Part #5 of our all-weekend tribute to John Lennon
By PETER CASE
At 16 years old I read the Rolling Stone interview, and he said something like, “I’m the kind of person, when I have a hero, if I find out they wear green socks, I’ll run out and buy green socks,” and I immediately started to wear green socks myself. Wore ’em for years. I know that’s fucked up.
He did a photo spread in Look magazine with Yoko, it must have been around the time of the making of the White Album, and the pictures made a big impression on me.
He and Yoko were posing in a big empty house that they’d just moved into. She was sitting with him and he was playing the guitar, and I just really admired him, with his girl and guitar in a big house where nobody could tell him what to do. It was one of the things that clarified, at the time, my ideas about life.
Of course, my image of him was rubbish. He was seemingly mad, destroying his mind with drugs, about to break up his great band. But that flux was part of what was great about him. I would consciously, and unconsciously, do all those things myself before too long.
The depth of his pain, as expressed in “Yer Blues,” was powerful. That was my favorite for a while. My band Pig Nation performed it at every gig we did, through 1969 and 1970. Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan were my other biggest living heroes, and that song kind of summed it all up for me.
“I’m lonely, want to die…” Pig Nation used to rehearse in my parents’ basement and my mother once called down the stairs: “Boys, play that nice song about suicide again!”
The Beatles performing on The Ed Sullivan show was a momentous event every time. The first time I ever talked back to a grown-up was when my father was making cracks about their hair and I told him to be quiet. He got me good for that one. That was the first trouble John Lennon got me in.
I still have a 1964 diary somebody gave me for Christmas. “Saw the Beatles last night on TV. Mom and Dad think they stink. I think they’re great!”
Then me and a couple guys skipped out of school at lunch, and went downtown. I was 10, what is that, 4th grade? And we stood in the drugstore reading the first Beatle magazines ’til the guy asked us to buy something or leave. My first adventure with truancy, thanks John.
So you see, he was a big one for me. I became a songwriter in 1965, right after “I Feel Fine” came out. Me and George Pope, my first songwriting partner, wrote “Stay Away” and that was my first tune. We played it in our band, The Telstars, and that was it, all I ever wanted to do from then on.
In the early to mid-seventies I spent three years living and playing on the streets of San Francisco. That was sort of my Hamburg period, in a way. Me and my pals would play 12 or more hours a day, everyday, rocking out.
During this time, I didn’t give a fuck about anything, just like I figured John Lennon didn’t when he was a young rocker. It was a dark time in a way, but it taught me that I could project rock and roll.
A song came to me in a dream one night in 1974, and John Lennon figured in it. He’d penetrated my subconscious. In the dream we were in a record store and he was showing me records. We put one on, and I realized it was a fantastic song I’d never heard before, so as soon as I woke up I got it down on the guitar. It’s a strange dreamlike song, never recorded, but there’s a plan to put it on the next album.
When he died I was in the Plimsouls. That night Eddie Munoz and I had just written the song “Shaky City.” Eddie was watching the football game with the sound off. When the news sunk in, I cried my guts out. Murdered. What a disaster. It was a death in the family, for everybody.
He was a wit, could always think on his feet. And the songs and singing, all so great, so inspiring. Now we see his life with the benefit of 40 years of hindsight. John Lennon, still a hero.
Peter Case has a new album, The Midnight Broadcast, which is soon to be released on Bandaloop Music. He also has a new book, Somebody Told The Truth, coming soon on his imprint Boom & Chime Books.