Posts Tagged ‘John Lennon’

Well We All Shine On

“Fire and Ice”- Now at the West End Gallery

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Yeah we all shine on
On and on and on on and on

— John Lennon, Instant Karma

This morning, I wanted to hear the song Instant Karma because it was stuck in my head as I walked through the woods to the studio at 5:30 AM. I have a song, or at least the chorus of that song, running through my head most mornings as I make this short journey and this morning it was Instant Karma. I went in and turned it on and was a minute into the song before I realized that today, December 8, marked 40 years since John Lennon was murdered in NYC in 1980.

Quite a coincidence. Maybe something in my mind, hidden from its conscious part, remembered that date and wanted to remind me. I don’t know.

But it’s been forty years and it seems like yesterday. Lennon was 40 years old at the time which means he has been dead as long as he lived. I don’t know why I brought that up. After all, we all eventually are dead for much longer than we ever lived. But for some reason I can’t explain, it seems pertinent in the moment.

A couple of Lennon’s post-Beatle songs like this, Power to the People, and Give Peace a Chance (all  are below) are personal markers from my youth, remembered always in the tones of being heard through a transistor radio or on the tinny speaker in our old Chevy. They helped form much of the outlook on the world I still maintain.

Instant Karma for instance and its message that our actions have reactions and consequences taught me about being more mindful of what I did and said. I didn’t always succeed and was usually treated to some form of instant karma that reminded me to do better the next time. Eventually, the idea that good begets good and bad begets bad got through to me.

So, this morning give a listen if you’re so inclined. If you’re of a certain age this is most likely somewhat ingrained in you and you probably have some memory of that day back in 1980 or at least some memory of Lennon in his Beatle days. Feel free to sing along: 

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun

Have a good day. Shine on.

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“A philosopher once asked, “Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?” Pointless, really…”Do the stars gaze back?” Now, that’s a question.” 

― Neil Gaiman, Stardust


Above is a new painting that is going with me down to Alexandria for my show, Haven, at the Principle Gallery, opening June 1. I am calling this 20″ by 16″ canvas Stars and Satellites. It’s a continuation of a series of recent works that are primarily stark nightscapes with skies composed of shards of color in an almost stained-glass manner. At the junctures where shards meet are points of bright color— the light of the stars and the planets of the night sky.

I think I have written here about the meditative effect of painting these pieces, how there is a feeling of both intense concentration and non-thought that blocks out all other things. If the television is on or music is playing, I don’t really hear it. If delivery vans or cars come up my driveway, I am totally unaware even though they directly pass in front of the large windows before which I work.

It’s like I am in that space in that time, especially in the first stages of composing the picture. All is quiet and all that moves through my mind is the simple geometry of placing blocks of red oxide in a way that makes sense in that part of my brain that is scanning the whole of the composition. It’s one of my favorite parts of my process of painting, this state of being so mentally attached to the surface of the painting.

Another favorite part comes later as the painting evolves from its red oxide skeleton. This moment comes after layer after layer of color is added and the painting crosses a tipping point where it suddenly becomes a fully fleshed being, an entity with its own life force and its own voice.

That is a really gratifying moment, one that makes me think of Carl Sagan describing the Voyager space mission and how it would travel through time and space as a reminder of our existence as a people and a civilization long after our Sun had turned our planet into an ember, long after we had ceased to walk this earth.

And in a way many of those stars in the night sky serve that same purpose. Many are the final traces of light from stars that have been extinguished eons ago yet remind us of their existence.

This piece has, for me, a feeling of an interdependence between the moon, the stars and we here on earth. We each need the other in order to be seen, to serve as a reminder that we have existed in this universe, if only for short time.

Like John Lennon sang in Instant KarmaWell, we all shine on/Like the moon and the stars and the sun…

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John Lennon Jurgen Vollmer PhotoIt’s John Lennon‘s birthday today and while I was trying to think of one of his solo songs that would I like to feature here, one kept popping up in my mind.  It was Power to the People from 1971.

For me , this song brings back a flurry of personal memories of that time and of certain places.  I remember listening to this song as it came from the little speaker on a small portable radio that was my pride and joy in those days that predated the Walkman, the iPod and the smartphones that were to come.

It was square in shape and had a padded leather case and a leather handle and I had chosen it out of a Century catalog.  Century was regional chain of catalog showrooms, places where you would go in and enter the product number from a catalog and put it in a tray  for a clerk to pick up and send to  the warehouse space at the rear of the showroom.  You would then wait until your chosen product would come up on a small conveyor and would be whisked off by a clerk who would call you to the counter via the PA.  It seems like such a strange and antiquated system now but it was one of those places that you grew up with, so it seemed natural at the time.

So there I was, a twelve year old kid with a little square radio listening to my local AM station– there were no FM stations in our area yet although they would pop up rapidly in the next few years.  There was something about this song for me at that time playing from that radio that imprinted on my memory.  Maybe it was that the idea of the people banding together in order to be heard resonated with those feelings of powerlessness that many twelve year olds have felt through the ages.  Maybe it was an omen of my populist views to come or maybe it just sounded great coming out of that tinny little speaker.

Whatever the case, I still hear that song today in the context of that memory and get the same feeling that I got those forty-some years ago.  Lennon would have been 74 today.  Thanks for the memory, John. PS: the phot at the top is a Jurgen Vollmer photo of Lennon taken during the early Hamburg days. Itwas used on Lennon’s Rock and Roll LP.

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GC Myers 2001One of my favorite songwriters is the late,  enigmatic Harry Nilsson, who passed away in 1994.  While he is somewhat still well known, it is probably not the same level of fame that his work deserves even though he achieved great fame and earned many accolades during his life.  He recorded and wrote many hits, earned Grammy Awards, and cavorted with the biggest names in music. Lennon and McCartney named him as their favorite songwriter  ( he also recorded an album and more with John Lennon) and Keith Moon and Mama Cass both died in his London flat.  Yet how many twenty or thirty year-olds even recognize the name?

But there is still a great deal of interest in his music and life and there are those out there trying to let the world about the talent of this flawed man.  This past month there was a release of a  large box set spanning his career at RCA as well as a biography, Nilsson: The Life of a Singer-Songwriter,  from author Alyn Shipton.  Not to mention, a celebrated documentary from several years back, Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?  So, hopefully his work will stick around in the public eye a bit longer.

If you don’t know his name, you probably know the music.  It is used extensively by filmmakers including this song, Jump Into the Fire, that was used in a pivotal scene in Goodfellas by Martin Scorsese.  It’s a good song to pump up a dreary morning.

FYI, the painting at the top is an older piece of mine from back in 2001.



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Power to the People

I spent most of my time in the studio yesterday watching the situation in Egypt, watching Mubarak’s regime finally fall before the will of organized, unarmed protest.  Even with the ever present cynicism concerning what the next step for that nation will be, I have to admit I was moved by the Egyptian people and their steadfast unity through these last few weeks.  I was certain that Mubarak’s address Thursday evening would result in violent confrontations, his words goading the protesters into a frenzy that would be enough for him to send in his police squads or the military.  But, to their credit, the pro-democracy protesters did not take the bait and instead came out in larger, louder numbers yesterday, all united by a theme of peaceful power. 

At that point, it must have become obvious to the regime that these people were not simply going away.  They had endured.  They had withstood attacks from the regime’s goon squads, losing nearly 300 lives in the process, and had not retreated (oddly enough, there have been no reports of counter-protests since those obviously staged by the regime a week or so back).  They had ignored veiled threats from the vice-president that they must go home.  They held fast.

A report said that after Mubarak’s address on Thursday, the Army turned on him and that marked the beginning of the end for his regime.

Again, I have no idea what the next step for these folks will be.  I don’t know if this is absolutely the best thing for them, that their lives will be appreciably better in the years to come.  Whether they will continue down this road to a pure democracy or if they will fall prey to radical ideologues vying for control, I don’t think anyone knows for sure.  That’s one of the qualities of freedom– uncertainty.  But they at least have a chance now and to see them have their voices heard and to feel that their will is stronger than the usurped power of the corrupt ex-regime is a wonder to behold.  It is a moment to cherish, a moment to inspire other oppressed peoples.  There are few sweet moments like this in most people’s lives and though it is not my moment, I revel in it.  Good for you, Egypt.

Power to the people.

In the coverage I heard an Egyptian reciting this phrase so here’s a little tune with that message to hum along to this morning:

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Hard to Believe

It’s hard to believe it’s been thirty years since John Lennon was shot outside his home at the Dakota in Manhattan.  Amazing how time has fled and we remember Lennon as a still vibrant artist at age 40 rather than as a 70 year old, as he would be today.   It still seems shocking even after all these years.  I remember hearing of his shooting first from the lips of Howard Cosell as I watched Monday Night Football.  It was before the time of instant information, before the days of the internet and 24/7 news coverage, so you couldn’t simply flip to CNN and catch on the spot information.  All you had was Howard Cosell, who fortunately , being a very astute newsman, understood the gravity of the news he delivered.

Strange days, indeed.

I always carry the memory of John Lennon in his earlier incarnation as a Beatle, when he shared the mic with Paul as frontmen and was the wiseass with a quick comeback in  A Hard Day’s Night, which stands as a very fine film today.  It’s hard to get across to a younger generation  how vast the influence and reach of the Beatles was in the 60’s.  Early on, my sister was a big Beatles fan and had a copy of his book of scrawlings and verse, In His Own Write.  I loved to flip through the pages of this book, taking in his rough drawings and witty little ditties.  I wonder what became of that book?

So thirty years have come and gone since Lennon came and went and we’re left with a treasure trove of music that lives on.  I wanted to show a video and had a lot to choose from.  I first thought of Power to the People, a song which I can still hear in my memory coming from a tinny transistor radio speaker.  Or one of the songs from his final LP, such as Nobody Told Me.  But I settled on Instant Karma.  Maybe it was its chorus of “we all shine on… ”  that attracted me.  Seemed fitting.  Shine on, John.

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