Monday, December 19, 2005

inspiring/hilarious Lennon tribute

I've been up in Stevens Point for a few days now, but the night before leaving Madison (Wednesday 14/12/05) I witnessed something really quite wonderful. Billed as "Bed-in for Peace, the music and poetry of John Lennon", this must have been one of many Lennon tributes in the week of the 25th anniversary of his assassination. It was held at the High Noon Saloon (which seems to have replaced O'Cayz Coral, which burnt down). I mainly went along because Pete wanted to, and because Maggie was going to be involved. I feared an overly-reverent occasion, with various earnest singer-songwriter types paying tribute to the one-dimensional "love and peace" cartoon version of Lennon, who was in fact a rather complex, multi-faceted character. There is a tendency towards Beatle-worship over here in the US which (despite being quite fond of the Beatles) I can't quite relate to.

Lennon tribute flyer

But I forgot I was in Madison! It turned out to be in equal parts inspiring and utterly hilarious. The Gomers, a ubiquitous feature of the local scene, acted as house band, with wonderful WORT presenter Johanthon Zarov MC'ing. There was a large bed on stage, and a succession of weird and wonderful performers came and went, mostly backed up by said Gomers. Somehow, the band managed to keep an incredibly tight sound together despite being in the midst of complete chaos (and, I'm told, almost no rehearsing). Highlights included:

  • an absurdist John-and-Yoko puppet show with Biff from The Gomers singing an obscenity-laden Lennon interview rant (insulting Paul, George, Mick Jagger, the media, and repeatedly proclaiming his "fucking genius" status) over the top of some appropriately dark/heavy Lennon-esque music
  • a "Lost Weekend John" character haranguing a very unconvincing Paul McCartney character in the midst of a weedy "Yesterday", before getting in a fight on the bed, and then launching into a blistering full-tilt version of "How Do You Sleep?"
  • The Beatific Hornacular Brass Choir (a full on brass band, with four French horns) playing a sort of amalgam of "I Am The Walrus" and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"
  • Optometri (described as "the best band of Russian has-beens ever to vanish from sight at the height of their popularity only to re-emerge unexpectedly more than a decade later in South-Central Wisconsin in a new millenium whose sensibilities they do not fully grasp"), featuring surgical masks and coveralls, an inaudible marimba, and quite possibly the world's largest balalaika, playing Lennon's "correct translation" of "Back in the USSR" which frontman Yuri Mishkin claimed his cousin had written (in Russian) as "gift to Beatles" and had suffered a mis-translation by McCartney.
  • Maggie singing a rousing (yet entirely unrehearsed) "I Want You/She's So Heavy" with The Gomers at the height of their powers
  • Local eccentric The Artist Still Known as Art Paul Schlosser clambering onstage (from the front) sporting baseball cap and huge grin, leading a shambolic "All You Need is Love" singalong

John and Yoko's original bed-in

There were also readings from Lennon's A Spaniard In the Works, video screens showing a lot of Lennon footage I'd never seen, an ambitious cover of "I am the Walrus", Jonathon Zarov and Biff playing guitar solos whilst jumping up and down on the bed...Pete ended up onstage concealed inside a sleeping bag, being interviewed by Jonathon as part of his regular "bag-oke" feature (he got a free drink and an Onion T-Shirt saying "End Racism, Kill Everyone"...The Onion originated in Madison, which gives some indication as to the nature of "Madisonian humour")

I'm pretty sure John Lennon would have wholeheartedly approved.


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