John Lennon - Plastic Ono Band

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A college friend I rediscovered on Facebook passed along a list challenge, as is frequently done there:

"Think of 25 albums—vinyl LPs, 8-track tapes, cassettes, compact discs or MP3s—that had a profound effect on you. Music that dug into your soul and brought you to life when you heard it...Royally affected you...Kicked you in the Wazoo...Literally socked you in the gut! Maybe you just really liked it or it entered your life at a time that made it seem significant?"

There is a difference between selecting favorite CDs and those that "kicked you in the Wazoo." A lot varies on what is going on in one's life when the music is first heard. And, of course, a lot depends on the quality of the music and lyrics.

Unquestionably, Plastic Ono Band is at the top of my plastic ono band list when considered from the Wazoo. When it comes to Beatles, I'm more of a McCartney fan than Lennon. This isn't to say I enjoy the inane; I just don't find enjoyment listening to political harangues and generally avoid artists, regardless of talent, who seek acceptance as "a voice" in public affairs because they can. However, it has to be appreciated that artistic interpretations of historical events or societal issues are as valid or truthful as any other source, and often more candid and pointed. Translated: I like John Lennon. A lot.

Plastic Ono Band was Lennon's first solo release after the Beatles breakup. I'll avoid Lennon's life issues at the time he recorded this, as the point here is more upon the listener at whichever point in life it is heard. I mentioned a while back that music can offer healing. Something within musical structures can affect physiological responses, and lyrics, if heard and contemplated, can alter our understanding of ourselves, others, events, etc. On a simplistic level, "Oops, I Did it Again" may only be a dance groove to some; others may find a commonality in the naivety of teenage relationships. The poor souls.

I don't have to agree with John Lennon to find value. Within this album, there is a relentless catharsis relating to very personal feelings that clearly are not solely his: abandonment issues from family, finding self-worth when your identity has suddenly changed, loss, testing attitudes towards icon worship and religious belief, the security found within a loving relationship, and coming to terms with "who" one is.

On paper, those topics tend towards poetry. How does one put music to same? Lennon did not not dress or disguise these issues with something softer and sweeter. Instead, the musical is typically sparse featuring Lennon's piano or acoustic guitar, and it is occasionally harsh, along with the vocal delivery. However, the music is always perfectly suited to the emotion in the lyric, something that many artists get wrong, even for lyrical content that falls within shallower waters.

Plastic Ono Band, today, just as in my teens, is not a high rotation listen, likely getting an audience less than every couple years...and then only when I have the house alone. Like Radiohead's Kid A, there's some music I just can't explain to my family.

How this album resonated with me as a teen is less the point here. It could probably be summed as a lesson on confronting those things that hurt, thinking deeply and meaningfully about them, and being truthful to oneself before moving on.

My appreciation for Plastic Ono Band in the years since has guided my musical tastes, reflected in my approach to musical quality. There are numerous musical artists who excel at what they do, making good songs that satisfy both themselves or their fans. That's fine; I listen to many of them.

In comparison, however, it's clear how rarely musicians pour their souls into their art, in making music that is their own artistic statement unrestrained by others' expectations, and into making music that matters.

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