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5 Famous Hidden Song Meanings (That Are Total B.S.)

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5 Famous Hidden Song Meanings (That Are Total B.S.)

Because songwriters worry more about catchy rhymes than deep meaning, song lyrics can be more abstract and esoteric than Jackson Pollock farting chalk dust into a napkin. The problem is that some fans swear that every nonsensical song has some deeper interpretation just waiting to be decoded. That’s why so many classic songs have mythical (and often dark and disturbing) alternate meanings that fans insist are true.They’re almost always wrong. For instance …

#5. “Hotel California” — It’s About Satanism, Right?

Whether you know “Hotel California” as “that weird Eagles song” or “that weird devil-worshiping song” probably depends on how religious your parents were.

When “Hotel California” was released in 1976, everyone heard it but no one really knew what it meant. The lyrics talked about trying to “Kill the beast” and “Stab it with their steely knives,” and included the ominous line, “You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave.” Honestly, it kind of sounds like they’re singing about using the reference section in a library full of giant monsters, since those are the books you can technically check out but aren’t permitted to remove from the building.

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“Lookin’ it up in the local libraaaary!”

That was when someone noticed something odd about the album cover, which features a picture of the band in some luxury hotel courtyard with crowds of people in the background. Above the crowd, looking out from a balcony on the upper left, is a shape whose face you can’t fully see, but vaguely looks bald, goateed and threatening.

It Will Pass
“Hey, sorry everyone, but is the ice machine down there?”

Naturally, people came to the conclusion that the figure on the balcony was none other than Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, author of The Satanic Bible and proud parent of a son that he freaking named Satan.


He even had “Anton + Satan = BFFs” tattooed above his ass.

Now that Anton LaVey was found, the lyrics seemed to make sense: “The Beast,” “You can never leave” “This could be heaven or this could be hell.” “Hotel California” is a song about Anton LaVey converting people to his church of Satanism, from which they could “never leave.” The “truth” about the song persists to this day, found in Internet forums, an old issue of The Milwaukee Sentinel and the nothing-if-not-reputable website Jesus Is Savior.

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They’re on to your globe-spanning Satanist conspiracy, Eagles.

Actually …

“Hotel California” has pretty much nothing to do with Satanism. The Eagles have admitted it was a way of speaking out against the greed and hedonism of the music industry in the 1970s (i.e., the drugs, money and women they themselves were drowning in). The photographer responsible for the album cover said the picture expressed “faded loss of innocence and decadence,” which is pretentious-speak for “a bunch of assholes standing in a lobby.”

“What about the face in the window?” you say. “I heard somewhere they didn’t even know it was there. Maybe it wasn’t Anton LaVey, but really … a ghost.” Unfortunately not. As Snopes points out:

“The shadowy figure was a woman hired for the photo shoot.”

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That is kind of a lot of hair for a bald man.

Yep. The person mistaken for a bald, goatee-sporting antichrist was, in fact, just some lady who had nothing to do with anything and wouldn’t even have been memorable were it not for the poor lighting of the photograph and the bafflingly deliberate decision to separate her from the rest of the group, presumably because she showed up late for the shoot and/or got Don Henley’s name wrong.

#4. Isn’t “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” About an Acid Trip?

Mention the Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” to a group of people and inevitably one of them will start talking about LSD. And, in fact, we’re wagering that most of the people in our readership who know the song only know it as “That song that’s secretly about doing acid.” After all, it’s coded right there in the title, right? Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.


In 1967, John Lennon alone accounted for nearly 40 percent of the world’s LSD consumption.

And then you get lyrics like this:

“Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain/ Where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies/ Everyone smiles as you drift past the flowers/ That grow so incredibly high.”

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So incredibly high.

Clearly it’s alluding to an acid trip. And this isn’t exactly a stretch: The Beatles, remember, were a band that wrote songs about an octopus inviting people to the seabed to visit his garden, people who believe they are Arctic blueberry animals and general dick-twisting insanity.


Really, we’re not sure that most of what the Beatles did wasn’t about goddamned acid.

Actually …

Shockingly, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” is about a girl called Lucy, in the sky, with some diamonds. See, John Lennon’s son Julian drew a picture of his best friend Lucy surrounded by diamonds in the sky, and John liked it enough to name the song after it.

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Although to be fair, the kid was clearly on acid when he drew it.

The Beatles freely admit to using drugs as inspiration for songs, and odds are LSD was one of them. But as for this particular song being a metaphor for the drug itself? Sorry, but no. John Lennon said, “It was purely unconscious that it came out to be LSD. Until someone pointed it out, I never even thought of it. I mean, who would ever bother to look at initials of a title? It’s not an acid song.”

This didn’t stop the BBC from banning the song, which, considering they were OK with a song about a child who murdered the fuck out of everyone around him with a goddamn hammer, seems a little hypocritical.

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Don’t worry, folks. “I Am the Walrus” is still definitely about drugs. All the drugs.

#3. “Puff the Magic Dragon” Is Totally About Smoking Pot …

Hopefully, you don’t need to be told anything about “Puff the Magic Dragon” by Peter, Paul and Mary, but if you do, please click the link. Even for a children’s song, it seems overly bizarre and surreal, so of course it wasn’t long after its release in the early 1960s when people started trying to dissect the lyrics:

“Puff the magic dragon lived by the sea/ And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee/ Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff/ And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff.”


People don’t hug like that sober.

Remember, this was the ’60s, a time when pretty much everyone was smoking weed. So with “Puff the Magic Dragon,” aside from the obvious “chasing the dragon” metaphor, people figured that’s what the song was about. “Puff,” i.e., to smoke, “dragon,” as in “draggin[g]” or “to take a drag” and “autumn mist” being the fog of pot smoke.

“Little Jackie Paper,” the little rascal he was, was obviously a reference to rolling papers. Sealing wax, fancy stuff — bongs, clearly. People have managed to find meaning in pretty much every line in the song, and we must admit, it seems pretty convincing. And it makes sense that a folk rock trio like Peter, Paul and Mary would aim a song at the rapidly growing hippie movement.

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Here they are in 2006, looking more like math teachers than doobed-up radicals.

Actually …

We’re sorry to drag you down to earth like this, but “Puff the Magic Dragon’s” writers never intended any hidden meanings. In fact, they were pretty upset about the rumors, claiming the song was about:

“… a loss of innocence and having to face an adult world … I find the fact that people interpret it as a drug song annoying. It would be insidious to propagandize about drugs in a song for little kids.”

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But what about their 1970 hit, “Hops the Frothy, Full-Bodied Llama”?

“I can assure you, it’s a song about innocence lost … What kind of mean-spirited SOB would write a children’s song with a covert drug message?”

Mary goes on to say that if there were drugs to be mentioned, they’d be mentioned up front:

“Believe me, if he wanted to write a song about marijuana, he would have written a song about marijuana.”

Peter, Paul & Mary
We look forward to hearing from Peter, Paul and Peter’s bong soon.

Actually kind of hard to argue with that.

#2. The “Horse” in “Horse With No Name” HAS to be Heroin …

Even if you’ve only heard this song once, chances are you know the chorus by heart:

“I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name/ It felt good to be out of the rain/ In the desert you can’t remember your name/ ‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain.”

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“My name is Chuck, CHUCK dammit! Nobody fucking listens.”

Ridiculous grammar aside, obviously this means something, because nobody writes that kind of line unless there’s some deeper meaning behind it. And “horse” is a pretty old and well known slang term for heroin, so naturally that’s what a bunch of people figured the song was about. Back in the ’70s the song was even banned from several radio stations because of its supposed drug reference.

The most common beliefs are that the band (America) is either singing about doing heroin (hallucinations) or about the effects of heroin withdrawal (“After two days in the desert sun/ My skin began to turn red”). Honestly, it all fits together nicely if you think about it: The desert symbolizes the effects of the withdrawal, the horse symbolizes the heroin and the ocean/river at the end symbolizes the clarity of rehabilitation. Perhaps America are skilled wordsmiths that deserve more credit. After all, it’s not like their band name is trite and obvious.


AMERICAAAAA!

Actually …

This couldn’t be more pulled from the ass if it were literally torn from the anus of a donkey. Let’s save time here by going straight to Dewey Bunnell, the man who actually wrote the song:

“I wanted to capture the imagery of the desert, because I was sitting in this room in England, and it was rainy.”

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“I fingerpainted this desert and then I wrote a song about it.”

“I had spent a good deal of time poking around in the high desert with my brother when we lived [in California]. And we’d drive through Arizona and New Mexico. I loved the cactus and the heat. I was trying to capture the sights and sounds of the desert, and there was an environmental message at the end. But … I see now that this anonymous horse was a vehicle to get me away from all the confusion and chaos of life to a peaceful, quiet place.”

So, back when he was a kid, Dewey was playing around in the desert, found it interesting and years later wrote a song about it with a message about the environment. No heroin-induced hallucinations or allegorical desert, but real, actual desert.

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Dewey Bunnell, human cipher.

#1. But “Turning Japanese” Is Definitely About Masturbation, Right, Guys?

English band the Vapors released a song in 1980 called “Turning Japanese,” much to the chagrin of the current status quo. You see, in addition to being vaguely racist, “turning Japanese” is a slang phrase for masturbation, specifically referring to how one’s eyes become screwed up and narrow at the climax of a particularly feverish hand shandy. Now this could easily be a coincidence in name, but listen to the lyrics (or read them, your choice):

“I’ve got your picture of me and you/ You wrote ‘I love you’ I wrote ‘me too’/ I sit there staring and there’s nothing else to do.”

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Not pictured: Jergen’s.

So he has a picture of his girlfriend and finds he has “nothing else to do.”

“I’ve got your picture, I’ve got your picture/ I’d like a million of you all round my cell/ I want a doctor to take your picture/ So I can look at you from inside as well.”

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We’re still not seeing the Japanese.

He mentions a cell, so this must mean he’s in prison. Also, he seems to want an X-ray of her, for some reason. Or photos from her colonoscopy.

“No sex, no drugs, no wine, no women/ No fun, no sin, no you, no wonder it’s dark/ Everyone around me is a total stranger/ Everyone avoids me like a cyclone ranger/ That’s why I’m turning Japanese/ I think I’m turning Japanese/ I really think so.”

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The Vapors, demonstrating every stage of the mullet life cycle.

It would seem that this trail of lyrical bread crumbs leads to but one place: Fistopolis. Population: This guy’s wiener. Just take a look at the people interviewed in this video, at about 2 minutes 20 seconds. It’s a pretty popular interpretation, and any sites mentioning the song on the Internet eventually come to the same conclusion.

Actually …

We really wanted this one to be true, but the only thing this song has in common with spanking it in a darkened room is that it’s about feelings of shame and loneliness. If you watch the end of that video linked above, the band finally tells us what it’s really about:


Hint: Nothing Japanese.

“The Americans seemed to think it was written about that. That it was an English phrase about masturbation. It wasn’t. The song was a love song about someone who had lost their girlfriend and was going slowly crazy — turning Japanese is just all the cliches of our angst… turning into something you never expected to.”

So no, the Vapors’ song isn’t about dick-whittling (masturbation/penis joke quota met). It’s simply about a man who has taped hundreds of pictures of a woman he’s obsessed with around his tiny room as he plots to see her insides, and whose emotions can apparently transform him into a Japanese man like the Incredible Hulk.

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As illustrated here.

See? It makes perfect sense.dden

John Lennon’s Ex-Wife, Cynthia Lennon, Dead at 75

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John Lennon’s Ex-Wife, Cynthia Lennon, Dead at 75

John Lennon’s Ex-Wife, Cynthia Lennon, Dead at 75

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LONDON (AP) — Cynthia Lennon, the first wife of former Beatles guitarist John Lennon, has died of cancer at her home in Spain. She was 75.

The news was announced Wednesday on the website and Twitter account of her son, Julian Lennon, and was confirmed by his representative.

Cynthia Lennon died at her home in Mallorca “following a short but brave battle with cancer,” a statement from the representative said. It said Julian Lennon was at his mother’s bedside throughout.

The family is “thankful for your prayers. Please respect their privacy at this difficult time.”

Julian Lennon also posted a tribute video to his late mother with a song he had written in her honor. The lyrics thanked her for giving up her life for him.

Cynthia Lennon – In Loving Memory

JULIAN LENNON

https://youtu.be/fsyYqJxf9Qk

John Lennon Wife – Cynthia Lennon EXCLUSIVE 30 Minute BBC Interview & Life Story

https://youtu.be/cpyVjoFjA_A

Cynthia and John Lennon met at art school in Liverpool and married shortly before the Beatles shot to fame. Early on, the fact that Lennon was married was concealed to protect his image as a teen idol.

They divorced in 1968 after John Lennon started his relationship with Japanese artist Yoko Ono.

Author Hunter Davies, who wrote the only authorized Beatles biography in 1968, described Cynthia as a “lovely woman” who was ill-treated by her famous husband. He said that unlike John, she was “quiet and reserved and calm” and “not a hippy at all.”

He said their friends at art school never thought the relationship would last because they were so different.

In her book, Cynthia described being mistreated by John. Julian was their only child together.

The Lennon Companion: Twenty-five Years of Comment

Front Cover
Elizabeth Thomson, David Gutman
Da Capo Press, 1987 – Biography & Autobiography304 pages
John Lennon lives on. Forty years after the Beatles invaded America in 1964, and more than twenty years after Lennon’s death, his work is perennially popular and continues to appeal across the generations. A man shrouded in myth and controversy, Lennon led a complex, enigmatic life. The Lennon Companion is a luminous and multifaceted exploration of John Lennon’s life and work, a collection of over fifty articles from a stellar list of writers including Pauline Kael, Tom Wolfe, Martin Amis, Gloria Steinem, and Philip Larkin-a remarkably multidimensional look at Lennon’s music, myth, and mystique.

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john lennon tribute

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john lennon tribute
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IMAGE: MARY ALTAFFER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Monday marks the 34th anniversary of the tragic death of John Lennon, killed outside his apartment building in New York at the age of 40.Lennon’s gift for songwriting was one of the many reasons that the music of the Beatles remains so influential across the entire music industry. And while The Fab Four’s original recordings are not available on Spotify yet — they took a long time to arrive on iTunes, too — there is a wealth of incredible Beatles covers that show just how big an influence Lennon and the group had on the entire music world.

In honor of Lennon, we assembled the best Beatles covers into a Music Monday playlist. So enjoy this playlist full of artists paying homage to the masters.

COOL PEOPLE -JOHN LENNON’S ROLLS ROYCE

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JOHN LENNON’S ROLLS ROYCE

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On June 3, 1965, a brand new Rolls-Royce was delivered to John Lennon. The Phantom V model had been fitted with a limousine body and was finished in Valentines black. The car’s license plate was FJB111C. A guarantee was issued to John on June 10, 1965. The car was 19 feet long and weighed three tons.
A notoriously bad driver himself, John seldom drove the plush car himself, instead preferring to employ a chauffeur. John had two different chauffeurs during his Beatle years- Bill Corbett and (more frequently) Les Anthony.
John and his fellow Beatles were driven in the vehicle to the premiere of their second movieHelp! in July of 1965. On October 26, ’65, a very ambivalent John and his three comrades were chauffeured in the car to Buckingham Palace to receive their MBE medals from the Queen. While being driven, John loved to lie on his back and play with the car’s various control buttons with his feet.
In 1966, John had the back seat converted to a double bed. Later, a Sony television, a portable refrigerator, and telephone were installed. A “floating” record player (with perfect balance so it could be used without being effected by stops and bumps while driving) was also fitted inside. An interior and exterior sound system was included. John added blacked-out windows and was the first person in England to have this feature in his car.
In September of ’66, when John went to Spain to film his first solo movie How I Won the War, he had his beloved Rolls driven to Spain. “We were in Almeira, which was very sandy, and the local kids would write ‘el Beatle’ on the car,” recalled Les Anthony.
On January 7, 1966, a mileage check on the car showed 6,673 miles on the odometer. On March 28th, another check revealed it to have clocked 11,181 miles. By February 4, 1967, the total had risen to 29,283 miles.
In early 1967, Ringo Starr suggested to John that he should have the car painted in psychedelic colors. “We were passing the fairground one day,” remembered Les, “and they were admiring the fairground decorations and gypsy caravans. Ringo said why not have the Rolls painted the same way. John thought it was a great idea. It was painted all yellow first, then hand painted (with bright blue and red flowers and psychedelic designs). The first time i drove it, I was followed by hordes of photographers and Pathe news.”
John later told a story of a woman rushing at him and attacking him with her umbrella when she saw his car, shouting, “You swine! You swine! How dare you do that to a Rolls-Royce!”
The psychedelic paint job was done by a group of Dutch artists who called themselves “The Fool”. John had previously employed The Fool to paint a gypsy caravan he kept on the grounds of his home. The paint job cost around $4,200 (U.S. dollars).
On November 25, 1969, John decided to return his MBE medal. “I drove it (the Rolls-Royce) to Buckingham Palace in 1969″, said Les, “to hand back his MBE (medal). Well, not actually take it into Buckingham Palace. I had to take it to Lord Chamberlain’s office nearby.”
In 1970, after John had married Yoko Ono, the couple moved to the United States and had the car shipped to America. John loaned the car out to several rock stars, including the Rolling Stones, the Moody Blues and Bob Dylan. John hardly ever used the car himself anymore and eventually had it put in storage.
In 1977, when John and Yoko were having some tax problems, it was handed over to the nation -in the form of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum at the Smithsonian Institute- in lieu of the $250,000.00 tax owed. A year later, the museum produced postcards of it. John sent one of these postcards to his uncle Norman in 1979. (“Dear Norman, Happy ’79. Cheers, love, John & family.”)
In 1985, the Smithsonian decided to sell the car to Sotheby’s for auction. It fetched $2.3 million dollars, making it the most expensive car in history. It was bought by the owner of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum in South Carolina. By 2011, it was being exhibited at a museum in British Columbia.

COOL PEOPLE – See Paul McCartney Jam With Johnny Depp in ‘Early Days’ – Premiere

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Sir Paul shares the story behind the black-and-white clip for his “memory song” about growing up with John Lennon
JULY 7, 2014 10:00 AM

“Early Days” is one of the highlights of Paul McCartney’s most recent album, 2013’s New, but its music video — which you can watch exclusively here — might never have happened if it was left up to McCartney. “When I’ve got a song, I don’t think about the video,” the singer says. “I’m sure some people do, but I don’t. I just think about the song, first writing it, then recording it.”

Behind Beatlemania: Intimate Photos of Paul McCartney

Earlier this year, though, director Vincent Haycock sent over a video treatment for “Early Days” that caught his eye. “It’s a memory song for me, about me and John in the early days,” McCartney says. “But Vince came up with this great idea: Instead of having young lookalikes of me and John walking the streets of Liverpool, guitars slung over our backs, and literally acting out the song, what if it was any two aspiring musicians? I thought that was such a cool idea.”

Haycock spent a month scouting locations in Natchez, Mississipi, and Faraday, Louisiana, and casting local actors for the video’s main storyline, set in the American South in the 1950s. He also traveled to Los Angeles to film a jam session between McCartney and some special guests. “I happened to ring Johnny Depp,” McCartney says. “I said, ‘Come along and we’ll sit around and jam with these blues guys.’ He said, ‘Yeah, OK, count me in, man.’ I knew it was an offer he couldn’t refuse.” (Other musicians at the session included Roy Gaines, Al Williams, Dale Atkins, Henree Harris, Motown Maurice, Lil Poochie and Misha Lindes; see an exclusive photo from the video shoot below.)

 

Paul McCartney at Early Days music video shoot in Los Angeles, California.
MJ KIM/MPL Communications

“Early Days” marks the third McCartney video Depp has appeared in, after 2012’s “My Valentine” and 2013’s “Queenie Eye.” “It’s getting to be a running gag,” McCartney says. “He’s like the Alfred Hitchcock of my videos. And he’s good! He used to be a musician before he was an actor, you know. One of his old band mates actually organized getting me that cigar-box guitar that I played with Dave Grohl on ‘Cut Me Some Slack,’ that we ended up getting a Grammy for. So I knew he could play.”

Music and acting, McCartney notes, often go hand in hand. “They’re similar gigs, really. Ringo used to know Peter Sellers very well, and Peter wanted to be a drummer – that was his secret closet ambition. You run into a lot of guys who play who are actors. There a bunch you can think of. Bruce Willis does it. Then there are people who do both, like Jared Leto.”

As for himself, the former Beatle disavows any interest in taking up acting. “No, I don’t think it’s my thing,” he says. “I get self-conscious in front of a movie camera. Off-camera, I can impersonate, I can do this and that, and I’ll think, ‘I could be such a great actor.’ Then they say ‘Action!’ and turn the camera on, and I go uh-uh-uh-uh-uh…I just don’t think I’m a natural.

“But you know what?” he adds with a laugh. “I’ve got enough to do.”

 

 

Philatelists rejoice: The U.S. Postal Service will unravel several lines of celebrity-adorned stamps over the next two years

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Philatelists rejoice: The U.S. Postal Service will unravel several lines of celebrity-adorned stamps over the next two years

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Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Jim Morrison to Appear on Postage Stamps

Michael Jackson, Janis Joplin, James Brown stamps also in the works

Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon.

Photoshot/Getty Images; Jan Olofsson/Redferns

By
Kory Grow
February 21, 2014 3:25 PM ET

Philatelists rejoice: The U.S. Postal Service will unravel several lines of celebrity-adorned stamps over the next two years, with subjects ranging from Apple founder Steve Jobs to gay rights activist Harvey Milk. It will also be offering numerous music-related stamps, including Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix this year and a James Brown stamp next year. 2015 will also see a re-release of Elvis Presley’s 29-cent tribute from 1993 — the Postal Service’s best-selling stamp ever — according to The Washington Post. A stamp for John Lennon has been planned for an as-yet-unannounced date.

Putting Their Stamp on the Music: See Postal Tributes to Johnny Cash, Elvis, Buddy Holly and More

As published in a missive by the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (via the Post), this year will also see the arrival of stamps honoring NBA champ Wilt Chamberlain, undisclosed celebrity chefs, “America’s Most Loved Pets” and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Next year, the Postal Service will release stamps for Johnny Carson, Ingrid Bergman and the gang from Peanuts.

The document also names a number of people and characters who will be honored with stamps sometime in the future. Among them are general music-related stamps honoring guitars and hip-hop, as well as several new entries in the U.S.P.S.’s Music Icons series, including Lennon, Bill Monroe, Jim Morrison, Sam Cooke, Tammy Wynette, “Fats” Waller, Freddie Fender, Roy Orbison, Sarah Vaughan and Willie Dixon. Michael Jackson will also be getting his own stamp that is not part of the Icons series.

Other stamps planned for a later date include Barack Obama, both Bush presidents, Bill Clinton, 20th Century humorists, Ansel Adams, a Black Heritage series, science fiction writers, pro football, Hanna-Barbera characters, Dora the Explorer and more.

January 30, 2013 10:20 AM ET

Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash Stamp

© 2013 U.S. Postal Service

Johnny Cash will be memorialized by the U.S. Postal Service this year with his very own stamp. The country legend will be a part of a new “Music Icons” series of stamps, and his version fe

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Johnny Cash to Be Honored With Postage Stamp

Legendary singer is a part of new ‘Music Icons’ series

 January 30, 2013 10:20 AM ET

 

Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash Stamp
© 2013 U.S. Postal Service

Johnny Cash will be memorialized by the U.S. Postal Service this year with his very own stamp. The country legend will be a part of a new “Music Icons” series of stamps, and his version features a photograph by Frank Bez taken for 1963’s Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash. The striking black-and-white design is intended to resemble a 45 rpm record sleeve .

100 Greatest Artists: Johnny Cash

Cash’s stamp went through an arduous selection process to be issued. “We get about 40,000 suggestions for stamp ideas each year but only about 20 topics make the cut,” USPS representative Mark Saunders told Today.com. “These suggestions are reviewed by the Postmaster General’s Citizens’ Stamp Advisory whose role is to narrow down that 40,000 to roughly 20 and then provide their recommendations to the Postmaster General for final approval.”

A release date for the stamp has yet to be announced. Today.com notes that two more stamps in the “Music Icons” series will be revealed this year. Johnny Cash died of complications from diabetes in September 2003. He was 71.

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ON THE ROAD – JACK KEROUAC

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On the Road – Jack Kerouac

By Shubhajit Lahiri on 17 November 2008

“What’s your road, man? — holyboy road, madman road, rainbow road, guppy road, any road. It’s an anywhere road for anybody anyhow.”

That’s not the kind of question that an everyday Joe would ask; that’s not an inquiry that would lurk in the mind of a 9-to-5 desk clerk. Hell, that’s not the kind of thought that someone scrubbing for a mere existence in a drab world, living just another static life, in his routine environment, and doing stuff that is decided through rote and careful rationalization, would even dare let his perfectly chiselled mind waver to.

That’s precisely the kind of belief one would be enticed by who adheres to the maxim, “Road is where life is.” And On the Road, for those crazy venture-addicts, is the greatest bible that there ever was. It is a novel that would make the most cocooned of creatures to be hit by the road bug and actually start ‘living’ life.

Written in 1951, by Jack Kerouc – the original King of the Road, was a novel that eulogized the free-spirited life where boundaries, confines and borders cease to exist. And in the process it kick-started Beat Generation – one of the most fascinating American movements where life is equated with jazz (viz. Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong et al), hallucinatory drugs, free sex, smoke-filled cars, and above all, life on the road. For them there’s just one answer to the rhetoric question, “Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?”, and that being Heaven.

Though On the Road is considered the greatest book of this movement and Kerouac its unofficial spokesperson – which has been duly acknowledged by the venerated TIME magazine by including the book in its list of Greatest Novels of the 20th Century – Kerouac essentially formed a part of a hallowed trio also comprising of Allen Ginsberg and William H. Burroughs, the co-pioneers of the Beat Movement. And this semi-autobiographical novel chronicles Kerouac’s experiences on the road. Hence they are all there in the novel, with their names altered. However, it is someone called Neal Cassidy, a common friend of the enlightened troika, who formed the basis for the book’s most celebrated character – Dean Moriarty.

Narrated by Salvatore ‘Sal’ Paradise, an Italian-American resident of New Jersey, a writer by profession, and Kerouac’s terrific literary alter-ego, On the Road is a mesmerizing and one-of-its-kind travel-diary of the narrator, and its apotheosis is his unforgettable friendship with Dean, one of the craziest and alive characters one can ever hope to come across. It tells the tales of his journeys back and forth across America. It is a tale of New York, San Francisco, Denver, Detroit, New Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Mexico City. It is a free-flowing account of ‘nowness’ – a word that defined the willingness to reside in present without a worry for the future or attachment to the past. It is a madcap poetry to the Beat life, where all you need to survive is a car that does its 90 mph, beer cans, an uninterrupted supply of cigarettes, friends with whom you can talk all through the night and into the dawn, a few Benzedrine tablets to give you the kicks, and the singular beauty of hitch-hiking.

The novel is peppered with some of the most atypical characters – Carlo Marx, Chad King, Old Bull Lee, Ed Dunkel, Remi Boncoeur, with each representing the various constituents of the Beatific and the free spirits of the world. But the two protagonists – Sal and Dean, are the ones who really draw the readers out with their contrasting lives and yet their common passion. Where Sal is a home-grown, serious, sensitive, college educated intellectual with a steady income – an otherwise regular guy who one can relate to and be in sync with, Dean is an impulsive, irreverent, wildly unpredictable, rebellious, thoroughly alienated soul with an infectious method to his madness. As Sal so brilliantly states in one of his many explanations of who Dean really is, “He was simply a youth tremendously excited with life, and though he was a con-man, he was only conning because he wanted so much to live and to get involved with people who would otherwise pay no attention to him.”

On The Road wasn’t just anti-establishmentarian in its outlook, it was also non-conformist in its style and composition. Legend has it that Kerouac wrote it in an uninterrupted and truly inspired Benzedrine-fuelled three weeks’ session on a manual typewriter in his New York City loft, on a long scroll over 100 feet long. The book is devoid of crisp, literary sentences. It is instead based on improvised, absolutely free-flowing, stream-of-consciousness style of writing, where the words form a direct representation of the writer’s unedited and unadulterated thought processes. It was a memorable kick in the belly for the purists and conservatives. In fact Truman Capote once infamously remarked about the prose, “That’s not writing, that’s typing.” The book was a glorious tableau of a truly liberated form and style of narration.

The enormous impact of the book is as relevant today as it was groundbreaking then. Its tale of lost souls who dared to be free is timeless. Through its fascinating depictions of friendship, experiences on the road and the longing for ‘It’ – an expression that could signify anything from cigarettes and drugs to frenzy and exhilaration to salvation and bliss, the novel was way ahead of its time in its effortless and spontaneous jab at such bogus parameters like morality and preordained requisites for the so-called good and happy life sans adventure and enlightenment.

Some of the most iconoclastic stalwarts like Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Jim Morrison have been enormously influenced by the novel. Dylan once remarked about the book, “It changed my life like it changed everyone else’s.” Lennon ushered a memorable tribute to the Beat legacy by including the word ‘Beat’ in the name of arguably the world’s greatest boy-band The Beatles, through a subtle change in its spelling. The book may also count such outstanding and legendary movies like Easy Rider, Paris Texas, Five Easy Pieces and Stranger than Paradise as part of its famous legacy. Indeed, the novel’s place in popular culture as well as among the pantheon of great literary works has been preserved for posterity.

“Somewhere along the line I knew there’d be girls, visions, everything; somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me.” That sort of encapsulates the spirit and the essence of the book. I really feel a huge impulse to say to every bibliophile and lost souls and free people of this world regarding On the Road, “Dig it! Dig it!” And I’m sure, if Dean had been here with in my living room, he would have excitedly affirmed in his inimitable style, “Yass! Yass!”.