t goin on…What is there?” (Schafer) And with these thoughts he turned to film. Participating in “How I Won the War” gave him his first glimpse into the world of socio-political conceptual art. “…there’s something else I’m gonna do…I don’t know what it is…All I know is this isn’t for me” (Schafer).
“The discovery of self knowledge or truth is a creative action which necessitates choice, and to choose to be one thing is to forsake other potential choices. In the act of choosing, one is forced to mediate between one’s conflicting desires and fears. (Schafer 1993)
Movement: Politics, Musical Influence & Avant-garde
After working on the film, he returned to London and joined the avant-garde scene. Wandering around the social circles, galleries, and exhibitions he stumbled upon an important meeting with Ono. Through Ono’s strong subjective self and support, John rediscovered the strength of his convictions and the courage to be outrageous again. (Schafer 1993, 5). Werner (1998, 2) states that “The opposite pole of culture in capitalist society is avant-garde art…a form of intervention which recognizes the repressed, the neglected, the un-reconciled, which seeks to move its audience to self-doubt”.
In a statement by John he refers to his life as his art. This idea strongly represents the views of the emerging avant-garde movement of his time. As he was heavily influenced by the love of his life Ono, it is important to note her stand on the matter. “Yoko’s work at this point exemplified the strengths and limitations of the sixties avant-garde. The avant-garde artists of the fifties had created permanent objects. Ono created ideas and performances…the fifties artists had worked with the traditional media of painting and music. She rejected these in favor of everyday or unconventional materials…Yoko wanted to draw the audience into the art in a more active way” (Werner 1998, 6-7)
Although, finding this niche took some time as noted in the writing approach John took towards complicated art. “During the mid-1960’s, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney created a new kind of popular music that was personal and often obscure. This shift transformed popular music from an experimental into a complicated art” (Golenson 2009). Lennon recalled in 1967 that he would write “obscurely, a la Dylan, never saying what he meant, but the impression of something.” Intellectuals let “Dylan get away with murder. I thought, well I can write this crap too…just stick a few images together, thread them together, and you call it poetry.” (Golenson 2009) “Lennon explained that Dylan’s music caused him to change his attitude toward writing songs…had a separate songwriting style for the meat market, he didn’t consider the lyrics to have any depth at all.” He then began writing subjectively instead of objectively. (Golenson 2009)
Another transition in this movement was sound recording as presented by ( ) how regarding listening to Brian Wilson’s recording of “Pet Sounds: prompted them to acquire a “really clean American sound on ‘Penny Lane,’ and in turn their engineer did this by recording all the instruments separately to avoid leakage, which at this time was uncommon. When Lennon-McCartney began their well-documented assault on the US pop charts, they demonstrated a marked preference for the AABA form…between 1963-1966.” (Fitzgerald 1996, 41) “Lennon-McCartney’s adherence to the AABA form can be seen as a link to the teen pop songs of Goffin-King and Barry-Greenwich, who were the other writers to make regular use of the directness and simplicity of this form…” (Fitzgerald 1996, 49) “Lennon-McCartney’s liking for songs by earlier professional pop composers is well documented. The Beatles included five American girl group songs on their first two albums” (i.e.: The Shirelles)
We-go: The altruistic ego and it’s impact
The “we-go” mind state was reborn out the tumultuous 60’s and gave the people a strong purpose. Many creative practitioners challenged the social norm, which was to accept things as they happened, trust the government and oppose change; and came together in opposition with a common purpose. Individuals came together to promote opposition to something or promote something like peace and individuality, i.e. Woodstock. “…If the capitalist colonization of youth culture could be broken, immensely powerful resources for challenging ideological domination would become available. For a while in the late 60’s, John Lennon made that his project.” (Werner 1998, 2)
“John appears to have plunged too fast. The lyrics exhibit a fatal movement and avant-garde flow: while seeking to enlighten, they condescend” (Christgau in Werner 1998) Lennon acknowledged that the songs in “Some Time in New York City”, an album he recorded with Ono, were ineffective and poorly crafted. “Being about other people and events, the songs lack Lennon’s presence. “He later admitted that he was trying to write what the people were saying in that time and in this form of writing and not saying what he was thinking almost ruined them, “…it became journalism, not poetry” (Schafer 1993) “The songs we wrote and sang are subjects we and most people talk about. And it was done in the tradition of singing reporters- who say about their times and what was happening.” (Werner 1998, 12)
In conclusion, in incubation stages from childhood, to Beatlemania, Anti-War Politics, and Avant-garde exploration “Lennon recreated himself as rock and roll rebel, artist, and househusband and father. Each self-creation was sacrificed in order to create a new identity” (Schafer 1993).
Fitzgerald, J. 1996. Lennon-McCartney and the “Middle Eight”. Popular Music & Society 20 (4): 41-53. Academic Search Elite, EBSCOhost http://gateway.library.qut.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=afh&AN=2169471&site=ehost-live (Accessed April 3, 2009)
Galenson, David W. 2009. “From “White Christmas” to Sgt. Pepper: The Conceptual Revolution in Popular Music.” Historical Methods 42 (1): 17-34. Academic Search Elite, EBSCOhost http://gateway.library.qut.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=afh&AN=36451908&site=ehost-live (Accessed April 2, 2009)
Jackson, K.M. 2008. ‘The Words and Music of John Lennon by Ben Urish and Ken Bielen’. Review. Journal of American Culture 31(1): 130-13. Academic Search Elite, EBSCOhost http://gateway.library.qut.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=afh&AN=29332108&site=ehost-live (Accessed April 3, 2009)
Jones, Steve. 2005. Why John Lennon stood out from the rest. In defence of Marxism. http://www.marxist.com/john-lennon-stood-out081205.htm (Accessed April 16, 2009)
Schafer, C. A. 1993. Phd Dissertation. The mediated self: Tragedy and heroism in late twentieth century United States. The University of Texas at Dallas. Academic Search Elite, EBSCOhost (Accessed April 2, 2009)
Timeline of the Twentieth Century: 1960-1969. nd. http://history1900s.about.com/library/time/bltime1960.htm (Accessed April 16, 2009)
Weintraub, L. 2003. Introduction: Creating an Artistic “Self”. In the making: creative options for contemporary art. 194-195. New York: Distributed Art Publishers, Inc.
Werner, J. 1998. Pop and Avant-Garde: The Case of John and Yoko Academic. Popular Music & Society 22 (1): 1-16. Search Elite, EBSCOhost http://gateway.library.qut.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=afh&AN=1674442&site=ehost-live (Accessed April 3, 2009)
Yoko Onos Biography. 2008. http://www.nme.com/artists/yoko-ono (Accessed April 16, 2009)