I was shopping in Sainsbury’s yesterday. A list in my hand of the things I was bound to forget. Ground Cinnamon. Black Treacle. Some stem ginger (Kath was doing a traybake for Jessie’s drama group Christmas party). I wandered into the milk and juice aisle. There were Christmas songs playing overhead in a stream that was only interrupted by public announcements of special offers, rounded off with a Thank you for shopping at Sainsbury’s, and I’d been drifting along, checking the list, looking around, unconsciously joining in with these songs that I’d heard a million times before and couldn’t avoid this time of year, singing along in the same way that trees bend in front of a strong wind, to let it pass as harmlessly as possible without losing too many branches. But then I realised that I was singing along to Happy Christmas (War is Over), the John Lennon song. And I wondered what John Lennon would’ve thought, if he’d been standing in the milk and juice aisle, too, hearing his song absorbed like this, made safe, neutered, by the whole corporate sales drive of Christmas. Would it have depressed him? Didn’t it jar with the message of the song?
And that made me think of a documentary film I saw of him called Imagine. There’s a scene in the film where he talks to an obsessive american fan who’d been camping in the grounds of his mansion. They’re all standing by the front door, the american in his tatty sheepskin coat and floppy hat, John and Yoko in the doorway, with some other people around. And the american is saying something about how much John’s music has influenced his life, how they spoke directly to him. John is pretty tough about the whole thing. He tells the american he was just putting words together. Some of them worked and seemed to mean something, some of them didn’t. That was it. He said all songwriters did pretty much the same thing. If he was writing a love song, he was mostly thinking about Yoko. Everything else was about John Lennon, and no-one else. And if anyone listening happened to take some meaning from it, well – that was good. If not, well, whatever. And then they all went in for some breakfast.
I remember being shocked by the tone of what he said to the american – especially when he said he was only writing about things around him, how he was feeling, whether he’d had a good shit that morning. Was his songwriting really such a functional thing? It confused me at the time and still does. Especially taken with all the other seemingly incompatible things about his life, like John singing ‘Imagine no possessions’, and then a year or so later keeping a whole apartment refrigerated in the Dakota building specifically to keep his and Yoko’s fur coats. All of which helped me overcome my moment of existential angst in the milk and juice aisle of Sainsbury’s. Because I thought – actually – John Lennon would’ve appreciated the contradiction, seen his place in it, the whole societal ‘trip’.
And who knows? Maybe he’d have written a song.
Kath’s traybake was fantastic, btw.
Happy Christmas. I hope you have a great holiday – and thanks for reading the blog this year!