As the song and legend goes…It was twenty years ago today that Sargent Pepper taught the band (The Beatles) to play. It was just prior to that he (or someone) taught the band’s leader John Lennon to draw and to write. He did it all with an impeccable style and humor. The ability to see the drama and pains of life while recognizing the element of humor was always a part of Lennon’s life and work. He expressed it beginning in his child-hood and it sustained him as it did his career and prodigious creativity.
Lennon is universally known for his achievements in music both as a collaborator and soloist. His drawing and writings are to be noted as well. Sotheby’s just days ago sold eighty nine lots exclusively of Lennon’s manuscripts and drawings. The manuscripts: “In His Own Write” and “A Spaniard in the Works” were the center pieces. The books were published at the height of The Beatle’s popularity and the song “Paper Back Writer” was another humorous reflection of Lennon’s writings and life at that time. Like the best artists Lennon’s works were inspired by his own experiences.
The drawings were illustrations, random cartoons and whimsical musings largely done for himself, family and friends. Lennon’s drawings are on a par with other of the most popular cartoonists and illustrators of his time. Jules Feiffer, Ralph Steadman and Shel Silverstein all come to mind when looking at Lennon the cartoonist/illustrator. Lennon’s work stands up with the greats of the field.
Another of Lennon’s seminal works was the song “Nowhere Man.” He reflected on the writing of it:
“I was just sitting, trying to think of a song and I thought of myself sitting there, doing nothing and getting nowhere. Once I thought of that it was easy. It all came out. No, I remember now. I’d actually stopped trying to think of something. Nothing would come. I was cheesed off and went for a lie down, having given up. Then I thought of myself as Nowhere Man-sitting in his nowhere land”
In the animated film “Yellow Submarine” the Nowhere Man is a curiously drawn, genius of sorts. He is a master of philosophy, the sciences and the arts. The self-absorbed creature paints on canvas as he calculates complex mathematical problems. He even reviews his own novel as he writes the foot-notes with his own foot; no less. The Nowhere Man inhabits a blank world surrounded by nothingness and no other beings. The life of the creative individual can metaphorically be much like that. Lennon’s song is telling. His wit and honesty; a constant, his true genius, undenied in everything he attempted and in all he achieved.