Yesterday was the 37th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder, and today is the 37th anniversary of when I found out about John Lennon’s murder. I was 7 years old and in the kitchen of my mom and dad’s house. We had a tiny black and white TV that sat on top of the refrigerator for those mornings and nights when we wanted to watch Good Morning America and M.A.S.H. reruns while we fed our faces. On that morning I remember seeing Paul McCartney being interviewed by the GMA crew and seeing the face of a man that usually looked kind of sad anyways seem both sad and completely at a loss for words. I was young, but I was well aware of John Lennon. I had been given the gift of parents with good taste in music, so since I could remember I was hearing John Lennon sing “A Day In The Life”, “Dear Prudence”, “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”, and “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey”.
Of course, those were off Beatles albums.
I loved Lennon and McCartney, but I always gravitated more to John Lennon. He seemed to have the more biting humor, seemed to have more fun, and he reminded me more of people that I would’ve known in my life than Paul McCartney. Plus, I just loved his voice. Like a good old tube amp, when he pushed his voice it got gritty and harsh while still having plenty of soul. As I grew up I fixated on Lennon. His solo albums were a big influence on me. I felt like as he got older he became a guy looking for answers to the psychological trauma inflicted on him when he was a kid. Dad left him, mom left him, mom came back into his life only to be taken away again by being hit by a bus. How do you not get screwed up by that? There was just a lot of real heartache and emotional fuckery that bled into his solo work, and early on unfortunately into his relationship with his first wife and his relationship with his son Julian. It’s been well documented how much of an asshole Lennon was to his first wife, and that he all but ignored his first son. In the early days of the Lennon/Ono relationship there was a lot of self-involvement and publicity stunting that may have had good intentions at its core but just ended up being more like performance art gone awry. As a dad, I see how he treated Julian and it’s infuriating to me. It seems to be this period of acting out on Lennon’s part. It’s not an excuse for his behavior. I’m just stating my opinion. John Lennon was a complex, damaged man that whether he liked it or not affected more lives than he ever could’ve imagined.
But this isn’t an indictment on the man. This is about something completely different. It’s about gyros. And George Clinton.
In 1995 I was living in an apartment with my girlfriend. We’d made the plunge into the world of apartment renting and were digging it. She was working 2nd shift while I was on days. One week night while she was working my friend Chad asked me if I wanted to head to the mall and grab a bite to eat. I said sure because I was bored and my laundry was caught up. We hit up the National Record Mart, which was a chain record store at Glenbrook Mall and I picked up Working Class Hero : A Tribute To John Lennon. I was still very much a fan of Lennon and this tribute seemed to have quite a few bands I was into at the time so I took a chance on it. Before we left Fort Wayne my friend Chad suggested eating at King Gyro before we headed home. I’d never eaten at King Gyro before, but as to not disappoint my pal I said sure. I found the gyro decent enough and the conversation on the way back home pleasant. I got home and put the CD in the stereo and proceeded to listen to old timers and up and comers alike pay tribute to John Lennon. I was enjoying it, but there was a feeling that something wasn’t right as bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Toad The Wet Sprocket, Collective Soul, and Sponge did their best interpretations of Lennon classics. About halfway thru the disc I shut if off as I couldn’t concentrate with the loud, abrupt growls and whines coming from my gut. A sickly sweat formed on my forehead as the rest of my body went to a pasty, clammy texture that was like sweating warm cooking oil out of my pores.
King Gyros revenge.
I was sick for the next 12 hours. The initial few hours were the worst with gyro exiting my body from both ends. My girlfriend got home and gave me a wet rag to drape over my green forehead. Small offerings, such as ice chips, stale saltines, and empty prayers were appreciated but did little to qualm the typhoon of stomach acid that ripped and roared in my innards. By morning I’d been emptied out and tossed to the side like an empty tube of Crest, twisted and squeezed for every last drop.
It took nearly three days to fully recover from that Greek tragedy, and I’ve only eaten at one other King Gyros since that day(it was in a post-Cure concert hangover stupor…this was also not a good choice.) Besides my bowels and my tattered and violated soul, the other big victim here was Working Class Hero: A Tribute To John Lennon. Due to the circumstances surrounding the initial listen of that album, I just couldn’t get myself to go back to that CD and listen to it again. Every time I thought of George Clinton doing “Mind Games” or Collective Soul covering “Jealous Guy” I could feel the sweat begin to form above my upper lip and I could hear the ghostly sounds of my abdomen as it screamed “Eeeeeaahhhhh!” and “Reeeeeeaaauuuhhhh!” on that pained evening in 1995. That tribute CD sat in my CD tower for the next 22 years, waiting for me to make my way back to it(with Tums in hand.)
So yesterday with the anniversary of John Lennon’s death on my mind I made my way downstairs and pulled out that tribute disc, despite the gastro-intestinal PTSD involved with it. Most of the morning I sat at my desk and listened to this album that paid tribute to a guy that changed and rewired so many hearts and minds in less than a 20 year span. For the most part, it’s still a solid spin.
The highlights first:
Candlebox covers “Steel and Glass” to great effect. I was never a fan of them when they were the alternative rock flavor of the month back in the early 90s, but here they show they’re capable of taking on John Lennon’s Walls and Bridges sleeper.
Screaming Trees’ taking on “Working Class Hero” seems like the most perfect coming together since chocolate and peanut butter, or chicken tenders and honey mustard. Mark Lanegan seething out the line “You’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see” is your moment of zen today.
Scott Weiland’s Magnificent Bastards do justice to “How Do You Sleep”. Here’s a spot where Weiland was very much on his game and he delivers the venomous lyrics with vigor.
The Flaming Lips’ “Nobody Told Me” is near perfect. It’s ramshackle, noisy, and has the feeling of being pasted together with spit and mildew, but that’s the beauty of it. Coyne and company doing what they do best.
Cheap Trick hadn’t sounded this good in years when they tackled Lennon’s “Cold Turkey”. They sound like a bunch of young punks fresh out of the Midwest with something to prove.
A band I dug in the mid-90s was Super 8. They were pretty much here and gone, but they left a couple good records and this amazing cover of “Well Well Well”.
I don’t know why, but Collective Soul’s cover of “Jealous Guy” is just about perfect. They didn’t try to “make it their own” as much as just do it justice. It’s a simple and earnest rendition and I love it.
Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Grow Old With Me” is just a plain beautiful cover. She makes the song her own while still allowing Lennon’s spirit to live on.
The not-so highlights:
Pretty much everything else. Either the rest tried too hard to make it their own, or kept it so close to the original that it was kind of like “what’s the point?”, or it just kind of sucked(I’m looking at your RHCP.)
I think there were more cheers than jeers, which makes this compilation well worth checking out(Gyros be damned.)
Even after 22 years and with half the artists on this tribute not existing anymore or gone from the public eye for two decades, it’s a great collection of covers. It is interesting looking at this playlist and seeing that so many of these bands are truly “of the times.” Super 8, Candlebox, Toad The Wet Sprocket, Collective Soul, Mad Season, Sponge and Blues Traveler were all these big bands from like 1993 to 1996 then they disappeared into the ether of alternative rock limbo. Here’s a testament to their love of John Lennon, and to the fact that they did indeed exist I guess. Though I think any local fair would be a testament to that, as I bet a few of them are playing fairs pretty regularly nowadays.
A working class gyro is something to be.
Much thanks to Bruce over at Vinyl Connection for inviting me to participate in his tribute to the Various Artists collections we’ve all indulged in over the years. Without them, where would K-Tel Records be today?