Photo: Chris Walter/WireImage
John Lennon in 1970
Now That I Showed You What I Been Through: 50 Years Of 'John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band'
After The Beatles' split and before 'Imagine,' Lennon recorded a jarring audio confessional that remains indelible in 2020
John Lennon asked The Beatles for a "divorce," and he got his wish. After the group's breakup in 1970, quarreling and competition were the norm between himself, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. In Lennon's case, this tension added to a slightly tainted reputation derived from the public's disappointment upon The Beatles' end, his unpopular marriage to Yoko Ono and an artistic dispersion. The latter resulted from an ongoing quest to find his spot in a world he'd grown frustrated with yet to which he desperately wanted to belong. As evidenced by his songs and remarks, Lennon's efforts to find himself often left him feeling empty, and he regularly lacked unconditional trust or engagement.
Standing in the way of this self-discovery process was an inability to resolve past traumas, which was one of the main reasons why Lennon decided to undergo Arthur Janov's primal scream program. He had the apparent goal of finally dealing with childhood wounds related to his mother's death and feelings of rejection linked to his father's absence. But the treatment also addressed the recent pain of losing his other family—the one Lennon had shared a life with for the past decade. In short, how could he go forward when he didn't know which way he was facing?
Lennon channeled all this into his debut solo album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, which turns 50 this month. (December 2020 also marks the 40th anniversary of his murder.) Released as a companion to Ono's concurrent solo debut, Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band, Lennon's album was therapy in its purest form: raw and self-referential. This intimacy was also apparent in the recording process: Apart from Lennon and Ono, the latter of whom is credited on the album sleeve for contributing "wind," the only other musicians were Starr and bassist Klaus Voormann, along with former Beatles roadie Mal Evans (for "tea and sympathy"), pianist Billy Preston and Phil Spector, who played piano on "Love" and "God," respectively.
When a cycle doesn't end fast enough, there's often a tendency to accelerate it, and Lennon was a man on a mission. The previous year, Lennon had been creatively disengaged from the Let It Be sessions and generally disapproving of the approach McCartney and producer George Martin wanted for Abbey Road, as he attempted to destroy the entity he helped create. This self-sabotaging process, which coincided with his dangerous affair with heroin, often translated into a deafening silence that Beatles scholar Stephanie Piotrowski describes in her Ph.D. dissertation as "part of Lennon's agenda to break The Beatles' myth."
But silence wasn't his sole strategy. It progressively became apparent throughout his solo career—culminating with his GRAMMY-winning final album with Ono, Double Fantasy (1980)—that Ono was his new partner-in-crime in McCartney's stead. For anyone unable to take a hint, in September 1969, he privately told the other three Beatles he was leaving the group. Their financial manager, Allen Klein, asked them to keep this development a secret for as long as possible, fearing the news would undermine sales of the forthcoming album, Let It Be (1970), which was taking forever to mix and master.
Lennon's apparent hurry to break free makes it odd that Plastic Ono Band only came out in December 1970, rendering him the last Beatle to release a proper debut album. (This, of course, if we don't count three previous experimental albums with Ono: Two Virgins, in 1968, and Life With The Lions and Wedding Album, both in 1969. And don't forget the hastily put-together Live Peace In Toronto 1969, which partly consisted of early rock covers and featured Ono, guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Voormann and drummer Alan White.)
Spector was supposed to be producing, but he was missing in action when the sessions began, leading Lennon to publish a full-page ad in Billboard saying, "Phil! John is ready this weekend." His relative absence ended up being a blessing in disguise: Spector's trademark "Wall of Sound" style probably wouldn't have suited the album's ethos. Lennon and Ono's minimalist approach matched the content better, allowing the emotional outpouring to sound adequately barer.
Revolving around themes of healing, surrender and replacement, Plastic Ono Band is a prime example of Lennon's songwriting particularities. These include his remarkable ability to craft instant hooks, focus on the lyrical element and rely on subjectivity in storytelling, which contrasted with McCartney's general preference for third-person points of view.
Always with a way with words, Lennon refrained from complicating his message, choosing direct statements ("Hold On," "Look At Me") over the elusive metaphors and cryptic references he often returned to during The Beatles' later years. This aspect made the album vaguely echo his mid-'60s confessional period that produced "Help!" and "In My Life," transpiring as a matured reflection of what it felt like to feel lost in the eye of the hurricane.
For all its sincerity and the psychological commitment that it symbolized to Lennon,
the album encountered a mixed reception at best; it was also quickly eclipsed by the release of Imagine nine months later, in 1971. Similar to what had happened with McCartney's self-titled debut, some critics accused John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band of being a product of self-preoccupation and void egotism. This harsh perception mostly came from the absurdly high expectations following The Beatles' breakup.
"This is the album of a man of black bile," Geoffrey Cannon declared in a 1970 review for The Guardian. "Lennon's album makes a deep impression, if more on him than us … This is declamation, not music. It's not about freedom and love, but madness and pain."
Even though Imagine eventually became Lennon's indisputable legacy—the title track was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame in 1999, seven years after Lennon's posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award—Plastic Ono Band was still properly cherished. Fans embraced its relatability. It's easier to identify with one's idol opening up about their problems of love and loss than hearing them discuss overly abstract concepts, the renunciatory "God" and tender "Love" being exceptions.
But it also helped that the album didn't become as heavy an institution as Imagine did. Less over(ab)used by pop culture and more grounded in both content and form, Plastic Ono Band felt more human and accessible, despite coming from the myth-ridden colossus called John Lennon.
In September 1980, three months before his death, Lennon gave an extensive interview to David Sheff for Playboy magazine. Sheff asked what Ono had done for him. "She showed me the possibility of the alternative," Lennon replied. "'You don't have to do this.' 'I don't? Really? But-but-but-but-but...'" Although he was referring to his temporary retirement from music to dedicate himself to being a house husband fully, one could see Plastic Ono Band as the dénouement of a similar epiphany 10 years prior. It kick-started a new life Lennon knew would be radically different from everything he had previously experienced.
In addition to representing a threshold moment for Lennon, the album underwent a mutation with regard to its critical reception. Over the decades, Plastic Ono Band received praise that was anything but a given at its release. In 2020, the album ranked at No. 85 in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time list. "Lennon's [...] pure, raw core of confession [...] is years ahead of punk," the list's album entry reads.
However, perhaps Lennon acerbically summed it up best in his Rolling Stone interview with four words that remain jarring to read: "The Beatles was nothing."
Photo: Kelly Samson, Gallery Photography
8 Music Books To Read This Fall/Winter: Britney Spears' Memoir, Paul McCartney's Lyrics & More
As 2023 nears its end and the holidays approach, add these books to your reading list. Memoirs from Dolly Parton and Sly Stone, as well as histories of titans such as Ella Fitzgerald are sure to add music to the latter half of the year.
If you’re a music fan looking to restock your library with some new reads, you’re in luck. With the second half of the year comes a dearth of new music books recounting the life and times of some of the most celebrated artists in the history of the artform are hitting shelves.
From Britney Spears' much talked-about memoir that tackles the tabloid tumult of her life and Barbra Streisand’s highly anticipated autobiography (which clocks in at nearly 1,000 pages), to tomes that recount the lives of Tupac Shakur and Dolly Parton, it’s time to get reading. Read on for some of the best music-related new and upcoming books to add to your collection.
By Britney Spears
One of the most highly anticipated books of the year, Spears' memoir has been a blockbuster in the weeks since its release. When it was announced that the singer was writing a book, fans and observers braced themselves for what she would reveal when it comes to her tumultuous life and career. The result is a no-holds-barred look at how an innocent girl from Louisiana became swept up in the tsunami of fame, as well as the resulting wake.
The Woman in Me details Spears' halcyon younger years as part of the "New Mickey Mouse Club," her explosive career, the blossoming and collapse of her relationship with Justin Timberlake, and the punishing conservatorship concocted by her father. Spears doesn’t hold back, but also shouts out the figures who provided solace and kindness: Madonna, Elton John, Mariah Carey, and former Jive Records president Clive Calder. The Woman In Me proves to be an unflinching, eye-opening look at the swirling tornado of music, fame, love and family, for better or for worse.
By Barbra Streisand
Since her early '60s breakout to her current status as a bona fide living legend, Barbra Streisand has lived a lot of life. Streisand's 992-page tome breaks down her humble beginnings growing up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and her subsequent stratospheric life during which she received a whopping 46 GRAMMY nominations and released many timeless songs. Along the way, she also became the first female in the history of moviemaking to write, produce, direct and star in a major motion picture (Yentl).
It’s all a long time coming, considering Jackie Onassis first approached Streisand to chronicle her triumphant life in 1984 (at the time, the former first lady was editor of Doubleday and Streisand was a mere 20 years into her iconic career). "Frankly, I thought at 42 I was too young, with much more work still to come," Striesand recently told Vanity Fair. It’s an understatement considering all that’s happened since.
By Paul McCartney
One of the most celebrated artists of all time, McCartney's genius songwriting is on full, glimmering display in THE LYRICS. Newly released in a one volume paperback edition, the book puts the Beatles' way with words front and center while offering popcorn-worthy backstory.
Originally published to acclaim in 2021, the updated version includes additional material and insight from Macca himself on the creation of some of the most indelible hits in music history, including the 1965 Beatles hit "Daytripper."
"The riff became one of our most well-known and you still often hear it played when you walk into guitar shops," wrote McCartney of the track. "It’s one of those songs that revolves around the riff. Some songs are hung onto a chord progression. Others, like this, are driven by the riff."
By Dolly Parton
"It costs a lot of money to look this cheap!" So says luminary Dolly Parton, in a self-deprecating and witty and also patently untrue famous turn of phrase. While Parton’s life story has been recounted numerous times on the page and on screen, Behind the Seams zeros in on not just her trials and tribulations, but her unmistakable style.
Packed with nearly 500 photographs, the book traces Parton’s looks from the sacks she used to dress in as a child in poverty to the flamboyant visuals associated with her stardom. "I’ve been at this so long, I’ve worn some of the most bizarre things," Parton recently told the Guardian. "My hairdos have always been so out there. At the time you think you look good, then you look back on it, like, what was I thinking?"
By Sly Stone
The 80-year-old reclusive frontman of Sly and the Family Stone has certainly lived a lot of life. From his early days as part of the gospel vocal group the Stewart Four, Stone and his family band later became fixtures of the charts from the late '60s into the mid-'70s; a journey traced in the new book Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin), named after their 1969 song of the same name.
Known for funky, soulful and earworm signature hits including "Dance to the Music" and "Everyday People," the band won over the hearts of America, influencing legions of fans (including Herbie Hanckock and Miles Davis) and gaining a few enemies (the Black Panther Party). The book chronicles those ups and downs (including drug abuse), tracking Stone up to the modern era, which includes receiving the Recording Academy's Lifetime Achievement Special Merit Award in 2017.
By Judith Tick
Ella Fitzgerald is one of America’s most iconic voices and the full breadth of her story will be told in the first major biography since her death in 1996. Known as the First Lady of Song, the 13-time GRAMMY winner is known for her swingin’ standards, sultry ballads, scat and everything in between.
Out Nov. 21, the vocalist’s historic career is recounted by musicologist Judith Tick, who reflects on her legend using new research, fresh interviews and rare recordings. The result is a portrait of an undeniable talent and the obstacles she was up against, from her early days at the Apollo Theater to her passionate zeal for recording and performing up until her later years.
"Ella was two people," her longtime drummer Gregg Field told GRAMMY.com in 2020. "She was very humble, very shy and generous. But when she walked on stage she was hardcore and didn’t know how to sing unless it was coming from her heart."
By Jeff Tweedy
Aside from his extensive discography with Wilco and beyond, Jeff Tweedy is the author of three books: his memoir Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back), a meditation on creativity called How to Write One Song, and his latest, World Within a Song. The latter expertly examines a variety of songs by a disparate spate of artists, from Rosalía to Billie Eilish with Tweedy’s singular take on what makes each song stand out along with what he dubs "Rememories," short blurbs that recount moments from his own life and times.
Much like his songwriting prowess, it’s a book where Tweedy’s way with words shine with shimmering eloquence. "My experience of my own emotions is that they all interact," Tweedy told GRAMMY.com last year. "They aren't individual, isolated things that you experience one at a time, and I think that's a really beautiful thing about being alive."
By Staci Robinson
One of the giants of hip-hop finally gets his due with an official recounting of his life and times. Here his legend is told by the authoritative Staci Robinson, an expert on the star who previously wrote Tupac Remembered: Bearing Witness to a Life and Legacy and served as executive producer of the FX documentary series "Dear Mama: The Saga of Afeni and Tupac Shakur."
Here, Robinson reflects on Tupac’s legacy from a modern perspective, and tracks the history of race in America alongside the rapper’s life and times, from the turbulent '60s to the Rodney King riots. Along the way are the stories behind the songs including "Brenda’s Got a Baby."
"In between shots (of filming the movie Juice) I wrote it," Shakur is quoted saying in Robinson’s book. "I was crying too. That’s how I knew everybody else would cry, ’cause I was crying.’"
Photo © Apple Corps Ltd.
The Beatles' Final Song: Giles Martin On The Second Life Of "Now And Then" & How The Fab Four Are "Still Breaking New Ground"
The wait is over: The Beatles will release their final song, "Now and Then," on Nov. 2. Read an interview with remixer Giles Martin about the decades-in-the-making parting gift, as well as remixed, expanded 'Red' and 'Blue' albums.
The Beatles and grief have always been fundamentally intertwined. When John Lennon and Paul McCartney met as teenagers, they bonded over losing their mothers early on. Their manager, Brian Epstein, died in 1967 at only 32; as McCartney put it during the ensuing Get Back sessions, "Daddy's gone away now, you know, and we're on our own at the holiday camp."
Lennon's murder in 1980, at just 40 years old, imbued their story with bottomless longing — not just between this band of brothers, but a world that had to process the Beatles were never coming back. George Harrison's death from cancer, in 2001, was another catastrophic blow.
But the Beatles' message, among many, was that the light prevails. And from "In My Life" to "Eleanor Rigby" to "Julia" to "Let it Be" and beyond, almost nobody made sorrow sound so beautiful. And "Now and Then," billed as "the last Beatles song" — yes, the AI-assisted one you heard about throughout 2023 — is liable to move you to the depths of your soul.
A quick AI sidebar: no, it's not the generative type. Rather, it's the technology Peter Jackson and company used to separate theretofore indivisible instruments and voices for the Get Back documentary. It also worked in spectacular fashion for Giles Martin's — son of George — 2022 remix of Revolver.
The cassette edition of "Now and Then." Photo © Apple Corps Ltd.
With this tech, Martin and his team were able to lift a Lennon vocal from a late-'70s piano-and-vocals demo of "Now and Then," a song he was workshopping at the time. (Remember "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love," the reconstituted Beatles songs from the Anthology era? "Now and Then" was the third one they tried — and, until now, aborted.)
The final version of "Now and Then" features Lennon's crystal-clear, isolated vocal, as well as Harrison's original vocal and rhythm guitar from that 1995 session. McCartney adds piano and guitar, including a radiant slide guitar solo in homage to Harrison. Ringo Starr holds down the groove and joins on vocals.
"Now and Then" is more than a worthy parting gift from the most beloved rock band of all time. And you can experience it a la carte or as part of the Red and Blue albums — the Beatles' epochal, color-coded 1973 hit compilations, remixed by Martin, with expanded tracklistings, out Nov. 10.
Ahead of "Now and Then," which will arrive on Nov. 2, read an interview with Martin about his approach to the emotionally steamrolling single — and the host of Beatles classics that flank it on Red and Blue.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
What was the thinking behind the expansion of the Red and Blue albums?
That kind of stemmed from "Now and Then," really. You know, we finished "Now and Then," and then there was the thought about, OK, it can't go on an album. What are we going to put it on?
There was a thought about trying to respect people's listening tastes. And the fact that they've changed — and the No. 1s, for example, don't really reflect the most popular Beatles songs that people are listening to.
Then, we realized it was the 50th anniversary of Red and Blue. For a whole generation — much older than you, my generation — the Red and Blue albums have this sort of gravitas behind them. I know all the tracklistings; even though I think I was 3, when they came out, we had them at home.
So, we decided to do the Red and Blue albums — which took quite a long time, because there was quite a lot of stuff to do on them.
Since you've remixed all the Beatles albums from Sgt. Pepper's onward, I've been glued to the pre-1967 material — this is the first time I've heard your touch on their early work. Remixing songs as early as 1962 must have been a whole different ballgame.
In all honesty, that was the fun bit.
You know, we couldn't have worked on these songs six months ago; the technology had to be developed in place so we could do this — separate drums, bass and guitar, and have the different elements. And they sound good; it doesn't sound strange or artifact-y in any way.
I think people will talk about "Now and Then" for "Now and Then." But I [also] think the true innovations come back from the early Beatles stuff. The way that it pops out; the way that the records still sound like the same records. Hopefully, the character doesn't change, but the energy is different.
Ringo always said, "We're just a bunch of punks in the studios," and they sound like a bunch of punks in the studios. Now, they sound the age they were when they played it.
And that's so key to me, to making these records — that they sound like that. You know, they were way younger than Harry Styles is now, when they were making these records. People think they're old guys, and they're not.
That, to me, is important, in a way. We get old — I hate to break that to you, but we do get old. And recordings, by their nature, stay the same age. And the Beatles will always be that age on those records.
I think, now, they sound like a bunch of young guys in the studios bashing their instruments, and I think that's really exciting, and the technology we've applied has enabled us to, bizarrely, strip back the inadequacies of the technologies they had.
And I don't mean that in a pompous way. What I mean is that my dad never wanted the Beatles to be coming out of one speaker, and then coming out of another speaker. They didn't want the two tracks to be like that. He hated it. He hated it.
But now, we can have the drums coming out of the middle, like a record is now. He can luxuriate in that, and I think it's fun and exciting.
I'm noticing so many heretofore-obscured details in their early work. The vocal flub on "Please Please Me." The maniacal bongos that power "A Hard Day's Night."
I think you're right, but I think from experience — which, actually, I have a lot of now — there is a beauty in the reality.
What I mean by that is: so much music is perfect, and it's fabricated. There are checks and balances that go on, to make sure that everything is in tune, in time. And all this stuff goes on, which is fine and it suits a place. But it's a bit like the dangers of plastic surgery — everyone ends up looking the same.
And in records, everyone's sounding the same. We dial in so it's exciting, and it becomes boring, essentially, is what I mean.
The excitement you get from hearing a mistake in a song you've heard for years doesn't necessarily demean the song itself. It doesn't make you think, Oh my god, the band is s—. You think, Oh my god, what's exciting is these are humans. These are human beings in a room, making noise.
People go, "Well, who's responsible for the sound of the Beatles? Is it your dad? Is it Geoff Emerick? Is It Norman Smith…" blah, blah, blah. I go, "No, it's the Beatles. It's the fact they're four friends in a room. They make that noise."
And that's the thing about great bands; great bands make a great noise together, and they don't even know how they do it themselves. That's the beauty of it.
It's like, why do you love someone? "Well, because they're nice to me," or because they're whatever. You can't explain things; they just happen. And there's something about "Please Please Me," all that early stuff — you can hear it. It's something just happening, and that's so exciting. God, I sound like such an old hippie.
The Beatles in The Cavern, Liverpool, August 1962. Photo © Apple Corps Ltd.
Your first Beatles remix project, for Sgt. Pepper's, came out five years ago. On the other side of the coin, The Blue Album features songs from that dense, psychedelic era, like "I Am the Walrus," which is such a beast. That must have been a different kind of fun.
Yeah, well, "Walrus" is a beast. I've actually gone back and re-changed the stereo [mix] recently, because I got asked questions like, "Why did I change the end section so it didn't sound like the original?" I was thinking, Did I? I didn't do it deliberately. It's just the balance of speech versus vocals and stuff like that.
I was very lucky, because "Walrus" was on the Love album and show. I tackled a version of that before, and know how tricky it is.
Because by its nature, "Walrus" sounds technically bad, but it's beautiful. It's beautifully ugly as a record, and they're the hardest ones, because you don't want to take away the character. You don't want to remove the grime, because the grime is the record. I spent a lot of time looking at this and doing this — hopefully, we're in a good place with "Walrus."
You know, music's about, How does this make you feel? You don't want to feel secure around "Walrus" at any stage; you want to be unnerved by it. People sort of ask about plugins and technology, and it's like, it's not about that — something you can get on a shelf. How it makes you feel is the most important thing.
You once said that a White Album remix couldn't be too smooth — it's "slightly trashy. It's visceral. It slaps you in the face." I thought of that while listening to the remixed "Old Brown Shoe"; George's vocal is way grimy on that one.
This is going to sound really ridiculous — and I've been through this with a number of different people — but my job is to make a record sound like how you remember it sounding. Because records never sound like how we remember them sounding. And you go back and go, Was that really there?
Some people accuse me of doing stuff that I haven't done, or maybe forgot to do, or whatever. But the fact of the matter is that we kid ourselves all the time, and we fill in the blanks constantly.
It's like, "What about the vocal of 'Old Brown Shoe'? Why does it sound like this?" And I go, "Well, it sounds like that on the record." It's part of the character of the record. If it was too clean, it wouldn't sound [right].
George was very particular at that stage. He didn't get many goes, is the way I would say it, because he wasn't given enough songs.
There's a story [Beatles engineer] Ken Scott told about The White Album, of him doing "Savoy Truffle" — which is incredibly bright as a song, by the way. And my dad apparently went, "You know, it sounds quite bright, George." And he goes, "I know, and I like it." Like, "I know, and f— off," basically.
You have to respect the artists' wishes when you're doing these things, even though they're not there. Yeah, on "Old Brown Shoe," the vocal's quite strange. But that's what George wanted it to sound like, and [far be it from] me to say it shouldn't sound like that.
The Beatles in 1965. Photo © Apple Corps Ltd.
What's your understanding of the extent of the work the Beatles put into "Now and Then" back in 1995, before they aborted it?
I wasn't there, so I'm just going to speculate. What Paul played me — what we worked on together — was kind of after he'd looked at the material they did together.
Far be it from me to argue with a Beatle: there were some things that I thought we should change from that recording. There were a few synth [things], which I thought, once we decided to put strings on it, [weren't necessary].
You know, the key thing is that George is playing on it. Therefore, it is, by definition, a Beatles song, because all four of them are on it. People ask me, "Why is this the last Beatles song?" Well, there's not another song. There won't; there can't be another song where all four Beatles are playing on it.
So, there were bits and pieces that were used and not used. I don't think they spent a lot of time working on it, but essentially, what we kept was George — and obviously, John's vocal, which then we looked at.
Listening, I was thinking, Thank god that George tracked a rhythm guitar part and harmony vocal back then. Or else, this couldn't happen. Or, if it happened, you and your team would never hear the end of it.
What was interesting was, we did the string arrangement. I sat down with Paul in L.A., and there are lots of chugs and "Eleanor Rigby" kinds of ripoffs in the string arrangement.
And what essentially happened was, Paul spent a lot of time listening to what George was playing on the guitar, and it really changed the arrangement. It's in service to the guitar; it doesn't go against George's playing. They were completely respectful of the other Beatles, and made sure it was a collaboration, and it was all four of them.
As Yoko said to me, "John is just a voice now." And I think it sounds like the Beatles, "Now and Then."
Looking at the post-"Now and Then" Beatles landscape, I'm enticed by which Beatles albums you'll remix next. The select tracks on Red and Blue open a door to what Rubber Soul or Beatles For Sale redux might sound like.
Technology doesn't — and never has — made great records, but it creates a pathway. You can do certain things that you couldn't do in the past. And the most exciting thing for me is — as you say — it does open that door to that early material, which we couldn't have done before.
I suppose fortuitously, we kind of worked backwards, in a way — and it made sense to do that. I couldn't have done what I've done on The Red Album even six months ago, probably; it's that quick. I love the fact that the Beatles are still breaking new ground with technology that will pave the way for other artists.
The Beatles during a photo session in Twickenham, 9 April 1969. Photo: Bruce McBroom / © Apple Corps Ltd.
I can't imagine what this next week of "Now and Then" promotion will be like. There's an incredible weight to this. You must be feeling that.
Well, I mean, there's some perspective. My mom's just died. So, it's like [dark laugh] what's important in life?
It's a funny time. We just talked about her funeral arrangements, and she's getting buried the day, I think, the record comes out. So, there are personal things for me in this.
I've been doing interviews this week, and people have asked me, "How do you feel about what your motivation was?" Somebody was saying I'm talking about the Beatles as a resource, or whatever. I go, "You do these things and hope people get touched by stuff."
When you say you enjoy "Now and Then," that's really nice, because that's why we do it. We do it so people can listen to stuff and not just hear it. "Now and Then" sounds like a love song. It sounds like a song that John wrote for Paul, and the other Beatles: "I miss you/ Now and then."
It sounds like Paul has gone there, which I think he did. You know, no one told Paul to go and do it, and Paul didn't go, This would be a great exercise for the Red and Blue Album.
He was at home in the studio. He dug on the record and started working on it, because it's his mate. And he really misses John. I mean, that's the truth. They broke up, and John died nine years later. It really isn't very long.
So, I hope that people listen to the record and they think about loved ones. Or they think about things. That's what I hope. I don't really care about anything else — do you know what I mean? What I'm excited by is people being touched by it.
Photo: Fred Morledge
How Las Vegas Became A Punk Rock Epicenter: From When We Were Young To The Double Down Saloon
Viva Punk Vegas! It might have seemed unthinkable a decade ago, but Sin City is "the most punk city in the U.S." GRAMMY.com spoke with a variety of hardcore and legendary punks about the voracious vibe in Vegas that lends itself to punk spirit.
These days, what happens in Vegas, slays in Vegas when it comes to the harder side of music.
It might have seemed unthinkable a decade ago, but as Fat Mike of NOFX and Fat Wreck Chords has been putting out there for a while now, Sin City is basically "the most punk city in the U.S." at the moment. Some might find this statement debatable, but Vegas has long attracted subculture-driven gatherings, from Viva Las Vegas rockabilly weekend to the all-metal Psycho Las Vegas to the mixed bag that was Las Rageous. The latest slate of huge punk and punk-adjacent music events (from Punk Rock Bowling and When We Were Young to the just-announced new lineup of Sick New World 2024) back his claim even further.
Mike’s own Punk Rock Museum, which opened in April of this year, has cemented the city’s alternative music cred — even as it’s still best known for gambling, clubbing, and gorging at buffets.
In fact, A lot of the audacious new activity is centered away from the big casinos and in the downtown area and arts district of what is known as "old Vegas." Just outside of the tourist-trappy, Times Square-like Fremont Experience, there’s a vibrant live music scene anchored by a few key clubs, and an ever-growing slate of fests.
Attendees at 2022's When We Were Young Festival┃Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/FilmMagic
Live Nation’s second annual When We Were Young Festival brought out a largely Millennial crowd to see headliners Green Day and blink-182 this past weekend, alongside over two dozen more recognizable openers from emo/pop-punk's heyday. Tickets sold so well when it was first announced, that a second day was added to the schedule.
Green Day didn’t stop with their fest gigs; the band played a "not-so-secret" pop-up show last Thursday night at one of the most popular venues in town for punk, alternative and heavy music: Fremont Country Club, just blocks from festival grounds. The show served as a warm-up gig as well as an announcement by Billie Joe Armstrong: His band will join Smashing Pumpkins, Rancid, and others for a 2024 stadium tour. The band also debuted a timely new track, "The American Dream Is Killing Me."
"People who like punk and other heavy music want to be in a club environment like ours, not a big casino," says Carlos "Big Daddy" Adley, owner of Fremont Country Club and its adjacent music space Backstage Bar & Grill. Both have become live music hotspots not unlike the ones Adley and his wife/partner Ava Berman ran in Los Angeles before they moved to Vegas over a decade ago.
"Fremont East," as the neighborhood is called, will soon see a boutique hotel from the pair. Like everything they do, it will have a rock n’ roll edge that hopes to draw both visitors and locals.
Outside Fremont Country Club┃Photo: Fred Morledge
The duo told GRAMMY.com that a visit to Double Down Saloon, Sin City’s widely-recognized original punk bar and music dive was what first inspired them to come to Vegas and get into the nightlife business there. Double Down has been slinging booze (like Bacon Martinis and "Ass Juice" served in a ceramic toilet bowl mug) and booking live punk sounds since it opened back in 1992.
"It's kind of a stepping stone for a lot of bands," says Cameron Morat, a punk musician and photographer, who also works with the Punk Rock Museum as curator of its rockstar-led tour guide program. "People always assume that Vegas is just the strip, but that's only like four miles long. There's a lot more of the ‘‘other city.’ There are people who are just into music and into going to local shows who don't ever go to the main strip."
In addition to the Double Down, Morat says Vegas has always had a history of throwing local punk shows at spaces like the Huntridge Theater, which is currently being remodeled and set to re-open soon for local live music. He also points to The Usual Place as a venue popular with local punk and rock bands now, and The Dive Bar — a favorite with the mohawk, patched-up battle vest scene, featuring heavy music seven nights a week, including a night promoted by his partner Masuimi Max called Vegas Chaos.
Cameron Morat┃Photo: Kristina Markovich
While glitzy stage shows from legacy artists and mega-pop hit makers like Usher, Elton John, Katy Perry, Carrie Underwood, Gwen Stefani and Lady Gaga still get the most media attention, raucous local shows are starting to factor into a new generation’s vacation planning, too.
"There’s a really good scene here," Morat proclaims. "It's funny because a lot of people, the sort of gatekeepers of punk, ask ‘why is the punk museum in Vegas?’ But it is a punk city, and not just because you've got all the local bands and the venues."
Morat, whose own band Soldiers of Destruction, plays around town on occasion, also notes other acts such as Gob Patrol, Suburban Resistance, and Inframundo as having fierce local followings. He says there’s a certain voracious vibe in Vegas that lends itself to punk rock creation, performance and attitude. "A lot of the anger from punk rock — like the disparity of wealth, for instance, is here," he says. "Five minutes down the road, you've got people throwing away a million on the roll of a dice. But you've also got people who are doing like three jobs just trying to pay their rent."
Over at the Punk Rock Museum, Morat, who moved from Los Angeles to Vegas about seven years ago, is keeping busy booking big-name guests to share inspirations and war stories, both weekly, and specifically timed with whatever big festival or event happens to be in town. He says he wants to feature artists that might not be thought of as traditional punk rock, but who have relevant backgrounds and stories to share.
"A lot of these people have punk history the public doesn’t know about," he says. "I think if we just stick to a very small well of people, it's going to get pretty boring. So I'm trying to open it up for a bigger cross-section."
Imagery from "Black Punk Now" | Ed Marshall
The museum is already showing the breadth of punk rock’s influence on music in general. During WWWY, the museum held events tied to its new exhibit "Black Punk Now," curated by James Spooner, director of the 2003 documentary Afro-Punk. As Spooner spoke about the film’s 20th anniversary and his new book of Black punk authors, musicians playing the weekend’s festivities from Sum 41, MxPx, Bayside, Less Than Jake came through to talk too. Warped Tour’s Kevin Lyman and Fat Mike himself also took part in the museum’s new after-dark guided tour series.
Bringing in a wider audience and a new generation of rebellious kids who seek to channel their angst and energy into music is part of what the museum — and, it seems, the myriad of events in Las Vegas these days — is all about. Despite what some punk rock purists and gatekeepers might say, the inclusion of tangent bands and scenes is in the original punk spirit. He’ll be booking guests tied to next year’s Sick New World, the Viva Las Vegas rockabilly bash and even EDC in the future (electronic bangers are not unlike hardcore ones and even Moby was a punk before he became a DJ).
"I think that the museum is great for the punk scene here," he adds. "People will literally come to town just to see the museum, and then if there's a band playing in town in the evening, they'll go. So it's broadening the support for all the bands, local and touring. Some punk bands used to skip Vegas completely on their tours, but not anymore."