You have to wonder what John Lennon might have done with an additional 35 years.
Even up to his death, the former Beatle continued to create memorable, sonically pleasing songs, including “Woman,” “Nobody Told Me” and “(Just Like) Starting Over.” But on Dec. 8, 1980 — not long after he wrote “Grow Old With Me” — Lennon was gunned down in New York City.
If former band mate Paul McCartney is any indication, Lennon, who would have turned 75 on Oct. 9, would have continued to create music. But his tragic murder requires Lennon be remembered for the vast catalogue he compiled during his 40 years.
Several local performers will offer their own interpretations of those songs during tribute concerts at the Shell Cafe tonight and on Oct. 13 at SOhO in Santa Barbara — two special editions of the Songwriters at Play Series, which occasionally features tribute nights. (Chuck Berry Tribute, Oct. 23, D’Anbino, Paso Robles; Neil Young, Nov. 6, Shell Cafe)
We asked three of the performers to write about the Lennon songs they chose to sing.
LOREN RADIS, NIPOMO
‘All You Need is Love’
This has long been my favorite song, and it’s more than just beautiful to listen to — it’s a true and powerful statement that could improve the world if more people (myself included) applied it. When I play this song, I try to make it new, like you’re hearing it for the first time. It’s a gorgeous song and more than anything — I just want to do it justice.
‘A Day in the Life’
“A Day in the Life” may be the best Beatles song ever written. John and Paul’s unique sensibilities are so crystalline here and they’re both in top form. The vocals fit the lyrics well, they drift between (and combine) horror and death with the utter monotony of the mundane. Traffic lights, suicides, disappointing film adaptations of beloved books, and finally a group of people performing the soul-crushing tasks of finding out just how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall. Some things never change.
I don’t know what John was feeling at the time, but to me this song speaks of a dread of meaninglessness in the day to day, and the irrevocable lengths to which some will go to escape it. Frankly, it’s John at his most depressing, and if it weren’t for Paul’s uplifting and silly middle 8, I’m not sure if I would like this song as much as I do.
My only regret is having to ditch the famous “explosion of sound” that precedes the bridge, as I sadly do not perform with a full orchestra. Usually.
‘Don’t Let Me Down’
“Don’t Let Me Down” is one of John’s last songs with the Beatles, and it sounds to me like he’s already bid farewell to the fab four, throwing all his eggs into Yoko Ono’s basket and begging, pleading, screaming at her to please, please, please, not let me down. Paul McCartney agrees with my assessment, just saying :) This song just plain rocks and it’s so fun to let loose and scream once in a while.
JIM CONROY, LOS OSOS
‘Across the Universe’
Always liked the little chant he throws into this song, “Jai Guru Deva,” along with the overall vastness of praise and wonder for the Universe itself. Don’t know if anyone else took on that subject in pop music up till then, and it is a worthy, lovely attempt to encapsulate that feeling of awe.
The challenge of the song is not getting lost in the lyrical imagery while you are singing, as well as getting those lyrics memorized. It’s really an immense moving tune, and I’m glad I’m doing it in honor of John’s overall musical heroism.
Always thought it was just a pretty melodic song that in some ways has been overlooked. You know he really meant it, as it is about his estranged mother who he had reconciliation with before she was tragically killed. So just very moving and tender with interesting chords and melody, which should be more of a classic, in my opinion.
Had to lobby for this one because there were, of course, others who wanted to do it. It is perhaps the greatest song of the second half of the last century, and says exactly what needs to be said in a simple, straightforward manner. I had never done it before and so am grateful for the opportunity. The biggest challenge is doing it justice and I am glad I will be having Bob Liepman on cello assisting me at the Shell Cafe.
KAREN TYLER, PASO ROBLES
‘Rip It Up’
As a blues singer, “Rip It Up” was an easy choice. I love the boogie woogie beat, and it’s been done by everyone from Little Richard and John Lennon to Wanda Jackson and Alvin and the Chipmunks. I figured I’d get in on it too.
When I was a kid, my best friend and I used to listen to her parents’ Beatles records. “Come Together” was our favorite song. We thought the lyrics were some secret code, and we spent hours trying to decipher it, hoping to solve a great mystery.
SONGWRITERS AT PLAY TRIBUTE TO JOHN LENNON
Thursday, 6:30 p.m.
Shell Cafe, 1351 Price Street, Pismo Beach