Saturday, November 14, 2015

My hero / John Lennon by Kevin Barry

John Lennon

My hero: John Lennon by Ken Barry

For great artists time is unfixed, and they can tune into the essences of other eras. I came to see John as a kind of Edwardian type – he’s the Melancholy Dandy

Saturday 14 November 2015

f there is a way in through the veins of a song, it may be with “Gimme Some Truth”, a headlong rant against the uptight and the narrow-minded, against the egocentric and the paranoiac, but here, as in all of John Lennon’s very best work, there is a simple, radical truth underpinning the barbed words and the bitter incantation – it doesn’t have to be this way, and we can be who we want to be.

To try and get his voice on to the page of Beatlebone was difficult because the reader brings an expectation of what he should sound like, but also because that voice is so capricious. Lennon could go from fluffy to spiky in the course of half a sentence; his humour lurched always into the surreal; he was an obsessive about the future but locked forever in the past. A method I found useful was to try to imagine him before the great and unprecedented maelstrom of fame and attention raised up its whirling forces. Who was he back then? He was a 17-year-old art college kid in Liverpool. He was maybe a bit shouty down at Ye Cracke, his boozer, sometimes. The first of the famous photographs come from this time and he’s pretty sharp, bequiffed and leather-jacketed, though with perhaps the remnants of a teenage pudginess about the chops still. He knows how to stare down the camera. It looks very 1950s, of course, but there is something older there, too. For great artists, always, I believe, time is unfixed, and they can tune at will into the essences of other eras, and somehow I came to see John as a kind of Edwardian type – he’s the Melancholy Dandy. He clarified a little for me in this light.
Soon there will be all of the fame, and the making of a new iconography, and the words and the music that he will bring to us will be rich and will cut deep, will be sometimes lyrical and sometimes thorny, but almost always beautiful.
Kevin Barry won the Goldsmiths prize for his novel Beatlebone.


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