G R O W O L D W I T H M E
Nobody thought they'd actually get away with it.
I mean, there were plenty, bloody plenty, who wanted to boot him out personally (Stormy Thormy, the Eff Be I, squares of all shapes and sizes) but nobody thought Tricky Dicky would actually go ahead and do it.
There’d been a death in the night, unfortunately. Some old yeller called Irving Kaufman – ice of face, warm of heart – a particularly judgy gent from New York. ‘They’ say he was gonna overturn the order, keep him in the country. ‘They’, of course, couldn’t predict such fickle human error. “they” couldn’t foresee a lorry driver dropping his can and taking his eyes off the road for just a few seconds, then – kersplat! No more Irving. And so it was they got another old bugger to sit in his high chair and that was that. Not even a chance to wipe his feet on the way out. Pack your things and ta ra now!
So let it be known to the history books and the geezers that keep them that the Lennon’s lost their battle to stay in the United States purely by shit-out-of-luck-ness, and went back home to England before anyone could come knocking on their apartment. For all his anger and barbs and scathing rants, and everyone else’s (his deportation was seen as a drastic overstep by the Nixon administration). The British tabloids welcomed him home as a felled hero, a David who’d battled the American Goliath. While usually Lennon would’ve relished in the sudden press positivity, the eccentric musician and his more-so wife chose to hold up in the north, somewhere in the dreary moors of Ireland. He wasn’t in the mood – for the press, for the president, for music, not for nothing.
if it’s money you want, there’s no problem here. The National Broadcasting Company
“Absolutely fucking not. No way.”
you know the words. It’ll be easy. Like I said
“Not fucking likely.”
if you want to give Ringo less, that’s up to you. I’d rather not get involved
“♫ No, no, no! ♫“
There, you got a tune out of him. That’s a feat in itself. Old John hasn’t turned out a tune in a year, maybe a bit more.
It a hermit’s life for him now. An average day consists of waking up, going to the kitchen, lighting a cigarette, mail bag, wait for Yoko to get the milk, tea, TV, walk, sit looking blankly at his guitar gently weeping on the wall, TV, maybe walk, cigarette, tea, bed. In out all around shake it all about. He’s been watching a lot of the boob tube. Sesame Street might’ve gotten stale, but he’s got a friend in the states (one of the few left – Bobby got shot, Jerry had a heart attack, Angela was still locked up) who ships him shows on VHS – Happy Days, Sanford and Son, All in the Family, Ironside – but it’s Saturday Night Live tapes that he covets most. It’s everything he liked about the big apple with none of the fruit. But they just had to talk about the band, didn’t they?
It’s been years, let it go, he thinks.
He’d spent several long whiles with his wife in Ireland, a place far, far away from the rouge galleries of Britain. He hardly spoke to anyone, and that suited him just fine. He wasn’t without things to do, however – he’d taken up writing again, a poem one day, a play the next. He baked bread, he took walks, he listened to his records, he talked with Yoko long into the night. They both rode horses this one time. But he didn’t so much as touch his guitar…
He gets up out of his chair and goes to the bedroom. Across from the scratchy double mattress hangs his Rickenbacker. It seems less of an instrument, which was then more of a weapon he swung from the hip, and more like a sad framed photograph. He sits on the end of the bed. He thinks. He remembers. He can already hear it --
He notices a finger twitch.
Ah, can’t be arsed, he thinks, and returns to his precious television.
This is the happiest he’s been in a long time.
He almost didn’t come. The mailman only comes once a godforsaken moon and if you aren’t in a hurry it’ll rain on your good wishes. Buried deep with his fan mail and foreign tapes was a sealed envelope from Eric “I’m really am a blues guitarist, now let me tell you nine more times just to make sure” Clapton. A wedding, to George’s wife, if he wasn’t mistaken. Cor. He throws the invitation out. Then fishes it out of the bin, makes a call to the airport.
At first it’s a fucking trail. Having to stand there at the bar with drinky in hand, seeing people glance over and crap on a cracker that’s John Lennon, the Beatle who was kicked out of America and disappeared from the kitchen because he couldn’t take the heat. Oh they said it was good to see him, of course they did – they ask him where he’s been (in Ireland, obviously), that he’s looking well (thanks, not too bad yourself, how's Margret and the tikes anyhow?), how’s Yoko doing (fine, he insists, but he worries ever so much), where is Yoko (isn’t the fact that he’s here enough for these people?), did you hear about what happened to Nixon (oh yes, he did, he heard very much, and he treasures the look on Dicky's face when he swore he wasn't a crook, but everyone, including he, knew he was, and
Is that? – John! Over here!
A voice through the murk of other voices. It’s a familiar face, one of three.
Sir Jasper Lennon, I presume?
Mr. Happy Hari Krishna, I presume?
George points down to the other end of the room – the other two are there. They were a group, after all, they can’t help but stick together. He sits and listens to all the things he’s missed – Paul got mugged in Africa, George is getting sued, Ringo’s done another poncy film. He shows them the pictures in his pocket, of two star-eyed babes with strong Gaelic names, and tells them how he feels guilty about leaving Yoko alone with them. They tell him not to worry. They all get drunk. They all start playing; Sgt Peppers, Get Back, Lawdy Miss Clawdy. It’s bad, so very very bad,, as bad as only four drunk has-beens playing their past hits can be, but they play. And they drink. And they play some more. The three feel great, they say, they don’t know why the stopped doing this. They want to start doing it again. But he is still there enough to know he’s not quite ready yet, and passes out in a chair.
He dreams of an egg that doesn’t want to hatch yet.
You’ll drink yourself to an early grave, John
“You’re a swine, Max, now gimmie another.”
Fine, John, one more
"The wife's left me, Max. Take pity on a lonely old drunkard."
The wife's always left you
Ireland proved too much for the both of them – the new President decided to overturn the Great Lennon Exile on ‘grounds of false indictment and cultural bias’. Yoko leapt at the chance. He didn’t. Why would he, he thinks, sulking like a spiteful toddler, if they didn’t want him then, why would they want him now? Yoko disagreed, he disagreed with Yoko, the two had a disagreement. So they’re trying this now – they’re not divorced, but…erm…
So she left him for big bad America and he came crawling back to blighty.
He feels bad for the kids, he really does, for once in his life. Mother, strong and sensual as she is, didn’t see fit to take responsibility so she would have more time to paint and scream and such. They mostly see to their Nanny, who is more than willing, he’s found, but there’s something off-putting. Too many memories of screaming girlies lie in the ole noggin, and she shares a face with all of them. Sully those memories with drink, that’s the way forward.
"Who's this lot playing again?"
It's a cassette, John
"We'll they're shit. Tell'em they're shit."
If the Clash happen to stop by I'll be sure to pass it on
Speaking of kids, he thinks, these new ones bother him. It’s the anger – he was angry when he was their height, everyone was, hell, he’s never met a neutered student – but they’re angry for the sake of being angry. You can let it all out now, spike your hair and drop acid and throw bottles at rozzers all you like, hell, it’s the fashion now. He realises that, by comparison, he and his generation were repressed. Maybe this is it – a generation of Primal Scream, get it while it’s hot! Eventually it will all go out of fashion, as it always
He slides and there’s a smash. Max is beside him.
Ahh fucking -- that's it, no more, John, you’re cut off
"Do you know who I am?!"
Yeah, you’re an a-hole with fucking Brandy in his lungs. Out!
Hang on, this isn't how it
The name of the first man was Ronald Wilson Reagan, emphasis on the was. He was an unlikely hawk to take the Eagles office – an actor by trade, then a governor on the other side of the states, which might’ve well have been a different world. John didn’t make any effort to like him. He was, after all, of the same ilk as Nixon, Gerald Ford, and he brought that grand puppeteer with him, no doubt, one of the same ones leaning on his phone lines. But he was gonna set the country on a new track, emphasis on the was.
The name of the second man was Mark David Chapman. What exactly was going on with him was unclear. On the news they kept saying how he voted for Reagan, because he was a born-again and Reagan’s godliness appealed to him, one conservative to another. But as well as the bible he’d been reading another book, and that’d caused him to hear voices. His thinker had curdled like sour milk. He’d become one of the many loonies. But he was a loony with a weapon.
One had met the other on a street corner and, well…
He sits in his new living room, up high in his hotel. Many miles away, in another hotel room, Yoko Ono, his wife of some sort, talks to him through a phone. America has suddenly turned very dark and she wants to come home. He says there’s nothing wrong with that. Putting the phone down, he thinks how he’s been talking to her on and off on the phone for years now and she never once asked about visiting. It took the death of the president and nothing less. She is coming home, yes, but she isn’t home yet. The kids are in bed. It’s just him and the TV again.
He gets up and sits somewhere different – his piano. It wasn’t here or his when he was looking around before buying, but it was when he moved in. The manager with a twinkle in his eye had it lugged up because a musician was staying at his hotel and, aw heck, maybe if Mr. Lennon was tempted enough he’d bash out the next hit single, in his hotel! He hadn’t, and he insists it’s out of spite to the manager. It didn’t work when Paul wanted Let It Be, it didn’t work when the labels hounded him, it didn’t work when every single fan letter wanted a comeback.
But the image of the new martyr they had on the news had gotten him thinking. This guy was being set up as the New Kennedy, but, you know, with less running time. Who knows what he could’ve done. He might’ve failed at cleaning the streets like he wanted, but he’ll be remembered as they guy that would’ve and next to nothing else. And what of me, he thought. Will he be remembered as John Winston Lennon, the former Beatle who made music that made people love and laugh and cry, or John Winston Lennon, the former Beatle who was kicked out for questioning authority and hid away ever since like a mung?
Life and death
He hits a key. Then another, then three. He begins to hit more. A free bird starts singing. A dam bursts. We are all water.
You’ve written a granny song!
John, I’m sorry, but you’ve written a granny song!
And you gave Poor Paulie so much gaff for writing them!
“It’s not a bloody granny song!”
It’s as gran as any, John.
“It’s not a granny song.”
It’s practically in a home.
Oh no, you’ve upset him, he’s off.
John, don’t --
John, don’t --
He goes out on to the roof for a smoke. It’s cold. Paul walks up next to him. He tells Paul to sod off. Paul doesn’t and lights his own. He asks if doing this all will actually ‘do anything’, whatever that means. Paul says it’s better than squatting in Ireland. They chuckle.
Twenty years. It’s been more than twenty years since they’ve all been in a studio together. He forgot what it’s like to have eyes on you that aren’t from yes-men, eyes that come with barbs. He’s a musician, for fuck’s sake, this should be second nature. They used to run off this, didn’t they? The wit. They and everyone else used to love the wit. But he’s been riffing off himself for so long he’s forgotten about that specific kind of criticism. Maybe that’s why the critics didn’t like his last album, he thinks.
He asks about the title. Paul asks if he remembers when the press asked about the band name, and he said there was a man on a Flaming Pie. He laughs again. That’s clever, he admits. Paul asks if he wants to go back inside. He flicks the cig off the roof and watches it tumble in the wind.
It’s still a granny song, John.
“Yeah yeah. It’s the therapy showing.”
Actually, I think it’s just you getting old, but whatever boats your float.
They kept on keeping on – Hard Day’s Night, Help, Revolver, the White Album, Imagine, Flaming Pie, The Daily Howl – even Some Time in NY gets a gold star for effort. That album was the runt and everyone knows it. But tonight he’s getting special treatment because he’s one of the inductees. Everyone joins in to coddle the fukin’ snowflake who couldn’t beat Nixon. Who’s he kidding, they’re not here ‘cos of his solo stuff. They couldn’t give two plops about the Plastic Ono Band. It’s always been Beatles this, Beatles that. Beatles ‘til he dies.
He remembers he used to love the attention, back when they were sprouts. He’d run off of it. But then there was just more and more, so much more, a muchness of more, a too muchness of more. None of them could take it, but, he figures, it what drove him to go in. Too much armouring up needed undoing so he could see them as individuals and not a big wall of wailing faces.
It wasn’t the lumped praise that made him go out onto the fire escape. It was that godly fella, he reckons. He took to the stage and clutched one hand over his ever-beating heart and went on and on about how if it wasn’t for the lawd he wouldn’t have kicked the devil’s hooch and made that one album and be standing on that stage with trophy in hand. Yes, you would’ve, he thinks, they nominated you, not the baby jeezus. He can’t stand people rabbiting on about their precious concepts. The Good Book is what made Americans burn their records, it’s what got Reagan shot, it’s what got George stabbed. Poor George.
He takes another long drag, then
He looks down. There’s people with phones on the street, flashing their cameras and press credentials.
What do you have to say about the divorce, John?!
He flicks his Gitane down at them. It lands in one of their eyes.
At least they’re not screaming at me anymore, he thinks.
—and John? Do you want to weigh in on this? Who’s your pick for President?“Ralph Nader.”
The audience laughs like they’re obliged to.
“All right, well, it’s got to be Bernie Sanders, isn’t it?”
The Host raises an eyebrow.
“Yes, yes of course. He’s the only man who’s shown he’s capable of running the joint.”
Then what are your thoughts on Hillary Clinton, then? First woman president?
“Just because she’s a woman doesn’t mean she's obligated to run the country.”
He notices a sharp intake of breath from the audience. He adjusts –
“I mean, we had Thatcher, and she pretty much divided us. Having a woman in power would be a great thing, but I think the American’s just need to think it over before they start, err, funding them.”
The ginger comedian to his left interjects,
The audience laughs again, this time without obligation. A picture appears on the host’s screen. One is of an aged democratic socialist from Vermont, the other is of an aged ego-driven musician from Liverpool. They do, admittedly, sport similar eyewear. He bites his tongue – usually he’d use a choice swear, one of many from his arsenal, but ‘they’ don’t like naughty words anymore. He doesn’t let it pent and forces a ha.
Do you like Bernie Sanders ‘cos his glasses are like yours, then?
Do you like Bernie Sanders ‘cos his glasses are like yours, then?
“No, well, I—I said it a lot when I was younger—"
So much older than today?Steady John, steady.
“— back in the late 60’s, early 70s, around that time, I started weighing in on the way the world was run, because, of course I knew everything and needed to let everyone know they were wrong –"
The audience laughs in their obligated way.
"– Of course, some particular people didn’t much like what I was saying and had me booted out –"
Another breath from the audience. He can’t speak his mind around this lot, not unless he talks about selfies or Pokémon Go or that godforsaken Mannequin Challenge or
"—but people voted those people back in, despite what they did to people like me. There’s just this bunch of maniacal people in the system that say what the people want to hear, just to get where they want. I know it, it's pure show business. But now there’s others, people who say what the people need to hear. It’s why I voted for Corbyn, same reason. There are real people, people who tell us about solutions instead of problems, instead of Mrs. Clinton or Trump, these great big demagogues they’ve propped up.”
He can see people having a think here. Some even clap. Hell, he might have reached one or two of them. He makes the mistake of grinning.
And the ginger comedian says
I bet Trump’s hair doesn’t need to be propped up.
And the audience chuckles in its obligated way, and the Host asks a question about his upcoming play, and he realises that his two cents aren’t as treasured as they might’ve been years ago.
For all those long years he was an old dog, couldn’t get Winston O’Boogie riled up if you tried. He told the vultures it was because he had kids now, and that’s what being a dad does to you, but he really, well and truly, wanted to keep his head down. He didn’t want to cause any more trouble, start any more fights. But then this great big orange gobshite kept pushing and prodding. Anything for attention, added gravitas where it was already shooting out his pores like shit.
Oh no, when you talk about America's enemies, don't stop at your fellow maniacal leaders, and the rabble and the freaks, no, work your way down the list to that one musician who sang songs and cried on occasion. When he announced he would be keeping ‘particular’ people from stepping up to his precious land, he made an effort to cite one J. Lennon; in the uptight short sided narrow minded hypocrite's own words, he was a ‘long-haired freak who should’ve kept his trap shut’.
So it was he was right there with them, marching in the lines and shouting at anyone who’d listen. He chanted slogans, he got out his guitar and made his own. This was during the crescendo of it all, in D.C., right before they tried declaring martial law. And the fuckers beat him up, on the news nonetheless. They knowingly assaulted an elderly man participating in a peaceful protest. John liked to boast he got a few licks in himself, but his bag-eyed lawyer made him stop, because that'd be assault of a police officer, he said. His repressings apparently sold like hotcakes that week.
A while later mama's little chauvinist was out, but they still had to fight for it. Gonna take years to teach these kids to stop putting their hands on the stove. They had a good replacement, though. John admitted it – he liked this new one. They were witty enough. If you must ask, yes, he played Imagine, of bloody course he played bloody Imagine, what else would the want played? Certainly not Cold Turkey. They’d just unseated a tyrant, the last thing they’d want their wickle ears exposed to is the process of cocaine withdrawal. So he sat at the big white piano and he crooned in front of the Americans for the first time in years and they loved it, oh they loved it, oh, why did we kick him out?
Time wounds all heels, but he’s still bitter.
Still a bitter, old, brooding Beatle.
wait, wasn't I just --
“You know where I figured out I went wrong?”
“I got a phone call and”
Dad you don’t
“Let me finish. I got this phone call late one night. I thought it was the lawyers, or the landlady or even a bloody journalist. Do you know who it was?”
…I don’t know, who was it?
“There was a voice that said “Hi Dad, I just bought a motorbike.”
He hates the smell. They’ve put a woman on mars but they still can’t get rid of that fucking ammonia stench. There’s not a single person who has happy memories from taking a whiff. Gods bless the NHS.
Claire came in on Wednesday to see him, and somehow managed to bring the entire extended family with her. He still doesn’t like the guy she’s had her litter with, but he’s learned to live with it, and for someone like him that’s a fucking leap and stride. Yesterday it was Sean, and John was beginning to see so much of himself in little Max, so much brooding, so much angst. Max says the kids are teasing him at school, calling him a ‘hipster’ because of his glasses. John recommends he belt the ringleader across the face. Sean laughs and says Grandad was only joking, then with a stern look, weren’t you, granddad? He wasn’t. Sometimes he forgets he was a pacifist. It goes with age.
Now, it was his eldest – Julian. Poor, poor Julian.
Yeah, but I brought it with that check you sent me
“Come off it, Jules. It takes a lot for a geezer like me to admit he fucked it.”
You did fuck it, actually
There is a bump at the window. Looking over, they see a lens, supported by hunk of metal and wire, with little wiring propellers. The prick with the controls must’ve pushed too hard on the forward toggle. Julian swears and shuts the blinds.
“They never change. Didn’t give you much trouble, did they?”
They almost swallowed me. I felt like a sardine“At least they didn’t try tearing your hair out.”
“How did we end up here, Jules?”
Oh, er, the smokes, definitely. Or the coke. Or the
I was kidding
“I thought I was so right. I thought everything was going good, you know?”
We all do
He’s finally softened, he thinks. Dethroning a mad king gives one time to think, and much thinking he did. Eventually he looked the big green lady up and down, took a deep breath, and invited her in. No harm, no foul. If Yoko was still around she would’ve been bloody ecstatic, and she would’ve taken his arm and dragged him around. It’s still hard to walk the streets and look at all the little details without getting mobbed, granted, but they’d find a way. It’s not like a scouser to not learn to evolve.
The fabs petered out too, of course. He’s put out the occasional LP, but all they did was humour him, always put former Beatle right before his Sir. The rest of the world couldn’t really accept it, kept nagging for another album. Just one more, the critics boomed, like it was a push to shit out a nostalgic baby. Weren’t that simple, ‘specially since he was the last one left. First to be mentioned, last one to leave. Not only that, but the ‘Threetles’, as he told ‘they’ (as ‘they’ so love to be called), is one of the dumbest names he’s ever heard. And he was around for Gerry and the Fuckin Pacemakers.
“Yeah, but your old man was a special case. I blame my dad.”
And I blame mine
I really was kidding, dad
“No, I mean, you should.”
Shut up a sec, okay? It happened. Ashes ashes, dust dust. I got over it, mum got over it, eventually the history teaches will too
“...not mine, Jules. He was a right git.”
They both laugh.
He feels a kick.
Dad, are you
“Nothin, just a”
He feels another kick
Oh shit – nurse! Nurse! He’s
He sees things, very suddenly and very clearly.
He sees a truck driver, stout of tum and slack of jaw, sifting through his pockets. There is a jangle, several coins hit the floor and a precious few slide down the grating, never to be seen again by living eyes. The driver curses. He sees the driver go along his route, stop at all the lights he’s supposed to.
He sees a man with a hook nose and a cold heart swim through a crowd of baying press like a fish. This man is a free man, say the man, and he’ll stay in the country. He has a wedded fish by his side, and they look inseparable. Pisces hoping for a new age of Aquarius.
He sees this man make an embarrassment of himself behind a closed door when one of his many nemeses succeed on national television.
He sees the man spend a weekend lost in a place that is very sunny.
He sees the man laugh and sing and scream at a storm while he grapples the wheel of a sinking ship.
He sees the man cradle an impossible child high above a city that never sleeps.
He sees the man phone another, and inform them that he’s started making bread.
He sees the man fall on a hotel desk then stop moving.
He sees this and so much more.
And then he sees nothing.